Empty Nest Syndrome
Empty Nest Syndrome is the term (non- clinical) used to describe the complex mix of emotions surrounding the departure of your last child from home. September in particular can be a heavily emotional month; not only are the heady days of summer and family time drawing to a close but for some parents it is time to say ‘bon voyage’ to those children leaving the nest and facing a new stage in their lives, one of more independence from the family unit. This is not to say that this only happens in September of course!
This moment in our lives can be beautifully timed; especially for women it can be a time when we are facing such factors as the menopause (challenging who we are), experiencing role reversal with our parents and the dawning reality of our own mortality. We are perhaps full of anticipation regarding the effect of being thrown together once again with our partners; cracks hitherto pasted over by the business of bringing up a family may be highlighted in sharp relief.
Until this point you have been an intrinsic part of your child’s busy life; the glue that binds, the fixer, (taxi driver, chef, laundry service provider) and host to scores of other young people bringing their energy to your house. Your role then and sense that you are your child’s nurturer, sometime confidante, and problem solver simply up sticks and walks out of the door, leaving a huge void.
The impact can be profound on your sense of self, hence the term ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ ‘Empty Nest Syndrome can therefore manifest itself in a deep feeling of loss of identity and a grieving process that can sometimes lead to levels of low motivation in other words reactive depression. Life is telling you it is time to change, to re- examine who you are and that can be painful. Conversely of course you could be cheering the moment the door slams shut, breathing a sigh of relief at the last lot of washing and ringing the estate agents.
This is of course a natural step. All your child’s life your role has been set upon doing your best as a parent to develop in them a healthful independence. That is your job and you’ve achieved it no matter how you feel. This fact alone is cause to feel content. So how can you start to cope with those low moments and turn this moment around into one of opportunity for personal growth?
My to do list
· Congratulate yourself on a job well done. This is what is supposed to happen. (Yes I know they may return again for whatever reason at a later date).
· You may notice peace in your household learn to enjoy. This could be an unexpected bonus, a time to be able to take up other activities without interruption for taxi rides or intervene in arguments.
· Are you now able to give time to your career or study a subject you have just been putting off until…..well now! Plan ahead; take time to think about those projects you would like to have done when younger and do them.
· Remember they are still your children; this is time for you to re-evaluate what role you would like in their lives and exciting time to see them truly become adults. Keep the door of communication open, make an effort to call, text etc. just enough to give independence and make it a pleasure. ‘Tell me your news first’…..always works for me rather than a long list of woes and moans.
· I know this is a complex area but it is worth thinking about the difference between creating a reliance on you (by perhaps always stepping in at the first sign of trouble) and an independent person who wants to communicate with you and may occasionally really need your support as a parent. Be there but don’t linger on their doorstep.
· When your children first leave you may notice your mood swinging back and forth, this is natural and it is important to acknowledge you feel this way. Keeping busy will help but if you think you are really having a hard time with grief, loss or depression make sure you seek support early on via friends, talking to your partner, family or counsellor. You may find the website http://www.familylives.org.uk/ useful, they also have a 24 hour helpline 0808 800 2222.
Michelle Krethlow Shaw
Counsellor and Hypnotherapist