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Kindergarten Empty Nest: When your Youngest Child Starts School

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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.

Kindergarten Empty Nest: When your Youngest Child Starts School

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?

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54 thoughts on “Kindergarten Empty Nest: When your Youngest Child Starts School”

  1. My youngest son starts Kindergarten in August. It’s nearly April now. I’m already getting depressed about it. Full blown depressed. Crying at random times. It’s a bit different for me. I don’t drive so I’m always home. I’ve been a stay at home mom for eleven years now. Eleven! I just don’t know what to do with myself once he’s gone. It was hard with the first two kids but not nearly as hard as it is already with my youngest.

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  2. Thank you so much for understanding. I just cried down the phone to my mum and she told me to grow up.

    My twin girls are starting school full time next month and I miss them so much on the days they go part time that it hurts , I don’t feel like a proper mummy any more, they are my first my last and my only, despite everything.

    5 whole years I’ve been at home with them, i know it sounds so stupid but it feels like I’m pregnant in reverse. All I’ve ever wanted was to be a mummy and have babies, it’s just gone so fast.

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  3. Thanks for this article. This is my 2nd day home by myself without my preschooler. My 2 year old started preschool because I got a job offer but I don’t start until 2 weeks later. I can’t figure out what to do with myself. I’ve been here for half an hour looking at pictures and crying about how times flew by these 2 years. And it’s only 9am!

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  4. This is helpful – thank you!
    My youngest of two starts Kindy tomorrow at age 3 and a half. I feel devastated and want to freeze time.
    I have a goal to finish some study over the next 3 months though, so that will help.

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  5. I have felt so alone and helpless over this very situation. Our youngest (now 7) started school full time two years ago. (We have 2 older kids, ages 10 and 12). I had dreaded the idea of our youngest going off to school for well over a year, and I considered every possible way to keep her at home with me for a couple of extra years — including home-schooling. In the end, we decided it was best to send her to public school. Now, I’m home alone by myself every day.

    Since two years ago, I have felt alone and worthless as I try to figure out how to define myself after so many years as a busy, full-time stay-at-home mom. My husband has a high-level career, extensive education, and a high salary, but I never completed the community college course I started, so I only have a high school diploma. I want to have a career, but I don’t want to get a job just for the sake of working. I know that I don’t have the educational credentials to get a fulfilling, respected position like I would want. I’m also quiet, and have little self-esteem, so I can’t even fathom a volunteer position.

    To make matters worse, my husband’s entire family has post-secondary degrees and distinctions. His sisters, whom I’ve always felt intimidated by, have seemingly fulfilling, interesting careers, and his parents are also well-educated. (His parents are pleasant to me, but I always feel that they look down on me somehow.) I am very insecure around his sisters — and it’s gotten to the point that I can’t stand being around them, which means that over the past couple of years, I’ve basically bowed out of all family events. In a way, I feel that I intensely dislike them, even though they’ve never actually made explicitly condescending comments to me. I’m also afraid that my kids will start to wonder why I don’t want to go to events organized by my husband’s family, to the extent that I want to keep my kids from seeing them at all.

    None of this was as much of an issue when I was a full-time stay-at-home mom, because it was obvious then that I was doing an important ‘full-time’ job just by staying home. So I felt like I was somehow respected for the importance of that role.

    Now, I have no idea how to re-invent myself. I can’t imagine going back to school — even community college. I just don’t even want to consider it.

    I recently got really upset (unexpectedly) with my husband’s mom, when she tried to organize a family gathering. (She didn’t say anything inappropriate, but my anger and frustration got the best of me.) I basically told her I would no longer attend family events at all, and that I didn’t want my kids around my husband’s side of the family. My mom-in-law is a model of tact and restraint, and just looked shocked — didn’t say anything, true to her WASP upbringing. I honestly don’t feel that I can talk to her about what I’m going through, but the pressure (and uncomfortableness) of family events is too much to bear. I feel like such an outsider. My husband understands to some extent, but at the same time, he was never happy that I didn’t finish college (it was an impulsive decision to quit before I got a diploma). So I get very little sympathy from him — he just keeps suggesting that I see a therapist. I know that a therapist will suggest I get involved in the community, volunteer, etc. And I’m just not ready for that.

    Sorry about such a long comment… I really just needed to be honest and hope that someone may relate.

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    • Sounds like you are afraid of the world of work and education and volunteering because of low self esteem. However being a stay at home Mom builds a lot of skills in you which are very valuable and transferable. You are likely more skilled and experienced in some areas than your sisters in law, though you don’t need to compare yourself to them, you need to do what makes sense for you. Have you considered volunteering or working or getting a qualification in child care ? Do you have any interest or hobby you would like to take further? Could you get more involved with your children’s schools? Also seeing a therapist could be very helpful, a good therapist won’t tell you what to do, but help you talk through and figure out what you want to do. When I went to a therapist it was very helpful, I was surprised that she wasn’t giving me any advice at all.

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      • Thank you– I find these forums make me feel less alone. I do realize I have some valuable skills (thanks for the video, Carrie Anne), but I have no education beyond high school. This is something that I hugely regret and think about all the time. Because my husband is a high-level professional in the community, I feel I can’t (and don’t want to) take just any job for the sake of working — I want some sort of job that makes me feel fulfilled and respected in the community, even if it’s just part time or a few hours a week. But all the types of jobs that I might find fulfilling require post-secondary education, which I don’t have.

        I have thought about enrolling at the local community college here to study in the early childhood education program (it’s one year, and I could do it part time), but my brother-in-law (husband’s sister’s husband) is heavily involved in various professional advisory committees at the college and I’m quite sure I would run into him there. I really can’t bring myself to be around my husband’s family at all, as they all have multiple university degrees and professional jobs and I feel that they look down on me. It would be humiliating for me to see my brother-in-law there and have him inquire about how I am doing and why I am there.

        I have thought about volunteering, but I know I would feel inadequate volunteering at my kids school, and especially around the other parents and the teachers.

        I dread the question ‘what do you do?’ and it makes me very upset (inwardly) when people ask. I try to avoid showing that I am upset/ angry, but I am starting to avoid any sort of social gathering, because I really can’t handle this question.

        The other issue is my kids. My oldest is 12 and he is very bright. He is perceptive and is starting to see that I do not have the academic skills in math and science that he has, and that makes me feel ashamed and embarrassed. I feel that he respects his dad and his aunts and uncles more, as they have the abilities in science and math that I do not have. My younger kids are doing well academically too, and I am starting to feel so conflicted. On one hand, I want them to go to university to avoid what I am going through. On the other hand, I don’t want them to ‘better’ their mom and feel that I am beneath them.

        I would go to a therapist, if I thought they would not try to give me advice. My husband thinks I really need to talk to a therapist, and it really irritates him that I have not tried to go and work through these problems. We have gotten into arguments recently that all revolve around this problem that I have. He is busy at work, and fed up with this issue that I have, so he is not sympathetic. Basically, he says he is sick of hearing about it and says he has too much on his mind at work to deal with my issues too. He tells me I have to stop wallowing and do something or talk to ‘someone’. I am worried, though, that the therapist may be somehow connected with someone I know. Are therapists required by law to keep client files completely confidential? I am so concerned about anyone in the community finding out how I feel.

        I really appreciate any further advice or thoughts on this.

      • I feel your pain Kim. It can be hard to move forward under the eyes of others (kids, family, other parents). When faced with this I remind myself that if my child was in a similar situation (not doing something for fear of not being good at it or unsure of what their friends would think), I encourage them to do what they want to do and not focus on others. Of course it’s always easier to give advice than to follow it sometimes. By take a course, exploring new interests, even volunteering, you end up being an example to your kids that life is about constantly evolving and learning. I think it takes more courage to start again later in life than to continue down the path of your early adult years. I hope you find an inner light to encourage yourself to try something new, even if it feels like a small step. I think your family is very lucky to have a mom who is open to the possibility of something new. Good luck with whatever direction you decide to go.

  6. Thank you for this article. I thought I was so excited for my youngest to go to kindergarten…and then it happened and I’ve been so weepy and depressed! I wasn’t prepared to feel like this! After being a SAHM for 8 years, and to know that part of my life, having young kids at home during the day, is over… it’s just harder than I thought! It made me feel so much less alone reading this. None of my friends are SAHM’s and I’ve never heard anyone talk about it. Thank you so much!

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  7. Omg! I’m still so emotional my son started kindergarten last week and the first day nothing no tears but dad was crying and I was consoling other moms. Now the last two days I am so anxious and emotional I feel like a mess it’s horrible I think I’m crazy or something! It’s like all I do is worry about my son. I work from home but I still think all day and I hold my emotions in maybe that’s what anxiety feels bad but I feel like all I want to do is cry!

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  8. Thanks for this article. I have felt so alone with this sadness. It’s so hard to say goodbye to this lovely and innocent phase of life. It helps so much to know that others feel the same way and got through it. It is indeed a kind of grieving. Thanks for your suggestions. Love to all the moms going thtough this. At least we know that we loved these years!

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  9. I’ve read lots of articles on this subject as I prepare for my twins (that we endured years of fertility treatment to conceive) start kindergarten tomorrow. However, yours speaks to me in a way that no other one has. I take comfort in your suggestion of allowing time to grieve. I really do need that as do many moms in my position I’m sure. Your encouragement to focus on a new goal is also important for people in our situation. Kudos to a great article!

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  10. I’m a working mom always have been as my husband stayed home with our daughter. But going to kindergarten has hit me harder than I ever thought it would. I cry every day though luckily my daughter seems fine. I miss my little baby girl. Now she is exposed to so much more with all the “big kids” at school. It’s terrifying. I’m constantly doubting myself and my school choice for her. Public, private, christian schools I wonder if any are “better” than the other or is it just a hard transition for me. I am glad to know I’m not the only one and also that working moms can experience separation anxiety too. 🙁

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    • Yes Anne, parenting angst doesn’t seem to end after our kids turn one. My oldest just entered high school and I still go through all that child decision doubts. Thanks for adding your comment.

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