Kindergarten Empty Nest: When your Youngest Child starts School


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.

kindergaten-empty-nestFor seven years I stayed home. I went from being the sole playmate to the mother of two boys who would rough and tumble and 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 McDonalds. 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 work day. 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 five, 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 offer suggestions for making the transition more smoothly.

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 Dragontales on TV and watched it by myself.

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 can 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. 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 structure for your day.

Next, you need to implement this 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 set-up for disaster. You are re-defining 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 may cause you to be depressed.

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 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: latest mom confession on kindergarten grief. Can you relate?

January 22nd, 2010|Tags: , |42 Comments

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  1. Dana September 3, 2014 at 7:35 am - Reply

    Thanks, I needed this article today.

    • Carrie Anne September 3, 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

      So glad this helped your transition Dana. Everyone always talks about kindergarten as a big step for kids but it’s just has hard for parents. Hope it’s a great year for both of you.

  2. Johnny January 22, 2015 at 11:30 am - Reply

    I came across this article late to the game, but it was just what I was looking for today…..I am a stay at home Dad and my second child has about a year and a half to go before she is the last out of the house. I have always said I will be excited but sad in ways with that transition and this article touched on some great talking points!

  3. Carla January 29, 2015 at 9:16 am - Reply

    I just dont know how to do it, i feel depress, I sleep in the mirning just to pass the time, my family is in another state , here is just me my daughter and my husband, the transition has been really hard, i feel linely and simethimes even when us 3:00pm I still feel sad. I will try to find a part time job, but what us going to happend in the summer, when she is out of school? I want to have another baby and this time do the transition diferently, I dont know.

    • Amanda January 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Carla, just wondering what you did?? Just reading posts online as I am having all these feelings since my second son started kindergarten in September and I’ve been feeling pretty quiet and lonely since. We had always talked about possibly 3 kids, but never acted on it sooner, and now I’m feeling regret that we didn’t sooner. Did you get over your sad feelings or try for another child.

  4. Stevie August 26, 2015 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Oh my goodness did I need this article today! It is my 3rd day with my son at school. I still have a two year old at homw but I am so used to just….. being a mom to two boys 24/7 I am utterly lost with my one chilled out relaxed son. I have barely been able to get anything fone watching the clock for when I NEED to be ready to get my first born. I am looking forward to when the tears stop coming at 11 when Calliou comes on, for when my life starts again. I need to clean and craft and experience life with one kid. But im still scared…lol

    • Carrie Anne August 26, 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

      I hear you Stevie. I felt the same way when my oldest went to school for the first time and I had just one child at home. Then it was a whole new experience when my third and last went to school, well, half day kindergarten.

  5. Kellie January 18, 2016 at 9:16 am - Reply

    I gotta tell you, I needed this article too. My youngest turned 5 in November and will be heading off to FULL DAY kindergarten in August 2016. No kidding it feels like I’m staring down the barrel of a shot gun!!! Whats a stay at home mom with no one to mom LOL. I’ve been trying to figure out what comes next. I’ve already started to grieve, somedays are good and some are not as good. The hardest part is that my husband, the career man who works full time and is in school for his masters, can’t seem to full understand though he tries. My kids are convinced that I am going bat crap crazy lol. But really I’ve been home for 10 years now, TEN YEARS. For 10 years i have not so much as gone to the bathroom alone lol. I am hopeful, scared, sad, happy, grateful, and lost all at the same time, it almost feels the same as when I became a stay at home mom.

    • Carrie Anne January 24, 2016 at 9:03 am - Reply

      I hear you Kellie. It’s hard to make adjustments to a role you’ve been in for so long. Every stage in my children’s life that came to an end was harder on me than it was on my kids. But change doesn’t have to be a bad thing and perhaps you’ll discover a new passion while still being there for your kids.

    • StirCrazyMom February 3, 2016 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      Oh Kellie, you said just what I was going to say. What do I do now? Too long out of the job market to get back into my financial services job I had 10 yrs ago… Lost so much confidence that I’m terrified to go “back out there” but don’t wanna sell Avon anymore cos I suck at that too LOL

      • Carrie Anne February 6, 2016 at 8:08 am - Reply

        Change can be scary. I went through a similar situation and tried doing some contract/freelance work in related fields see if it was still something I was interested in. I shared a video on things I learned about going back to work after an extended time away:

        It could also be a chance to explore other areas of interest. I heard a statistic that people go through 7 career changes in their lifetime.

    • Amanda August 8, 2016 at 12:46 pm - Reply

      This. Absolutely this, Kelli! I had three sons in five years and haven’t “worked” since June 2005. I’ve had at least one kid home the majority of the day for 11 years. This change is terrifying!

  6. Luci murphy February 15, 2016 at 1:54 am - Reply

    My 3 kids are all roughly 4 and 1/2 years apart and my youngest brother (whom i helped to raise) is only 3 years older then my oldest child so each time one went off to school i had a baby at home and was basically starting again. For 17 years… But now my baby has gone to kindergarten on the heels of my divorce… Im so bored. I barely function. I sleep all day and then im up all night. I’m physically disabled so going “back to work” seems far fetched. I had my oldest at 16 and always looked forward to them all being in school so i could do things… But now i feel like my life is over at 30. This article helped though. Hopefully ill find something to do besides sleep. ?

    • Carrie Anne February 18, 2016 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      It sounds like you’ve had two big life changing moments happen pretty close to one another Luci. Give yourself some time.

  7. stephanie April 26, 2016 at 8:24 am - Reply

    needed this one.. i still have fur month. . dealing bpd and being a revover addict im worried beond words… since i ve been clean i have always had my babies so this is going to be a whole new balll gave 🙂

  8. Sara August 6, 2016 at 3:47 am - Reply

    I don’t want to let go, only 4 more days and my youngest starts kindergarten, all I know is to be is a mom, it’s my joy. I don’t know what to do with myself when they start school, my heart is breaking at the thought. I am lost, 10 years of just being needed, I love my kids so much, it’s hard to think I only get 5 to 6 hours a day with them after school, I don’t want to let go, I don’t know what the future holds, I want a future for myself but I’m just not sure what that is yet, I’m scared to do anything else, Cuz I’m not good at anything else. I just love being mommy!

  9. Jude September 6, 2016 at 12:21 am - Reply

    So glad I found this article as my baby is starting school in six days and for months I have felt the dread creeping up. I have four older kids teenagers and adults and I never felt this bad over them starting but I need to find me again and tear me and my baby away from each other. Hardest thing ever but hopefully be a good thing for both of us .

  10. Juli July 16, 2017 at 6:07 am - Reply

    Wow, right there with you ladies! Well, right there where you were at the time you posted your comments. Kindergarten is 1.5 months away for my youngest and I’ll be staring at a closet of “work clothes” for the first time in 15 years while mourning the passing of my sahm days. Would LOVE to hear updates from the other side, from you all?

  11. Gabrielle Pritt July 24, 2017 at 4:58 am - Reply

    My youngest starts school in one year. I’m dreading the day. Especially since this is all I’ve known since 2007 and I still can’t drive. So, not only will I be all alone in a year’s time but I’ll be stuck at home with my own thoughts.

    • Carrie Anne July 27, 2017 at 2:27 pm - Reply

      Change is hard Gabrielle but think of the stories and experiences your youngest will have to share with you. Perhaps look at this as an opportunity to put the focus back on yourself, discover a long forgotten passion or pick-up a new interest. Thanks for sharing your comment. It is comforting for others to hear they’re not alone in this transition.

      Cheers, Carrie Anne

  12. Kim August 9, 2017 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    I think many people think we (stay-at-home moms) are sad because of the milestone itself, but I am sad about having less time with my daughter! I chose to be home, and it kills me knowing I get 40 hours less a week with her. It’s a week until she starts full-time kindergarten and man, this feels terrible. I still have another at home too! I just feel like these 5 years went so fast. I just keep telling myself that it’s not about me being sad and missing her. It’s about HER growing up and she’s excited! Still crying though.

    • Carrie Anne August 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      That’s a great point Kim. No matter how frustrating my kids were on some days, when they were in school I missed them. Thanks for sharing your comment.

    • Christina September 12, 2017 at 4:00 pm - Reply

      I hear you you definitely aren’t alone! My youngest just started kindergarten and he has bee home with me for 5 years. I thought I was ready for this but I guess not. The first day he didn’t cry but dad did I was surprised. Then second day I started to feel anxious then oh boy this mon and tues forget it I’m a mess I’m so anxious and emotional but I try not to show emotions I guess that’s not a good idea. My son isn’t really eating or drinking in school and not really using potty but he doesn’t give me grief to go to school go figure. I guess it’s just hard . I hope you are doing well!

  13. Anne August 14, 2017 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    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. 🙁

    • Carrie Anne August 15, 2017 at 6:47 pm - Reply

      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.

  14. Sarah August 15, 2017 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    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!

  15. Deepa August 25, 2017 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    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!

  16. Kristin September 11, 2017 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Day 2 of Kindergarten right now and needed to read this. It’s hard!

  17. Chrisina September 12, 2017 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    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!

  18. Jamie September 20, 2017 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    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!

  19. Kim September 21, 2017 at 8:56 am - Reply

    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.

    • Elaine September 28, 2017 at 10:39 am - Reply

      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.

      • Carrie Anne September 29, 2017 at 8:18 pm - Reply

        I agree with Elaine. Taking time to stay at home to raise your kids can offer a huge amount of benefits for future employers, skills those without kids may not have developed. I actually did a post on that very topic based on my own experience:

      • Kim October 25, 2017 at 7:42 am - Reply

        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.

        • Carrie Anne October 28, 2017 at 2:24 pm - Reply

          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.

  20. Tamara November 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. Really relevant at the moment, and so encouraging. Bless you!

    • Carrie Anne December 8, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

      So glad you found this post helpful Tamara. I love seeing the comments from other parents going through the same transition.

  21. Heidi January 30, 2018 at 6:42 am - Reply

    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.

  22. Melissa March 9, 2018 at 9:12 am - Reply

    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!

  23. Sarah March 13, 2018 at 7:33 am - Reply

    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.

  24. Gabrielle Pritt March 25, 2018 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    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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