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Seeing the Empty Nest with Different Eyes

empty nest syndrome, senior counseling, senior therapy, late life counseling, depression in seniors, depression counseling for seniors, senior emotional health, Fayetteville NC

Seeing the Empty Nest with Different Eyes


Having children can be very fulfilling, but it is undeniable that it can clip your wings and alter your lifestyle. As you become comfortable with your role, you learn to forego a lot of things, activities and opportunities. During difficult times, you may wish that things were different – that the children are grown up and independent, and that you have more time to pursue the things you were passionate about.

You are not alone. Most parents go through the same emotions. Generally, though, they don’t mean it. They only say or think so under duress or when stressed, tired or overwhelmed. In fact, most parents would terribly miss their “birdlings” as soon as they start flying away from the nest. By the time you become an older adult, you may wish what other older parents wish for – that their children were young and needed them once again.

The thought of being alone in a home, silent enough hear a falling pin on the floor, can fill you with sadness, even guilt and fear. Living in or coming home to an empty nest can be a heartbreaking and fearsome prospect. If this is your circumstance and there is no way out of it, it would be productive to see a counselor. Through counseling, you can see the empty nest through different eyes.


What is the “Empty Nest Syndrome?”

The empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis. Rather, it is a phenomenon involving an extremely sad and overwhelmed parent because their children have already left their home, being all grown up and self-sufficient. The “Empty nest syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and, or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes,” says Psychology Today. Experts find the term an appropriate label to describe the feelings of sorrow and loss, which is a common experience of aging parents as their offspring start to leave the nest.

There are, however, behavioral health professionals that perceive it as an emotional condition that has symptoms similar to depression, anxiety and overwhelm. Not all senior parents will experience the syndrome with intensity. If you have certain emotional or complicating issues, though, the risk is higher. These issues or complications can be an emotional condition, medical disorder, financial troubles, conflicts or other dynamics in the family.

Be careful because the empty nest syndrome can increase your risk for depression, substance abuse, marital issues, and identity crisis. With professional help, however, it can be an opportunity for productive change and transition. In fact, new studies reveal that this is a great time to reconnect with relatives, old friends and past interests or passions.


Learning to Use Your Wings Anew

Like many parents, you have taught and molded your children to become independent and self-sufficient, so they can succeed in life. Hence, witnessing that they are flying to where they dream of going can give you a feeling of fulfillment. So, why do you feel sad now that they are ready to explore the world on their own?

One reason is nervousness, wondering if they are ready to do things without you. Are they ready to fly without you? You can also be worried that without them you are nothing. What else is left when your children do not need you anymore? Maybe, you now feel inadequate. Maybe, you feel afraid that you have forgotten how to be alone and fly on your own. Maybe it’s not just them that you are worried about, but yourself, as well.

Interdependence is established through time between parents and their children. As parents age, they tend to sacrifice their personal interests because the family becomes their main responsibility. Their secured world starts crumbling as the children fly from the nest one at a time. If you are not yet ready for that day, you may stand there confused and vulnerable.


Warning: Havoc in Marriage

Many people believe that this syndrome can affect single parents more. The reality is that, married couples who have children can also struggle with it. Compared to fathers, mothers are at a higher risk of having the empty nest syndrome. This is because they are the primary caregivers and, therefore, may foster a stronger bond. Fathers are less vulnerable, but they may also experience the same impact as the children become independent adults and start to leave the nest.

Other things can aggravate the emotional impact and the situation, such as hormonal imbalances (menopause) and emotional issues (mid-life crisis and losing someone important). As a result, you may become preoccupied and unfocused because these emotions can overwhelm you.


You have certain vulnerabilities, if you are married and struggling with the empty nest syndrome, according to Family Life. These are:


  1. “Critical spirit” – With the children out of the house, the time shared with your spouse will be increased, so it is easier to be more critical. Instead of benefitting from productive activities and accomplishments, seeing each other’s faults and using criticisms to fill the void.


  1. “Emotional divorce” – Couples may grieve the departure of the children. They may grieve in isolation, thinking that it is the better or faster way to heal. They may not be cognizant that doing so can create a chasm between them, which may lead to “emotional divorce.”


  1. “An emotional affair” – The increasing emotional gulf between you and your wife/husband may drive you away from each other. In need of someone to share the turmoil, there could be an increased tendency to seek understanding from other people. Thus, the emotional divorce can continue to become a full-scale separation with third parties.


Adjustment Issues and Complications in an Empty Nest  

As an older adult, it is important to understand the sensitivity of your situation. You are transitioning and there are many challenges strewn in your pathway.  The empty nest syndrome is just one of these challenges. There are other geriatric concerns – medical conditions, financial instability, mobility and increasing dependency issues, etc. You may not be able to tackle every concern that bothers you, but there are things that you can do. This includes seeking help from a professional.

To adjust well in your late-life, know what can leave you vulnerable. What can complicate your life at this point or heighten your emotional turmoil?  Emotional conditions, such as geriatric depression and anxiety – these can contribute to behavioral issues, sleep problems, and substance abuse. Solitude, empty nest syndrome and financial issues are significant factors as well. Nobody wants to be alone, especially at a time when your health is delicate and can be compromised.

All the changes occurring at this stage can overwhelm you. The challenges can also impair your capability to adjust. If you are all alone now or your children are living away from home, the empty nest syndrome can worsen. Not only will adjustment be difficult, you may also lose sight of your purpose and your drive to achieve more in this stage in your life can wane.


Resurrecting Purpose

You may never be ready for the day when your children leave home, but you must prepare for it anyway since it is inevitable. As soon as that day comes, you may realize how time flies by so fast. You might be a single parent, or you could have a partner/spouse that you can grieve with, either way, the idea of arriving home to an empty nest can be difficult, unless you change the way you view it – an opening or gap that can offer many amazing breaks and opportunities.

Changing your view of an empty nest is not as easy as it seems, but it is possible. Staying courageous in the midst of this lonely prospect can be a struggle, but there is a way out of it. When you realize it’s actually happening and you’ve noticed the signs, it may be the time to ask for help. It isn’t weakness to contact a skilled and caring counselor/therapist independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office – Fayetteville, NC. It is a practical decision that can help you endure one of life‘s most difficult transitions and resurrect an old purpose, so you can view the nest as a wonderful place that’s full of beautiful memories.

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services

Counties: Cumberland, Bladen and Sampson Counties, NC
Areas: Fayetteville NC, Ft Bragg NC, Pope Field NC, Sliver City NC, Linden NC, Bowmore NC, Autryville NC, Bunnlevel NC, Erwin NC, Dundarrach NC, Pineview NC, Rex NC, Lemon Springs NC, Johnsonville NC, Eastover NC, Stedman NC and Wade, NC
Zip Codes: 28311, 28395, 28390, 28356

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Carolina Counseling Services – North Fayetteville Office, Fayetteville, NC

422 McArthur Road, Suite 2
FayettevilleNC 28311

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PO BOX 9909
Fayetteville, NC 28311

Choose your Therapist

  • Becky Clark, MSW, LCSW

    Specializes in: (Ages 18+) Anxiety, Depression, Individuals, Couples, Geriatrics, Criminal Justice, Stress Management, Loss and Grief related to death, disability, divorce, deployment, “empty nest”, retirement and other major life transitions
    Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Medicare, and Cash

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    Location: Fayetteville, NC