Apr 21, 2024 - News

D.C. parents hire empty nest coaches for when kids leave home

Illustration of a crack egg with gold along the cracks.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

D.C.-area parents whose kids have moved out are coping by working with empty nest coaches — aka life coaches who specialize in the transition surrounding a child's departure.

Why it matters: There's a narrative that the party starts when your kid's gone, says Jay Ramsden, a Massachusetts-based empty nest coach who's worked with DMV clients. But this period can actually read like a rough breakup or any big change, inducing feelings of loss, grief, stagnation, or paralysis, as well as a sense of losing one's identity or purpose.

The big picture: Parents are much more involved in their children's lives today than they were a few generations ago during the "latchkey kid" era, coaches tell Axios. This means that when kiddos peace out come adulthood, it can hit parents extra hard.

  • With D.C., Maryland, and Virginia seeing increased numbers of college applicants in the 2023-24 cycle, there's likely a large swath of local parents who are about to confront an empty home.

What they're saying: "[Working with a coach is] really about being comfortable with, one, letting go, and, two, now being able to put yourself first," says Glen Burnie, Md., empty nest coach Emesha James. "It's about embracing new things."

  • It also means confronting the hard truth that time is passing by. "Coming to terms with one's aging, and your child's aging, is difficult," says D.C. life coach Catharine Ecton, who works with empty nesters.

How it works: To start, these coaches help clients confront and process their emotions around their kids leaving. James wants her clients to know their feelings are valid — even though their child might only be a FaceTime or a text away, it's still not the same as IRL.

  • Then comes big-picture strategy: What do you want your life to look like post-kids? How do you reshape your identity, and what does that look like?
  • Coaches will help you develop a plan to achieve your vision and hold you accountable — Ecton follows up with clients to ensure they're scheduling social outings, maintaining relationships, or trying new activities.
  • James, meanwhile, hosts a series of local community-building events for empty nesters and has spearheaded a "Me First" retreat. (And, yes, she says she worked with that quintessential brand of D.C. Mom or Dad — the helicopter parent.)

Coaches also remind clients that a kid's departure is ultimately a good thing: It's a crucial step toward independence, growth, and charting a full life — something most parents want for their offspring.

  • And by embarking on their own journey of self-fulfillment, caregivers are setting a good example for their kids, says Ecton — especially as adults live longer and have more time post-childrearing years.

By the numbers: Cost can vary for this kind of help — James charges $99 a session, Ecton $175, and, while Ramsden declined to share the cost with Axios, a client paid him $2,000 for weekly meetings over three months, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Reality check: These coaches aren't therapists — if you think you're experiencing depression, Ramsden recommends seeing a mental health professional.

Zoom in: Emily Gretz of Crofton, Md., worked with Ramsden to redefine her identity after her children left and she sold her yoga studio.

  • The coach helped Gretz learn to appreciate the slower pace of this new life stage and understand that she was the same person even though the kids didn't need her the same way.
  • "I still am mom and I still am relied upon as mom," she says. "It's just that the circumstances of how I am mom are different."

Ramsden also has a client who did a tap dance recital at the age of 60. "It's so awesome," he says the client told him. "I'm actually living my life again."

  • Meanwhile, James has clients who've started traveling more, launched their own businesses, or gone back to school to get a doctorate.

Zoom out: Like with many things concerning mental health, some people can be reticent to acknowledge they're struggling, say coaches. But there's a growing conversation around the difficulty of empty nest transitions thanks to a heightened focus on mental health post-pandemic, says Ramsden.

  • Increased online awareness helps, too — Ramsden posts TikToks about empty nester life to his over 57,000 followers.
  • Elsewhere online, there are empty nest coach training courses, as well as podcasts and Facebook support groups targeting newly free parents, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: "[It's] good for us to be able to talk about this openly so people know that they're not alone, and what they're feeling isn't something that's abnormal," says James.

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