Counseling for “Empty Nesters”

Surviving the “Empty Nest Syndrome”
— Making Sure a Flu Doesn’t Become a Disease

Ever since your child left the house with a “See ya!” you’ve felt that your heart’s been ripped out.

You feel as if you’ve been on an emotional roller coaster and don’t know how to stop the train. Just going through the motions—observing life but no longer living it.

When our lives revolve around another person for 18+ years, it can feel impossible to know how we’re going to handle seeing him or her infrequently at most. When that person is our child, it can be especially difficult!

It’s natural to find yourself unprepared.

While you knew all along that they’re supposed to leave eventually, it’s easy to forget and then find yourself surprised by the tidal wave of grief that washes over and drowns you. You don’t want to stay awake all night. You want to rest. But the rest won’t come. And when you finally do fall asleep, as soon as you open your eyes the grief is there staring you in the face and the drowning starts all over again.

If you feel like this—if you’re afraid, depressed, panicked, even angry—let me begin by saying, “All of these feelings are okay, you’re not alone, and help is available.”

Even Dr. Ruth Westhheimer (yes, that Dr. Ruth) cried her eyes out the minute her son headed out the door for college. She refers to this time as the “Empty Nest Flu” because it’s not something that kills you, and, with time, it does go away.

What Exactly Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty Nest Syndrome is a term used to categorize parents who find themselves out of sync due to the years they’ve spent focusing on their careers and their kids.

Once the children are gone—and even while anticipating their departure—any distance in a couple’s relationship becomes highlighted. This situation can be compounded if you didn’t have a happy, connected relationship with your spouse in the first place.

For women whose identity has been based on the role of Mom, it is not uncommon to discover a complete lack of identity when preparing for children leaving home. You may find yourself distressed that you haven’t accomplished more in life, as you poured all your hopes and dreams into your family and their activities. This lack of identity can feel especially pronounced if being a mother is what you wanted to be more than anything else.

The grief can be very similar to that of losing someone to death. You may find yourself feeling very alone, even looking into your child’s room over and over, knowing full well that it’s going to be empty. The “quiet time” everyone says you should look forward to can be deafening.

And, even worse than death, as your child returns and leaves again (the comings and the goings of Christmas break, summer vacation, etc.) you discover each time hurts just as much as the first.

You may also find yourself angry at your child for moving away, irrationally feeling that they’ve somehow strained your relationship with them. And these feelings can be heightened when we call them and hear that they “can only talk for a minute or two.”

All parents want to be happy for their children, and not being capable of happiness for them when they’re happy can be a terrible feeling, making us feel even more guilty without knowing why or what to do about it.

So How Does One Survive Empty Nest Syndrome?

First of all, even though the kids are gone, and it feels as if everything has changed, you’re still a parent.

If you have a ton of things around the house to do but just can’t seem to get motivated, try taking a mini weekend vacation, or visiting another city for shopping, or sight-seeing to get off your home turf a little bit.

Craft or hobby classes, taking classes or going back to school, beginning a new career or restarting your previous one, meeting other adults, and doing new things in general can all help quicken your adjustment and recovery.

Despite what some people may think, Empty Nest Syndrome is very real, and the accompanying depression can be disabling.

If crying and feelings of hopelessness persist, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. At this time of our lives, most of us are starting “mid-life” and it’s likely that your child leaving is not the only stressful thing happening in your life.

Therapy can be a good place to discuss and work through your depression, fears, and concerns—not only about your children’s move but about other areas of your life, such as menopause and other health issues, career transitioning, or dealing with elderly parents.

We all know life has to go on, move forward, change. But if going through this is something more than you can handle without help—please get help! I can help you find new goals and reclaim your happiness and sense of purpose, which will not only benefit you but your family as well.

Remember, counseling is available for you when you need it, and you can use therapy for as long as you deem necessary. It’s okay, pamper yourself a bit now that you have the freedom to. You’ve certainly earned it!

Please feel free to contact me at (650) 947-4044 or by e-mail at with any questions you have or to schedule a free consultation.

© 2008 - 2023 Nanette Freedland, MFT | CA License: MFC 28411