Everyone prepares you for getting married, having a baby, and even retirement, but nobody talks about that awkward stage of parenthood when you go from a bustling household full of kids to everyone packing up their childhood bedroom to head to college. Celebs have been opening up a lot more about empty nest syndrome (we see you, Kelly Ripa!) and how emotional the experience can be. After shipping off her youngest child, Joaquin, to college, Ripa was compelled to share a throwback photo of all three of her kids on the first day of school in 2008. It’s crushing to think those days are gone.
But it’s not all mopey and sad because it’s often about putting your marriage first again, like Meredith Vieira. Or it’s about turning one of your children’s bedrooms into your own lady cave as Candace Cameron Bure is dying to do. And sometimes it’s simply relishing in the fact that you don’t have to rush to pick one kid up at the soccer field while trying to make dinner and getting the next child off to dance class — we feel you, Susan Sarandon.
So enjoy this bit of wisdom from some of your favorite stars who have been through this season of life. Denis Leary might have approached it with the best sense of humor, but we think some of the advice from these celebrities may leave you a bit misty-eyed.
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A version of this article was originally published in 2021.
Tim McGraw is a proud girl dad to Gracie, Maggie, and Audrey. Each of his daughters — who he shares with wife Faith Hill — are in their 20s, and McGraw knows just how hard it can be to watch them go out into the world. In fact, one of the songs on the country singer’s upcoming album is a tribute to the heartbreaking experience of his oldest flying the coop.
“I drove [Gracie] across the country when she moved to L.A.” he said on a recent episode of Audacy’s Rob+Holly. “When I dropped her off, I just lost it. And then I had to drive home all by myself and I was crying the whole time.”
Gwyneth Paltrow opened up on The Late Late Show, telling James Corden how hard it is to have a half-empty nest. The Marvel Universe star and Goop founder is mom to Apple, 18 and Moses, 16 and said it’s a “huge change” to have Apple off at college.
Moses, a junior in high school, will be with mom a little while longer, but Corden wondered how Paltrow is handling the notion of an impending empty nest.
“Not very well, not very well. I’m going to be coming to Hilary’s house,” she said, turning to her co-guest Hilary Swank who is pregnant with twins.
Hopefully Paltrow can hold onto her own wisdom and remember that even when her children move out, more good is on the horizon.
“In every phase [of their life] I’m like ‘I wish I could freeze time, I’m never going to love them more than this,’ and then you just love them more.”
Sugar Ray Leonard
Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard shared with Wealthsimple Magazine in 2019, “I got four kids, and six grandkids… what do they call that when you say you’re home by yourself? Just you and the wife? Empty nesters, that’s what we’re becoming. So now we’re looking to downsize the house, our lives, simplify everything. I love where I’m living but it’s just too lonely here without my kids. I miss that screaming — you know, that screaming and that fighting and that yelling? I miss all that.”
Kelly Ripa & Mark Consuelos
Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos have been the face of empty nesters this fall since the TV host has been sharing her “really hard” experience in sending their youngest child, Joaquin, off to college.
“….We became empty nesters. We took our youngest son to college, we dropped him off. It was hard. It was really hard,” shared on Live with Kelly and Ryan in early September.
She went on to share a bedtime memory of the kids when they were younger. “I would tuck them in bed, and I would give them kisses and cuddles, and then I would say goodnight and I would leave, and then I would come back and be like, ‘One more, one more,’ and they would giggle and laugh,” she said. “And it was always like, exciting.”
But that one final hug goodbye when they dropped their 18-year-old off at college really brought those childhood memories to a “brutally painful” end. “And I said, ‘I did not realize that 18 years would go so fast,” said Ripa. “And he didn’t say anything, he was just giving me a hug. And he turned to walk away and I said, ‘Wait, Joaquin, one more!’ And he kept walking. And I knew that… it was happening to him too, the emotion.”
Jada Pinkett Smith
Life without Willow and Jaden at home hasn’t been too bad for Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith because their kids have kept close to home and check in often.
“It’s funny — they’re not around, but they are!” Jada said to Yahoo in 2017. “I don’t even have time to miss them! Willow loves to call me every day, and even Jaden, when he’s away on set, still needs to see Will and I when he gets homesick.”
Will and Jada recently bought an $11.3 million home in Hidden Hills, so they will now be neighbors with their kids, making no room for any empty nest syndrome.
While Brooke Shields still has her 16-year-old daughter Grier Henchy still at home, she wasn’t ready for the overwhelming emotions of sending her oldest daughter, Rowan Henchy, off to college.
“My unique and extraordinary baby girl spreading her wings,” wrote Shields in a sweet Instagram post. “I love you so. We are so proud of you. This was the saddest drive away from anywhere I’ve ever had to make. But my baby is BEGINNING one of the most important adventures of her life to date…NOW!”
Michelle Pfeiffer and husband David E. Kelley have long been empty nesters, but the first couple of years when their kids, Claudia and John, began to leave the house were “no laughing matter.”
“It is really hard,” she told Parade in 2012. “I remember reading an interview with Dustin Hoffman; his first child had just gone off to college, and he said, “Nobody talks about their [empty] room.” I feel like I’m going to cry just thinking about it.”
Gayle King is now a grandmother, thanks to daughter Kirby, but it took a while for the CBS Mornings host to adjust to her kids being gone. “I’m trying to pretend they’re still just away at college,” she joked to Palm Beach Post a decade ago.
But now she loves the “me-time” this season of her life has given her — it’s why she accepted the early morning show job. “I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be on the morning news,” she said enthusiastically. “But now at this stage of my life, it’s all I want to do. It’s so cool.”
Elizabeth Hurley wasn’t too worried about son Damian leaving the nest in 2019. She nonchalantly called it “just a rite of life.” She was more excited by what her child would accomplish next after he left her house. “Parents need their little birds to fly and leave the nest one day,” she told Us Weekly.
For supermodel Christie Brinkley, just thinking about being an empty nester made her “misty-eyed” even though she raised three strong-minded kids, Alexa Ray Joel, Sailor Brinkley-Cook, and Jack Brinkley-Cook.
“I’ve always encouraged my kids to be independent and I always knew this moment was coming, but… I’m in the phase where I’m like ‘Go! Out the door.’ That is like the misty part of it to me,” she told Page Six in 2016.
Count Rob Lowe as one of those parents whose heart broke into a million pieces when his sons, Matthew and John, headed off to college.
He chronicled this moment in his memoir, Love Life, via HuffPost, “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. “There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered?”
With her two kids out of the house, Julianne Moore used an electronic strategy to stay in touch with her son and daughter, including “family texts, emojis, Bitmojis, Snapchat.” But she finds herself still wistful about the time they all spent together under one roof.
“It’s shocking for parents when their kids get older. Suddenly they’re 18 and doing things on their own. Childhood seems to last forever, but adolescence goes by in a flash,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was looking at my son’s room and I was, like, ‘He’s never going to be back here.’ And my husband said, ‘He’ll be back, but not in the same way.’ College is a halfway house — they’re on their own and responsible, but obviously not entirely responsible.”
Meredith Vieira feels a little “guilty” for saying that “the empty nest is great” after sending off her three kids, Benjamin, Lily, and Gabriel, to the real world. She and her husband, Richard, are enjoying the sweet life as empty nesters.
“We did our job, as my husband points out repeatedly. You’re supposed to give your children roots and wings, and their roots are firmly planted in the ground and they have a sense of themselves and of place and purpose,” she told Parade. “They have the ability to fly away from home and to test those wings. It’s time for us to sort of recapture our lives and enjoy it and I look forward to that.”
As of mother-of-three, Susan Sarandon knew what it was like to be “captive to their school schedule,” so she was thrilled when her youngest son, Miles, finally went off to college.
“I do [like nesting] but I’m also very good at visiting them in foreign places,” she explained to the U.K.’s Express. “The thing is, when you have kids you’re such a captive to their school schedule so you get an invite or you want to go someplace or something, you have to be back [by a certain time]. I’m very hands-on so I have to break that habit.”
After raising four children with wife Pauletta, Denzel Washington found himself rather lonely, especially after she decided to go back to the workforce.
“Last year she was in New York six months out of the year. I was like: I can’t get a meal round here, I’m sitting in this big house by myself, nobody is around, this is crazy,” he joked with The Guardian in 2012. That’s what it’s become!”
Candace Cameron Bure
Candance Cameron Bure has a really valid point about this season of life — listen up! “Empty-nesters are a group of people that we don’t focus on,” she told Parade. “We focus on people who have kids of different ages and grandparents. Empty nesters are in an in-between stage.”
While she would love for there to more of an emphasis on how children leaving the house impacts parents, don’t think she’s sitting around the house moping. “I’m really excited to add an office to my house by using one of my children’s bedrooms,” she revealed. Now which one of her three kids loses their childhood bedroom?
Kyra Sedgwick is very much in the same frame of mind as Susan Sarandon — kids’ schedules can be so time-consuming. But don’t worry, she still misses daughter Sosie and son Travis.
“There’s something to waking up and thinking, ‘What am I doing today?’ instead of, ‘How can I squeeze in what I need to do around their schedules?’ But hearing my kids walk through the front door saying hello is still the best sound to me,” she said to Parade.
Andie MacDowell was an actress who decided to put her career on the back burner while raising her kids. Once her three kids were out of the house, she decided it was time to prioritize her passions.
“One of the reasons I didn’t really want to do TV earlier in my career was because it is so life- consuming and I wanted to spend time with my kids and be a mother,” she told the Express. “I didn’t want to leave them. But as soon as my youngest daughter finished high school, I started thinking it would really be great. It was all timing.”
Kathy Lee Gifford
Kathy Lee Gifford took a very practical approach when her daughter Cassidy and son Cody left the nest — stay busy! “Find something to do that makes you so exhausted that by the end of the day you’re too exhausted to miss them as much as you really do,” she advised on Today.com. She also suggested baking, “remember[ing] you’re not alone” and “pray[ing] for them every time they come to mind or heart.”
If all else fails, she has a suggestion that will probably make your college-aged kids cringe. “Take a long weekend and surprise them with a visit,” she said. “They’ll either love you for it or hate you, but they will be stuck with you for three days.”
Sigourney Weaver was one of those parents who fell somewhere in the middle — yes, she was going to be sad, but she couldn’t wait to watch daughter Charlotte’s next adventure in life.
“I’m determined not to be one of those mawkish, soppy mothers so I’m determined to be very busy,” the Alien star said to The Telegraph. “Plus, it’s kind of exciting watching her go out there into the world.”
Denis Leary had a hilarious reason for being happy about his kids leaving the house for good — “their rooms are full of such great stuff.” He and wife Ann Leary were ready to enjoy all of the electronic toys in their teens’ rooms
“When I was a kid your room was like dust. We were poor growing up, we didn’t have televisions. My kids have plasma TVs and games and PlayStations and three different game systems and laptops. It’s a blast,” he joked to WENN. “My son has guitars in his room — a drum kit… I can’t wait.”
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