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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 94-99

Exploring the quality of life of couples whose children are settled abroad

1 Department of Psychology, Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, India
2 Department of Pediatric and Preventive Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission26-Apr-2020
Date of Decision31-May-2020
Date of Acceptance26-Jun-2020
Date of Web Publication21-Jan-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Akanksha Juneja
Department of Pediatric and Preventive Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jgmh.jgmh_13_20

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Objective: The present study was aimed at exploring the quality of life of parents whose children are settled abroad and the resultant changes in their quality of life. Methods: The research was designed primarily in the qualitative mode because the research caters to a subjective, personal, and experiential realm of parents. The total sample consisted of 30 couples (30 mothers and 30 fathers) working currently in Delhi. The tools used in the study were the General Health Questionnaire-12 (1992) and an Interview Schedule developed for the study. The results were analyzed using content analysis, frequency count, and narrative analysis. Results: The findings showed that few parents suffered from empty nest syndrome. All of them reported changes in their quality of life, but most of them seem to be satisfied with their lives. Conclusion: Understanding the life of such parents has counseling implications. There is a need to develop interventions to enable these parents to continue living their life with enthusiasm and contentment as well as challenge the popular negative connotations of the term empty nest.

Keywords: Coping, couples, empty nest, exploratory

How to cite this article:
Juneja A, Juneja A, Jawa S. Exploring the quality of life of couples whose children are settled abroad. J Geriatr Ment Health 2020;7:94-9

How to cite this URL:
Juneja A, Juneja A, Jawa S. Exploring the quality of life of couples whose children are settled abroad. J Geriatr Ment Health [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Feb 7];7:94-9. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Empty nest phase as a phase in the life span of a parent is characterized by the time when all the children move away from the parental home and stay away from them. It is a psychological condition, in which parents experience unhappiness, worry, loneliness, and depression from their children's departure from home.[1] In Indian culture, elderly parents were held in very high esteem, and it was considered almost a duty to care for and respect them. There were extended families, and even when children moved away for various reasons, they had the support of the extended family. Even though empty nest syndrome has become more prevalent in modern times, as the extended family is becoming less common than in past generations, but are the parents really experiencing loneliness and depression as the times of WhatsApp and Facebook has given the parents a time to rebond in different ways. At the same time, it cannot be denied that traditional values are coming in conflict with Westernization, and the elderly are left living by themselves in the modern setting. Young adults' transition toward complete adult roles, statuses, and responsibilities, is a process called child launching. Emotional and physical separation with independence from parents may result in attachment and emotional responses from both the parent and child.[2] Although empty nest syndrome strikes both father and mother, it has been observed that mothers are affected more by it than the father as mothers are emotionally more attached to their children and it affects even more if they are going through other significant life events as well, such as menopause. This is true even for most working mothers. Studies on reactions of different genders with regard to the psychological well-being of elderly parents living with and without children found that women's psychological health was negatively influenced by home leaving of the child.[3],[4],[5] Studies have also shown that left behind older parents had greater degrees of mental health issues, including depressive symptoms, loneliness, poor life satisfaction, and poor cognitive abilities. However, they discussed the findings in the light of living arrangements, gender, education, income, physical health, physical activity, family, social support, age, and frequency of child's visit.[6],[7],[8],[9],[10] However, some studies have also shown that some parents enjoy greater freedom, a reconnection with their spouses, and more time to pursue their own goals and interests once their children leave home. Parents report that seeing a child start down the path toward successful adulthood gives them a feeling of joy and pride. Even some unexpected benefits of the empty-nest period have also been revealed like a renewal of ties with other family members.[11],[12] It is evident from the stated facts that empty nest syndrome has both positive and negative effects on the quality of life of parents, which motivated the investigator for the present exploratory study.

Quality of life has been defined and approached in diverse definable and operational characteristics. The World Health Organization defines the quality of life as “an individual perception of his or her position in life in the context of the culture and the value system in which he or she lives and in relation to his or her goals, expectations, standards and concerns. It is a broad-ranging concept incorporating in a complex way the personal physical health, psychological status, level of independence, social relationships, personal beliefs, relationships to future of his or her environment.” It is evident from the above-stated facts that it is not easy to determine the quality of anything, but a search for indicators might help. The two widely accepted aspects encompassed by the quality of life are subjectivity and multidimensionality.[13] The Quality of life as a multidimensional construct can further include material and nonmaterial, objective, and subjective, individual and collective aspects.[14]

In the context of the present study, quality of life of the parents has been explored using subjective indicators in terms of interpersonal relationships with spouse, relatives, friends, and children, degree of socialization, participation in leisure time activities, involvement in religious activities, economic and health status, psychological distress level and happiness of the parents due to their children being away from them and settled abroad.

  Methods Top

The present study was conducted to understand the presence of empty nest syndrome among empty-nest couples, parents' perception of the quality of life, parents' perception of changes in the quality of life due to empty nest, reasons for change or no change in the quality of life, the reasons for their stress in relation to their children being away, their perception of their children responses toward them in times of need, their expectations from children in times of need, availability of other people in India for help in times of need, and parents own coping mechanism. The study was carried out in accordance with the recommendation of the institutional review board. The study was approved by the institutional ethical committee, and written informed consent was obtained from all the subjects.

The research was essentially exploratory and designed primarily in the qualitative mode because the research caters to a subjective, personal, and experiential realm of parents. Thirty heterosexual couples from Delhi NCR, not living in the joint family; having graduation and their minimum qualification and not suffering from any chronic and psychiatric ailment or any cognitive decline, including both husband and wife whose at least one child had moved away from parental home permanently for reasons related to professional or personal growth were interviewed. Participants had one or maximum of 2 children; none of them staying with them.

Participants were selected through nonprobability purposive sampling technique and mean age of participants was found 57.63 years with a range of 55–65 years. Data was collected from only those parents who were willing to participate.

The General Health Questionnaire-12[15],[16] was used to determine if parents are having distress due to their children living abroad. Instructions were modified for the purpose of the present study. The respondents were asked to report on each item if changes have occurred due to children moving away from home and living abroad.

The interview schedule was developed, keeping in mind the objectives of the study. The interviews were carried out on a one to one basis with each person of the sample, in their respective homes as per the mutual convenience. Written informed consent was taken. Each couple was interviewed on the same day. The couples were interviewed individually and not in the presence of the other spouse.

Data were analyzed and common themes or areas that could be observed emerging from the responses of the couples were identified. Frequency count was used to understand the trend regarding the constituents of themes for each domain. The narratives were used to interpret the themes.

  Results Top

The technique of content analysis was used to assess the responses of 60 respondents, and thematic areas for each domain were identified. The results have been summarized in [Table 1] and [Table 2].
Table 1: Presence of empty nest syndrome

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Table 2: Parents' perception of their overall quality of life

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Some important indicators seemed to emerge from the responses of the parents about quality of life. They perceived the quality of life as a multidimensional construct. All the parents reported more than one indicator or the constituents of quality of life.

An attempt was also made to understand the changes in the quality of life of empty nest couples and reasons for change or no change, the reasons for their stress in relation to their children being away, their perception of their children responses and expectations from them in times of need and their own coping mechanisms. Results are tabulated in [Table 3],[Table 4],[Table 5],[Table 6],[Table 7].
Table 3: Changes in relationships

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Table 4: Changes in economic status

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Table 5: Changes in leisure activities, happiness and health

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Table 6: Reasons for stress or no stress for parents

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Table 7: Expectations from children during stressful situation and coping mechanisms

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The findings suggest that parents would experience empty-nest syndrome due to their children moving away from the parental home. Few parents do seem to experience loneliness, but they seem to have other factors influencing them as well like lowered interaction with children, some amount of professional dissatisfaction, strained parent-son relationship, and separation from the child being quite distressing in itself. While most parents, on the other hand, seem to be leading their lives with satisfaction by remaining involved in some activity, whether it is leisure, social interaction, or work and seem to have made the successful adjustment as well. Findings are showing that there would be changes in the quality of life of empty nest couples after their children move away from parental homes. These changes were mostly towards a positive side which either emerged as a result of overcoming the void created by the absence of children or to live the life with a healthy and cheerful spirit, the domains which had undergone change being influenced by individual perceptions and evaluations.

  Discussion Top

The present study was conducted to assess the presence of empty nest syndrome in parents whose children have moved away from the parental home and how this affects their quality of life, their relationships, expectations, and coping mechanisms. The analysis of the interview responses and general health questionnaire revealed the presence of empty nest syndrome in some couples.

A few mothers reported to have less communication with their children after the settlement of their son abroad, and the fathers in the same family also felt that their relationship with their son gives them a lot of stress, both of them miss the son and that probably might explain their manifestation of empty nest syndrome. The poor level of interaction between the mother and son as well as the strained relationship between the father and son, seemed to be responsible for the loneliness and unhappiness being felt at this stage of life. This was in accordance with previous studies which observed that mothers with empty nest have a feeling of reduced life satisfaction, due to the infrequent contact with children.[17] Kaufman and Uhlenberg[18] also provided evidence for the decline in the son-mother relationship due to an increase in geographic distance. It may probably be attributed to sons, in general, taking less initiative in kin relationships.

Some of the fathers seemed to be professionally dissatisfied as their narratives stated them being discontented with their achievements. One of the fathers himself aspired to have a better future abroad and was feeling lonely at the same time because his son was not with him; this might explain the negative impact of the empty nest on him. This may be due to the loss of a major role that brings alienation, dissatisfaction, and loneliness. Depression in father and mother following the empty nest period was observed here as feeling unhappy and strained. Findings of the study also demonstrated that fathers seem to have more of a psychological rather than geographical distance impacting them, which was in accordance with the previous studies, which concluded that closeness of the relationship is determined by socioemotional distance rather than geographic distance.[19]

Most of the couples which did not display empty nest syndrome seemed to be more or less satisfied with their lives, enjoying their new phase with their spouse or their friends and feeling happy for their children, letting them do what they want in their lives. This was in accordance with previous findings where various authors observed that there was a significant improvement in the life satisfaction of the post parental couples.[17],[20],[21],[22] These couples probably have accepted the fact that the children are leading good lives with some reporting feelings of loneliness at certain points of time, but this may seem to be obvious for traditional Indian culture where the trend of children leaving parental home is not so much prevalent. This postparental empty nest stage of life is the time when the parents can introspect what a good quality of life means to them, especially in relevance to this stage of life when children are no longer residing with the parents. Satisfaction, cheerfulness, and enjoyment in life, along with financial stability, were found to be the most important constituents of a good quality of life for the mothers in the sample. This seems to hold true probably because mothers are the primary caretakers of children and are very much attached to them; this childless phase of life needs to be taken in a positive way so that they, along with everybody else, remain happy.

Since all the mothers were working women, economic independence appeared to hold importance for them because they did not want to be a burden on anybody, even not on their children. Their working status also probably makes them broad-minded about religious issues. As most of the children were frequently in contact with the parents, most mothers were found to be satisfied and felt loved.

For the fathers too, satisfaction and enjoyment of life were the most important aspect which was followed by economic security and children's love and happiness at the same time. This shows that although the fathers may not be considered the primary caretakers of the children in popular terms, fathers do have a strong psychological attachment with their children these days and are affected by their absence and the quality of relationship they share with their children. Their reports of missing them and feeling happy at the same time show that fathers, too are emotionally sensitive to this change.

Changes in the relationship with a spouse were reported by the parents, and these changes were positive in nature, supporting the inferences of older studies.[17],[23] No mother attributed the change to filling up loneliness produced by leaving children. This may be because mothers become caretakers of their husbands or are involved with them after rearing the children. Maximum parents seemed to attribute their change to freedom from child-rearing, due to the notion that fathers have the responsibility of earning and settling the children well, the economic independence of children giving them more time to spend with their wives as this reduced their workload. On the other hand, mothers being released from the role of primary caretaker would provide the time and energy to be spent on focusing on the marital relationship as the number of family members reduce.

Changes in relationships with friends were reported more by the fathers than by the mothers. Probably, their friendships provided them the means to remain involved and share the feelings of loneliness they had after their role of the mother and father in the literal sense got over. This inference is provided evidence by Donald and Ware's[24] study reporting increased interaction with non-kin and institutions other than the family.

Equal number of mothers and fathers reported a change in their relationship with their children. While no mother had a feeling of anger towards the sons as popularly believed that mothers are quite attached to their children. No father thought that children are busy in their own lives. Both the mothers and fathers maximally reported an increased level of concern and bonding with the children after they left as the physical distance might heighten the sense of care for the family members as perceived by the parents according to the love received from the children. Distance would increase the sense of worry and concern, whereas it would reduce arguments as the parents and children are no longer with each other. The time they would want to spend with each other also would be more affection oriented. Various authors studying relationship changes between parent and children post separation observed an increase in concern and worry, with a reduction in the arguments suggesting positive changes in their relationship.[25],[26] Some couples reported a change in their economic status, and the maximum number reported a change because of the children becoming independent now.

Most of the parents did not report a change in their religious activities after their children settled abroad, may be because they were all working people and open to every idea rather than adhering to a particular religion strictly as such. A change probably was reported due to their reduced work demands after the children became independent, and these activities might have allowed them to fill up his time. Some couples increased religious practices to thank god for well being of their children and to remain busy after their children's moving away from the parental home.

Many couples reported a change in their health as a result of ageing and not due to their children moving away from parental home though it was reported more by fathers than mothers. Mothers probably are involved in both the domestic and outside work demands feeling themselves to be active and fit. However at the same time, both the groups did report feelings of loneliness. Since psychological changes influence the health of the individual, health deterioration may be affected to some extent by the settlement of children away from the parents also.[25],[27]

Quite a few couples, especially fathers, believed that settlement of children and that too in foreign countries provided them immense satisfaction as they also dreamt of going abroad and working because of the better opportunities that would have been available to them and now would be used fully by their children. Contentment and satisfaction with the achievements of children settled abroad have been reported by other researchers also.[20]

Stress was experienced by fathers more so because of the loneliness they felt by the absence of the children while mothers too had this reason along with worry for the well being of the children. Although overall, mothers felt stressed more than the fathers. The fathers did miss the sons because sons hold a special value in the Indian context and are seen as the strength at this age, while for mothers also sons have a distinct place, but being the caretakers they do worry about the health of the children even if they have become adults. Almost all the couples had given the children the freedom to decide for themselves like the parents in the study by Aldous[27] and Chao[28] where parents reported consensus and affective relations among themselves and the children. The changing times with a wider range of opportunities and excessive competition probably lead the parents to let the children choose for themselves what they want to do and how they want to achieve it.

Fathers, more than mothers wanted their children to be physically present in stressful situations while mothers just expected emotional support so as to not disrupt the working and psychological lives of the children. Mothers perceived themselves as caretakers, and they preferred emotional reassurance, and the rest they seem to be managing on their own. In the absence of children, fathers primarily believed that friends and a few immediate relatives would be available to them in case of emergency, while mothers felt neighbors could also be of help as suggested by authors Waite and Harrison.[29]

Many couples had started watching television and computer together or traveling as their personal coping mechanisms to stress, with mothers enjoying watching television, talking to friends and family, and burying themselves in their jobs. Due to gender stereotyping, men are supposed to be strong and not expressive, while women are expected to be more expressive of their emotions. As a result, men probably remain within themselves in stressful situations and do not seek much support from others while mothers seek support along with verbal exchanges, which provides them some comfort. This explains the fact that for fathers coping mechanism was more about indulging into various activities while for mothers, it was about talking to friends and family.

There were a few limitations of the study like the sample was restricted to Delhi NCR; they were all working adults, and the participants were not living alone but with a partner. Furthermore validated empty nest syndrome scale were not used for the study; instead, interview and narrative analysis was used for assessment. Even though the sample size for an exploratory study was adequate, a larger, diverse sample size would have made the study more generalizable.

  Conclusion Top

While there were couples who felt lonely and missed a meaning in life when their children moved away, many of the couples were able to cope well and did not experience the typical symptoms of empty nest syndrome. The reasons to attribute the above findings are the fact that the participants were urban, educated, and working population who could keep themselves preoccupied with their work. Psychological availability of the child, financial conditions, and availability of the partner can also be enlisted as factors that result in a satisfactory living. The findings have counseling implications. Responses made by the empty nest couples are suggestive for denying and overcoming the negative consequences attached to the term empty nest. Based on the present findings, suggestions for overcoming empty nest syndrome and improving quality of life for empty nest couples may be made.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7]


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