Here are some common feelings, and things you can do before your kids leave and after to work the feelings out and enjoy having an empty nest instead of lamenting it:
Sadness: To work this feeling out you want to recognize before your child ever leaves that it will be a loss. How can a relationship like that not be? However, you also need to look at this as a positive step forward. After your child leaves, cope with these feelings by focusing on the positive side of having them out of the house. Of course their happy face may no longer grace your home, but at least you do not have to stay up at night worrying about whether or not they will make curfew, or fight with them over computer use, or cell phone minutes. There is a lot of good, so deal with the sadness, don’t ignore it, but then focus on the positive side.
Loneliness: This is a common feeling many empty nesters have because they are used to a full house with children coming and going, lots going on, events on the calendar, etc. To cope with this, before the children ever leave, form friendships and relationships that are not perpetuated by your kids. After they leave have regular game nights or get together with friends. Have a date night with your spouse. Join book clubs, gardening groups, or a group of people with a similar interest to you. If you stay involved and active in life it is hard to feel lonely.
Emptiness: Your life before might have been filled with things, and now it is not as full, which can leave you feeling empty. You cope with this by forming an identity outside of the home before your kids ever leave. This does not mean have an alternate personality. It means do something for you so that when your child walks out the door you do not feel like your life is walking out the door with them. So take an art class once a week. Spend an hour a day at the gym.
Take a cooking class, and have a weekly recipe exchange group, or something. If you did not do these things before your child left, do them now. Work on forming an identity that does not identify you as “Mom”, “Dad”, “Parent” but as your name and your interests outside your children.
Uselessness, or no longer having a purpose in life: This is a natural feeling. You have been needed for a long time, and now you are not, at least not in the same way. This can lead to feeling useless. So, combat this by aligning your usefulness in your head with other things before your kids leave. Take time for yourself. Take time for your spouse. Also, if the feelings persist, you can help yourself have purpose by doing any number of things: rescue abandoned animals, host a foreign exchange student, volunteer at a soup kitchen, help with natural disaster relief efforts, etc.
Guilt: many parents feel guilt for not spending enough time with their children, or fighting with them about something inconsequential before they leave. To work this feeling out and cope with it you need to try and avoid it. Do that by developing a good relationship before your child leaves home. Then continue that with changes after they leave. For example, you no longer have to come down on them for curfew, but gentle reminders that sleep is essential for health are not bad.
If you ignore your feelings they worsen. So, instead accept them and address them and you will find that having an empty nest is actually very enjoyable.