Tell me at your peril that the flight of my kids into successful adulthood is hugely liberating, that I will not believe how many hours are in the day, that my husband and I can see the world, that I can throw myself into my job. My world is in this house, and I already had a great job into which I'd thrown myself for two decades. No, not the writing job--the motherhood job. I was good at it, if I do say so myself, and because I was, I've now been demoted to part-time work. Soon I will attain emerita status. This stinks. --FLOWN AWAY, LEFT BEHIND, By Anna Quindlen,
How very aptly put and what timing! I came across these lines just a few days ago, as I was busy packing, washing and planning for my daughter who is going to university in a few days. She is moving out of the house and going to a new country to start a new phase in her life. Amidst the buzz of all this I had not really paused to think there will be an empty nest. How I missed this fact completely I don’t know but the quote above did set me thinking and a strange rather confused feeling engulfed me. What will it really be like when the nest is empty?
It is only a recent development where the “empty nest syndrome” is recognized and feelings like grief, discomfort, gloom, heartbreak and depression are being taken seriously. Earlier, for a child to move out of the family was seen as a completely normal event while parents were left behind to deal with the drastic change. As per the definition, this term broadly refers to “the grief and, depression and sadness experienced by parents when children leave their homes in pursuit of new opportunities.”
In most cases, women are more affected than men because they are also dealing with other stressful life events like menopause and aging parents.
Empty nest syndrome isn’t a diagnosis or a clinical problem but is now accepted as a transition period which is difficult, stressful and bound to take a toll on your health and current style of living.
How does the empty nest syndrome change your life as a parent?
It is obvious that your life isn’t going to be the same once your children move out and the roller coaster of emotions you are bound to feel is inexplicable. However, listed below are a few emotions and changes almost all parents experience during this changeover:
States of confusion
Because you have lived with your children all your life, you will feel confused about how to interact when they’re not close. The levels of interaction and communication depend upon your relationship and the bond you share.
While some parents need to talk to their children daily, some believe talking once a week is sufficient. Some children need longer to adjust which is why they are homesick often while some fit into new environments like a glove which also determines how often they are willing to come back home.
The best option is to assess the situations constantly and adapt yourself accordingly while you give your child space to settle down.
A whirlpool of mental states
The most common emotions you will encounter are stress from not knowing what to do next, sadness or depression because you miss your child and disorientation because you don’t know how to deal with your newfound time. If you have more than one child, you are perplexed about how to deal with the one at home. Sometimes, you might also feel like you have been inadequate as a parent or not done enough for your child.
These sentiments are completely normal and take time to disappear or normalise. Ruminating over the loss won’t help; instead, thinking of how accomplished you’ve been as a parent is going to incite positive emotions in you.
What can you do when you experience this syndrome?
In most cases, the symptoms are inevitable but as a parent, you can apply a few life hacks to deal with this syndrome and not get sucked into despair.
Keep yourself busy
For empty nesters who aren’t accustomed to living without their children, it is important to be busy by rekindling old hobbies or pursuing new ones. To keep yourself occupied, it is suggested that you engage in an activity which can range from art classes, learning a sport/Yoga or social work. Constant plans to meet your friends or socialise can also be beneficial in overcoming this phase.
Formulate new goals
Because your life is transitioning to a phase where you are going to have free time on your hands, it is advisable to use this time constructively. Plan ahead and set new goals in terms of career and your life. This will make you more accomplished as an individual and keep your mind off other worries. You can begin with the goals which have been comfortably sitting on the backburner for years. Give yourself the liberty to indulge in buying equipment, taking courses or availing resources which will help you achieve these goals.
Rekindle the lost spark in your relationship
While dealing with loneliness as parents can be hard, look at it as a the perfect opportunity to revive the romance in your relationship. With all the free time and the evacuated space to yourselves, you and your partner can utilise it to the fullest to relive old memories and create new ones. A few ways in which your partner and you can strengthen the bond once again are wine tasting experiences, dances, watching movies together, taking the vacation you always wanted to, cooking meals for each other and spending quality time.
Studies have showed that empty nesters who have chosen to succumb to depression after their children have left have experienced higher rates of divorce. Thus, valuing the family you have near you is necessary and fulfilling.
“Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.” —Dr. Margaret Rutherford
While your child demonstrates the grit and strength s/he possess by adapting into a new environment, you need to do the same by tweaking your schedules a little and incorporating new things to make you feel wised up.
Written byNiharika Nandi
Niharika Nandi is a media trainee who loves exploring the fields of photography and baking simultaneously. She’s a self-proclaimed professional bathroom singer and believes that caffeine runs through her veins. This adrenaline junkie loves to pen down a million thoughts gushing through her mind at any instant and is very vocal about LGBTQ rights.