Children grow up and parents are suddenly confronted with an EMPTY NEST. This may sound even cute when you first read it but people that are afffected can truly suffer.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” —Ann Landers
I would like to make it clear that I am not a psychologist, but I am a mother, a single mother to be exact. You also need to know that EMPTY NEST syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis. But the sadness and the feeling of loss when the last child leaves home is a phenomenon which many parents experience. I have two children myself. My daughter moved out about three years ago to go to university in England and I could not be prouder. Admittedly I miss her very much. I haven’t seen her in person in almost a year now and for the first time in 21 years we could not be together for Christmas last year. Thanks to modern technology we can see one another and talk and I am so grateful for that.
My son turned 18 this year and has just graduated from high school and I am just as proud of him. As much as I love my children, I am not afraid of my son also spreading his wings and discovering the world for himself. But I will also confess that I was grateful that he was at home with me during the madness of COVID lockdowns and that I didn’t have to endure it alone. On top of that, my children and I really get along great without being too close. Nevertheless I am sure that when my son has moved out as well that it will be strange at first and I will miss him very much and I will need to adjust.
“Sometimes love means letting go when you want to hold on tighter.” —Melissa Marr
I have clients in my coaching practice where this is quite different. Many couples and single parents focus so much on their children that they forget that they are not only mother and father but also woman and man. The result is sometimes devastating when the children leave home and the parents don’t know what to do with themselves or one another. For 18 or more years everything has revolved around raising the children and now this, often only common ground is no longer there. Perhaps you have heard the expression of helicopter parents – always hovering around their children trying to accommodate to all their needs and forgetting about themselves. This is usually done with the best of intentions, but forgetting oneself and sacrificing oneself completely leaves a huge gap when the children are out of the house. You suddenly realise that your life was your children. What now?
What stays behind is a feeling of sadness, depression, loneliness and grief of which mothers and fathers are both equally affected. For some parents it can be hard to accept that their child is is not dependent on them anymore and if this is not addressed properly can lead to anxiety and a loss of purpose, making it hard to adjust to the EMPTY NEST.
So why are some parents so much more susceptible to EMPTY NEST syndrome than others? Research has shown that some of the following reasons can be the cause:
- Parents who struggle living alone.
- Parents who have issues in their marriages.
- Parents, who rely on their parental roles for self-identity.
- Parents who see their children as dependent.
As with many things I believe that understanding more about EMPTY NEST syndrome will help understand this phase of life and accept this situation more wisely.
It is often assumed that only mothers are affected by EMPTY NEST syndrome. However, this is a misconception. Both parents can be equally affected. As a rule, it only manifests itself differently.
In women, the symptoms tend to be directed inwards, while in men they tend to be directed outwards. In other words, mothers withdraw, they may feel isolated and depressed and experience social alienation, while the father may turn to alcohol or other forms of substance abuse. It is important to take this seriously when it has been identified and to get the help and treatment that is needed.
“To raise a child who is comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job. They are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own. —Anon
I believe it is a huge misconception that parenting stops when you children are of age or have moved out. I would like to give you two examples for the dynamics here.
- When my daughter was 15 she wanted to go to a party and I allowed it. The evening before the party she asked if she could go to a friend after school and from there directly to the party. When I told her to send me a short message when she was at her friends house and another when she was at the party she did what most teenagers do so well. She rolled her eyes! It is astonishing how many different variations of eye rolling your children can do but I truly believe there was one that my daughter reserved just for me – the full monty of exasperation. That was the moment when I had to supress a smile and explained, as calmly as I could to her how this will go. So I told her, ” Sweetie, it’s my job to worry about you for as long as I live (the look on her face was glorious) and it’s your job to be terribly annoyed by it. Can we agree on that?” We both had to laugh because it was just so true. I might add that she then told me that she was actually glad I was worried about her – so it was all good and I was admittedly relieved.
- My daughter used to be rather messy (at some point I refused to enter her room), something that significantly changed when she got her own flat. But when she comes home, takes one step into the house and this unbelievable transformation takes place. After a few minutes of being at home and in her old room it seems as if her suitcase exploded and everything is scattered on the floor.
So I guess we stay parents, no matter how old our children are and our children stay children, especially when they come back home to us. So if we keep that in mind, it might be a little easier to let them go.
“Give the ones you love wings to fly, roots to come back and reasons to stay.” —The Dalai Lama
There should be no shame in EMPTY NEST syndrome. We take care of our children, nurture them and do all we can to give them a great start into life. We are wired to be protective of our children so of course we are somewhat bereft when they leave us.
With that being said, it is necessary to move forward with the emotions and rekindle with your friends, peers and social circle. Both partners should support each other in the process of grieving. Here are a few ways in which parents can cope healthily with Empty Nest Syndrome.
What is important if you are affected is to stay busy. You need to redirect the attention that you gave to your children towards subjects that make you feel engaged. Start ne hobbies, connect with old friends, make new ones to help you overcome the feeling of loss.
Most important of all is to stay in touch with your children. Sometimes I don’t hear from my daughter for some time and in the beginning that was not easy. But we talk regularly and often even more intensely than we did when she was still living at home. So maintaining a close relationship is possible but respect that those young adults that you prepared for the world have to now find their own way. When push comes to shove, they will come to you if they know they can.
If you are in a relationship, rekindle the romance in your lives. Don’t let the fact that you are parents determine your relationship. Remember the time before children were even in the picture. Yes, it is possible to go back to that to a certain extent.
Except the change in your life and be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished. If you have done a good job you will have raised independent and strong individuals that will make their way in this world. Don’t ever downplay that achievement. Raising children is an great challenge!
For myself I can most definitely say that my children are so far my greatest achievement and I am proud of them and I am proud of myself.
I would like to end this post with a song that goes so perfectly with this topic. It is probably one of the sweetest songs about parenting I have ever heard.
Have a happy weekend and I always look forward to your feedback!