In my former life, I was a school teacher. Quitting my job to stay home with my children was the best decision for my family.
I transitioned slowly to the new role of stay-at-home-mom, but I grew to love the freedom of being home and deciding the daily influences on my children.
For seven years, I stayed home. I went from being the sole playmate to the mother of two boys who were rough-and-tumble and would love and laugh for hours with each other.
We had playdates, craft projects, park visits, stroller rides, board games, Target trips (thank you, lollipops!), and, yes, even lunch at McDonald’s.
We took classes at the YMCA and visited the local library.
The day was packed full, exhausting, and rarely quiet. The house was a mess, and the sound of the garage door sent all of us running to meet Daddy at the end of his workday.
It wasn’t glamorous work, but someone had to do it, and I was glad it was me.
But when my youngest child dared to turn 5, my role in the world I knew changed. In an instant, I went from being needed every waking moment to having a completely quiet house with no one to answer to but myself.
Though the transition was hard, there is life after the kids go to school, so I am here to offer suggestions for making the transition go more smoothly when it is time for your children to start kindergarten.
Transitioning to Being a Kindergarten Mom
First, allow yourself time to grieve. When you are a stay-at-home-mom, there are days when you feel like you live in a cave.
The sounds echo off every wall. Your children grunt and groan. They run around in their underwear in the middle of winter.
But when you crawl out of the cave to find stillness, you will find yourself wanting to run back into the cave! The cave has been your sanctuary.
Allow yourself some time to ponder the days gone by. One of my first days home alone, I started to cry when I found Dragon Tales on TV and watched it by myself.
What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
We hear this term often as our children graduate high school and leave home for bigger and better things, but the same concept can definitely also be applied for kindergarten students leaving mommy.
Empty nest syndrome is simply the sadness or emotional distress that affects parents (in this case, the stay at home mom), whose children have left the home.
This is definitely a life-changing event, and if being a stay at home mom is what your life has been, then you may also be suffering a loss of some meaning in your life.
What are you supposed to do now that your little one is dependent on you for everything throughout the day? You may feel depressed and sad at times, you may suffer from anxiety, and there will almost always be tears.
The same can also be true of your preschooler and can continue until they start kindergarten.
When Do Children Start Kindergarten?
Typically, at age 5, but sometimes it can be as late as six years old.
States and districts have pushed the minimum age to start Kindergarten up so that more kids can start school when they are at least 5 years old. To be sure about your area, you should check the Kindergarten entrance ages for your own state and district.
Once I’m Done Grieving, What’s Next?
When you are done grieving (though it will come and go), shout at the top of your lungs.
Really, do it! I can’t remember what I yelled, but when I did, no one answered.
I had a perfectly quiet house where I could be Queen for the entire day. It is liberating to realize that you have the opportunity to set your own schedule any way you choose.
So, now that you have that realization, the next thing you need to do is decide what you want to put on that schedule.
It could be that you want to get your house organized, shop without children weighing you down, or have lunch with your girlfriends. You no longer have to face the challenges of getting your errands done or spending time for yourself once your kids start kindergarten.
It could be that you want to be a school volunteer or help at the local nursing home. Maybe you have been wanting to take an art class or write that book that has been formulating in your mind.
You need to have a plan — one that might change each day, but that will give you a structure for your day.
How Can I Prepare and Plan for this?
Next, you need to implement that plan. Is it OK to sit on the couch and eat bon-bons all day? (I don’t even know what those are, but I know people that assume that is all moms do anyway. Grrr.)
Sure, take a bubble bath. Take a nap.
But doing so on a regular basis is a setup for disaster. You are redefining your place in life with your plan.
You have the opportunity to do and be all that you never had a chance to do and be before.
Don’t waste this opportunity because you can’t find anything to do. Laying around the house all day every day will squash your inner voice that needs to be let out, and it may cause you to become depressed.
How can you help make the transition easier for both of you?
Spend One-On-One Time Together
The days are counting down until that first day of school, and the first day of inevitable freedom you will have since you became a stay-at-home mom.
We have talked about how you will feel as the mother, but how can you help make this transition easier on the child as well?
Spend some quality time together during that summer leading up to school. The focus, attention, and one on one time will help reassure both of you and will make the time spent together after school starts much more meaningful.
Say No to After School Activities
Making the transition to Kindergarten and finding ways to fill your alone time at home to avoid feelings of sadness and loneliness are already big and life-changing things.
So, before filling up any free time your child has or any time you could be spending with your child, say no to after school activities for the time being.
Kindergarten is a long and busy day for your child and is an environment they have to get used to. So, it is best to give yourself and your child a little time to cope and adjust before throwing in a bunch of other new and time-filling activities.
Use that free time after school and on the weekends to reconnect with your child. Ask about their day or week at school.
Talk about everything they have experienced and embrace your little one because it is only a matter of time before the next school day starts again.
Prepare for the First Day Together
Finally, prepare for the first day together. You can create memories and stronger bonds with your children when you spend that time with them shopping for school clothes and school supplies.
You can make an entire day of it. Make this time in your lives exciting and special. This will also go a long way at putting your child’s mind at ease.
Embrace the Truth
There are lots of stay at home moms who become bored and depressed. Don’t be one of them.
Your plan might include re-entry into the workplace. Great! You have put your career aspirations on hold to stay home.
You may desire to get back to work outside the home or to work from the home in the quiet of your home office, as I do. It doesn’t matter so much what your plan is, so long as you take the time to make it, stick to it, and adjust it as you change.
Having your child go to kindergarten is both heartbreaking and exhilarating. Allow yourself to experience the emotion of loss as you move from one phase to another.
Learn to redefine what interests you. And don’t worry, they’ll be home at 3:30. Chaos will ensue once again!
Editor’s note: a mom confession on kindergarten grief. Can you relate?
54 thoughts on “Kindergarten Empty Nest: When your Youngest Child Starts School”
Im happy to find I’m not alone in my struggles. When my twins (2nd &3rd children) started kindergarten it was the happiest day of my life. Freedom!! I was giddy for three days. I had finished my masters degree online and was excited to enter the adult world. But now they are almost out of first grade and I haven’t been able to find a job/career. I feel my resume is impressive and I’ve interviewed a fair amount, but nothing allows me to get my kids to and from school and pays enough to put the kids in summer school/camp. Other than a daily trip to the gym, I spend my days completely alone and am starting to eat myself to death. Im severely depressed. I have no friends or family to confess in except my husband, and he’s understandably getting pretty sick of my tears.
I’m struggling and I’m glad I came across your article. My oldest is 21 and my youngest just started kindergarten. I’ve been a stay at home mom my entire adult life. I don’t know how to be just me. I feel lost. I get teary or even cry and then I feel ridiculous for crying. I wasn’t expecting to feel this way at all! I just keep hoping I can figure out my new norm. Thank you for your article. It helps me know what I’m going through is normal.
I’m so relating too! My twins are 1 year away from kindergarten and it kills me to think I won’t have another little one after them. I have a 8 year old daughter and I don’t feel like I could fully mourn her starting kindergarten because I was in survival mode with the twins. I keep asking myself if this means I want another baby or am I just putting off the inevitable emptiness that will come after they go to school. So sad! I work full time and I sometimes blame that for not allowing me to be with the kids enough. Thanks for relating, mamas!
I’m so relating to all these comments. I have been a stay at home mum for close to 16 years (5 kids) and feel quite lost. Hubby doesn’t get it as he just thinks that the house will be tidier now because a have more uninterrupted time. While true I don’t want my life defined by housework!
Great article thank you! It was day one for me today without my boys. Older one is at school for 2 years now, younger just started kindergarten. It suddenly hit me last night and I pretty much can not stop crying since then. The worst part is I was still feeling the same even when they came home from school!!! It’s like I’m dead inside. It’s just not the same anymore… I had plans on what to do when my younger one starts school but now I do not feel like I want to do any of them. I do not want to do anything at all…. For last eight years there was always at least one child by my side… I feel so lost, so empty, so useless…
My youngest starts preschool today and I am a mess! She is our only girl and the only one I’ve gotten to stay home full time and care for, so to say we are attached is an understatement. When my older 2 started school I always had a baby waiting in the wings so to speak and was already working full time. Now I don’t have either and am heartbroken. I know it is best for her, but it is so hard to be happy about it.
My son starts on Tuesday. Partial days to start but I still cant stop crying at the thought. Most of our friends seem like they cant wait to send their kids to kinder. I dont want to. I love spending time with my kid and will miss the freedom that comes with that — and will miss him! — but I hope to volunteer at the school and in the class as much as possible. Thanks for helping me feel a little less alone in my kindergarten grieving 🙂
Thank you for putting this feeling out there for all of us who are feeling so lost and sad. It’s my baby’s third day of kinder, and everyday I drop him off, I come home feeling gutted. The first day he cried when he walked away, and I was crying too behind my sunglasses but I had to smile and wave and say chin up it’s going to be a good day. It hurt! I feel ridiculous being so sad when it’s the second time around that I’ve done this, but I can’t stop feeling so sad and lost. Reading this post has helped me see that it’s not just me and also allowed me to see that it’s okay to grieve. I want to develop a plan now and I will, but I think I need to feel a little sad for a while longer and realize it’s ok to feel this way. Thank you so much.
Boy did I need this today! I couldn’t wait for them to start school so I could have a breather from my son and daughter bickering all summer about anything and everything. Then, 4 days ago, I didn’t want it to end. Today is my sons first day of 4th grade and my daughters first day of kindergarten. And I am struggling. My husband said relax today and watch movies because, it’s raining and the perfect day for it, but I can’t. I will cry all day long. So I’m choosing to turn on that music and clean the house… in peace. Without my children wanting to make more messes as I clean. I will also remake dinner so I can spend more time with them when they get home with my undivided attention. It’s moments like these that make me think stay at home motherhood is confusing!! Love my babies and already miss them terribly!
My oldest is 4 starting prek next week, I’ve been an stay at home mom since 2014! I am so emotional and cry everytime I think about having to drop him off at school, I am with him and my 1 year old 24/7! You really realize how much time has gone by when the day does come and they are finally going to school but the part you don’t realize is how much it hurts when you have to walk away and let them learn! I love being a stay at home mom, 30 years old and why do I feel so heartbroken and upset when I should be happy and excited for my son? I am the type of mom who doesn’t get me time or go by myself to the store for 10 minutes, so why am I not happy I’ll get some time with just my youngest for a few hours and yes it would be somewhat different, I guess I do feel some anxiety about it!
Thank you for this, so many things changed for me this past year and I’m going to be 40 and my youngest is going to kindergarten and I think I am just so sad because I am grieving the fact that I am done having babies, I am getting older. I loved the innocence of my little kids and I already miss these days …trying to finish out the summer savoring every minute and trying to be positive