Sheetal is not herself anymore. She cries a lot for no reason. Her days seem endless with nothing to do. She feels she is of no use. She has forgotten that hobbies or friends ever existed. After her only son went abroad for work, her life has come to a stop.
Sheetal is going through the ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’, a term used to describe the psychological condition of parents when their children leave home [for education, after marriage or for work] or no longer require them in the same manner on a day-to-day basis. Life is never the same again. This happens particularly in the case of parents, who have a very strong bond with the child or if the mother has been a full-time parent, ignoring her work and hobbies in the bargain.
Anyone who has a child at home, knows how ’empty’ the house feels when the child is out, even for a few hours. Our lives revolve around our children and when they start their own lives, we may feel derailed. It is a common misconception that mothers are more affected by it than fathers because of their hands-on involvement.
In fact, fathers are more affected by children leaving home as they are not prepared for it, according to studies conducted by Helen M DeVries, an associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College in USA.
Here is a little more on this interesting condition.
Are you one of them?
You may have Empty Nest Syndrome if you show these symptoms.
- Depression is the most common symptom. Signs include excessive crying; feeling withdrawn from normal routines, duties and friends; decreased energy; insomnia and a persistent sad mood. It is a cause for concern if symptoms last over a week.
- Mothers may experience uselessness. When children are home, mothers have many things to do for them. It now seems there is nothing to do.
- Couples may also feel emptiness in their marriage. As the kids are priority most of their time is spent on kids, so problems in the marriage do not surface. Now, with children being absent, parents have to confront these issues.
How you can cope with the Empty Nest syndrome
- Seek counselling: It helps to have a listening ear. Counselling may help some parents look at the situation positively and take constructive steps towards rebuilding their lives.
- Stay busy: You can use the time to take up activities you missed out because of your responsibilities as a parent. Getting busy doing something that is creative and fulfilling is the best way to beat the empty nest blues.
- Develop friendships: You can rekindle old friendships, form new ones or renew relationships, which you may have ignored over the years.
- Stay in touch: Stay in touch with your children. If they are away, schedule regular phone-talks or visits.
- Be positive: Changing your perspective really helps. At this stage, you are free from the day-to-day parenting duties and now can work at establishing a mature relationship with your ‘adult’ children. You can look back with satisfaction at a life dedicated to your children and now have the opportunity to do things you love. What could be a better situation than that?
Preparing in advance
Prevention is better than cure. All of us who have children have to be prepared to let them go one day. Rather than being taken aback with shock, it would do us good to prepare ourselves for this eventuality. What’s more, it will show us doors that we never knew existed. This can be done in the following ways:
- Acknowledge that your child will not need you in the same way forever. Accepting this is difficult for most parents.
- Plan ahead for the time when they will lead their own lives away from you. Think of things you will do when you finally get that time off.
- Keep busy and have a lot on your to-do list. You are a distinct personality, apart from your children. You need to have your own activities, hobbies and friends. While children will always remain a priority, remember, that you as a person and as a couple are equally important.
For some, the Empty Nest Syndrome can be really bad, while for others may not get affected by it and in fact, enjoy this ‘free’ period of life.
It’s not that bad
All parents do not face the Empty Nest Syndrome. In fact, there is a line of research, which suggests that once children leave home, some parents experience a sense of freedom and an improvement in relationships. Research studies by Karen Fingerman from the Purdue University reveal that parents may experience greater satisfaction once their children leave home. Seeing their children as successful adults gives them a sense of pride. They also have more time to pursue their own activities and hobbies.
It is not that once children grow up they do not need parents. In fact, they do need them but the quality and frequency of that need is different. Thus, though children may leave home, the bond and involvement still continue. Even after children leave college and go to work or get married the bond will continue, albeit in a different manner.
Research done by Sara Melissa Gorchoff at the University of California, Berkeley points out that couples may actually enjoy relationships more after children leave home. An empty nest is not so bad after all. It all depends on how you look at it!