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5 Tips from an Empty Nester and ESM Mom


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Three years ago, my husband and I became empty nesters: one child in law school at Chapman, the other a freshman at Columbia. We travelled, ate at different times, and had control of the TV. But the house was so quiet. Fast forward three years to this past March, when the world was turned upside down. Both kids came home to quarantine, and the house became active again: our daughter practicing law from our old playroom upstairs, my husband practicing law from the dining room, our son online with finals, me practicing therapy—virtually—from our home office. Books and papers everywhere, piles of things in the kitchen, and everyone clamoring for more bandwidth. 

I looked upon this family chaos and pinched myself, remembering that this really was a “Rockwell moment”, one that we may never get again. So, let the mess stay! I tried to focus on the bigger picture. Recently, our daughter set up her own place and moved out, and our son went back to his Manhattan apartment to finish senior year online. I am happy to report that somehow we all made it—and the house is quiet, yet again. 

Amidst the chaos, it’s often hard to take the time we need to genuinely check in with ourselves and with our kids. These are trying times, and I’d like to offer some best practices for coping with our strange new normal. Whether your kids are  at home or on campus “Zooming” for college or finishing high school remotely, here’s five tips to help support our students: 

  1. Listen to your kids.  Are they worried, unhappy, nervous, or scared? Unsure of their future? Set time aside each week for family meetings in which you all can vent and support one another. Journaling thoughts and feelings can help decrease stress also, especially if no one is around to chat. If some of the family is away at school, try a weekly zoom meeting with everyone on the call, to visit and catch up on the day. Contacting a counselor if you feel issues are escalating can also help. There are lots of resources on college campuses if your student is away.

  1. Have fun together in your bubble. Families that play together stay together!  Try a cooking challenge at home or at school where you each take a day of the week. Grocery shop together online or safely in stores...maybe in teams? Get inspired. Google recipes. We all need to eat. This can be a great study break away from the screen. Board game nights are terrific also, as well as setting up friendly card games like poker or Monopoly tournaments with those in your bubble, both at home and away.

  1. creative!  Take a look at a Michael’s craft store or online at Etsy and see if something speaks to you. The holidays are coming up, and it’s fun to see what crafts you can creatively partake in together. If you’re in a dorm or apartment, make something to put on your walls or desk. Pick something easy and work up to more difficulty. It’s all about success!! Art can be a de-stressor and a great break from studies. You might even end up with a new hobby!

  1. Zoom homework sessions with friends. Or, weather permitting, take blankets to a park and social distance with your computer. A change of scenery is good, and it’s a lot less lonely together outside or virtually. Remember to schedule in study breaks. Going the distance, keeping marathon pace, is fine in small “time chunks” (1-2 hours). Giving yourself permission at least 30 minutes in between homework or online classes to “do something” will help you to be successful in the long run. Keeping a planner helps tremendously with time management and helps to block out time windows for tasks. If you’re in high school and wondering, “Why am I working so hard?”, keep in mind this “new normal” is not forever. There will be an end. Don’t let this pandemic derail your dreams. You’re in control!

  1. Exercise! Find time as a family or in your college bubble every day to take a walk, even if just around the neighborhood (pandemic requirements allowing of course). Walk the dog or each other! Set up an area in your house/dorm with a yoga mat, ball, and a few small weights. Use apps to find workouts.  Exercise is great for endorphins and can help you feel better. Use this as a study break or in between online classes.

Try to find a bit of joy in each day and with each other!

Marci Murdock, MA, MFT 

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, residing in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of her children went through ESM. For further questions, she can be reached at