Empty Nest Syndrome: How to Cope With Its Inevitability

Sat, 8 May 2010 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Empty nest syndrome generally refers to bouts of loneliness and depression that parents endure after their children leave for college, get married or move away because of new job opportunities. The situation can be as traumatic for the parents as it is liberating for the children, for freedom is a right that every sane person pursues, no matter how comfortable that person’s home may have been in his or her formative years. Sadly, some parents are emotionally unprepared when it is time to let go, so they allow themselves to drown in the rivulets of self-pity, regret and topsy-turviness. Understanding the concept of empty nest syndrome can prepare both parents and children to better cope with the smorgasbord of challenges inherent in an inevitable physical separation.

Parents spend many hours training and assisting their children to become successful later in life. Such devotion to the young is an innate characteristic of human beings and other living things. People generally feel a sense of responsibility toward their young – and that is certainly a very good thing. When children are born, most parents will do whatever is necessary to place such children on the right paths to success. Of course, some children do eventually revolt, so a child’s failure in life may not necessarily be attributable to deplorable parenting skills. Ultimately, however, most parents never give up on their children, no matter how aberrant the latter may have become as they get older.

An academically thriving adolescent gets ready to leave for college, having spent many uninterrupted years at home – and his parents, especially his mother, begin to fret about what would happen next. After completing all the shopping and making a few visits to the college campus to prepare for the transition, the day arrives when the teenager finally leaves home for school. Unprepared for not being needed anymore, the teenager’s mother typically is the first to succumb to self-pity – and the concomitant crises of loneliness and depression. Once depression sets in, a “grieving” mother may isolate herself from her husband, a situation that does not bode well for the survival of the marriage. Statistics show that many marriages, sadly, collapse once parents become empty nesters.

A daughter finishes college and meets Mr. Right. After a whirlwind of courtship, she gets married to the love of her life. The bride and groom move away and the bride’s mother no longer sees her daughter on a regular basis. The former accepts in her mind the inevitability of this permanent physical separation, but her heart still clings desperately to her daughter. Self-pity and loneliness soon follow. She becomes edgy and temperamental around everyone, especially her husband, and things begin to fall apart in the marriage. If she has other children at home, her loneliness may be temporary; if her daughter was an only child, things may only get worse. Her husband suffers the brunt of her incessant irritations and plaints, but how much can one person take? Sooner or later, the marriage disintegrates as a result of the now-poisonous atmosphere both must live in.

The stronger the bond between mother and child, the greater the demoralizing effects of the empty nest syndrome. Accepting the fact that children have their own identities, that they would eventually leave home and that they would ultimately make their own decisions is vital for any parent on the verge of becoming an empty nester. For a mother who insists on living with her married daughter, this situation may only spell doom for her daughter and new husband: a mother must accept the inevitability of this physical separation and allow her daughter’s marriage to thrive without any encumbrances. Ultimately, children ought to stay in touch with their aging parents and provide for them, if necessary, for loneliness and need may be two key reasons why some mothers cling excessively to their daughters even after the latter have tied the knot and moved away.

A mother’s or father’s unique role in a child’s life is to give the latter the training, skills and fortitude needed to be successful in life. A parent may even try to steer a child toward a particular profession in life, but a good parent knows, ultimately, that the child must be allowed to choose his or her own career path, with strong support from that parent.

Freedom is a universal craving – it is not limited to any society in particular. At some point in life, children crave freedom from parental control, and a wise mother knows when it is time to send a child off into a hostile world with little more than her blessings! A good mother can then count on the parenting skills that she once imparted to provide guidance to her child when the latter has to meander through the many valleys of decision-making.

Becoming an empty nester someday is inevitable for any parent. And accepting the preceding fact is the first step toward emotional freedom from the venomous fangs of empty nest syndrome. For just as the Holy Bible affirms, “While the Earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night, shall not cease,” so is the inevitability of the empty nest syndrome for any father or mother. And just as surely as the Sun will descend beyond the horizon at twilight to go to sleep only to emerge the next morning to continue its interminable task of warming the Earth, so will all parents become empty nesters one day, and there should be nothing overly traumatic about it.

As the father of three boys, I am aware of the inescapability of the empty nest syndrome, so I am beginning to prepare myself little by little for those three “onslaughts” when they eventually arrive in a few years. Perhaps, other parents can begin preparing themselves to trounce this syndrome too, if they have not already started!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.