What is it about middle-aged women and the empty nest syndrome that send psychologists scampering for theories and creating “how-to” manuals for their despairing clients? One undeniable fact is it’s as traumatic as losing a loved one to illness. Psychologists say it can take anywhere from 18 months to two years before middle-aged women who exhibit symptoms of empty nest syndrome fully recover from their sadness at seeing their children leave home.
The funny thing is while we have parents who suffer from empty nest syndrome, we have those who are suddenly burdened by boomerang kids. Makes you wonder which is the lesser evil.
Middle-Aged Women and the Empty Nest Syndrome
One question that arises about middle-aged women and the empty nest syndrome is: is it really just the empty nest syndrome that is involved when sons and daughters leave their parents’ home to lead their own lives? Or does it occur in tandem with other life events?
Counselors say that empty nest syndrome usually occurs at around the same time as menopause, retirement, or the illness or death of a spouse. It also affects more women than men, since mothers provide the primary care to children. When they realize that their most important role – that of nurturing and raising children – is over, a feeling of panic and inadequacy grips them. They question the purpose of their human existence and wonder what there is left to do, now that the kids are gone?
While the kids are still staying at home, mothers should do some forward planning so that the impact of departing children is not as crippling or serious. Some steps you can take:
- read all you can about empty nest syndrome – ask your psychologist at work or a professional what you can do to diminish the emotional pain
- see if there are any support groups in your community where you can exchange ideas and experiences
- take up a hobby that you feel passionate about and which you had to postpone because you were busy with the kids
- go back to school and take courses that interest you or volunteer at a teenage shelter or a center for single mothers and offer comfort
- start a blog on the Internet about empty nest syndrome and see what other mothers have to say
- seek the support of your husband, family and friends and share with them your feelings
- make plans to be with your children as often as you can and when their schedules will permit
- perhaps go back to work part time.
Middle-Aged Women and the Empty Nest Syndrome | Ways of Coping
To lessen the impact of empty nest syndrome, here are some strategies you can adopt:
- remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal to feel sad and depressed. Keep your head up and be optimistic about the future. Spoil yourself when the occasion calls for it. Treat the departure of your children as a reason to celebrate your new found freedom
- execute changes in the house to keep your mind off the empty spaces. Tend the garden, redecorate your daughter’s or son’s room and convert it into a study, a yoga area, a room for meditation, an entertainment section
- communicate often with your spouse. Assure him you’re “not going crazy” but that you’re going through a difficult period which will pass
- spend more time with your friends and colleagues at work. Perhaps they too are feeling the same feelings
- don’t push your recovery period. Give yourself enough time to grieve, acknowledge your grief, and don’t do anything that seems unnatural and awkward, especially during the first few weeks of your children leaving
- reach out and help someone
- postpone any major decisions like selling the house until you’ve had time to think things more clearly
- continue your health routine. Don’t stop exercising and begin a ritual of junk food just because you’re feeling down in the dumps. Empty nest syndrome in fact is the time to double up on your fitness and health goals.
Nothing Serious But…
Middle-aged women and empty nest syndrome seem to go hand in hand because the feeling is experienced by women for the most part. When “mom” is suddenly Miss Independent, there’s a strangeness about it. It’s especially difficult when those feelings of emptiness are accompanied by menopausal episodes.
Happily, empty nest syndrome does not trigger too much worrying on the part of physicians so it’s a subject that’s not given extensive coverage in medical books. It isn’t a preoccupation because empty nest syndrome is at best a natural and logical development in a woman’s life who devoted most of her life to raising children.
However, when a woman cries excessively and has lost interest in things that used to interest her and her depression has not lifted, then there is cause for concern. This is when it becomes necessary to see a psychologist and submit to behavior therapy. Counseling may help middle-aged women understand their empty nest syndrome and the professional counselor may be able to detect if it’s perhaps not menopause that is causing the overwhelming sadness.
The idea is not to wait until symptoms get worse, because help is readily available.
Children Should Do Their Share
Husbands who witness changes in their wives’ behavioral and thinking patterns when children leave home can take the initiative to dialogue with the children. He can ask them to be more understanding if it happens that their mother is calling them too often. Explain to them that this is a logical result of no longer having anyone to care for. Children must cooperate and do their best to stay in touch with their mother reasonably. The emphasis here is on “reasonably.” They are not expected to call every day. In fact some counselors recommend communication take place twice a week during the first few months, but no more than that.
Children can also e-mail their parents regularly if they’re away at university just to assure their parents that they’re doing fine and managing well.
Hopefully, in time mothers will find their own way, take up activities that will keep their minds busy again, and make plans for the future. Being middle aged and experiencing empty nest syndrome does not mean the end of one’s life. Why, there’s half a lifetime left, maybe even more! It does pay to look after one’s health (with or without children).
Empty nest syndrome must be viewed as a time for a brand new freedom. When the children fade from the limelight, it’s about the best time that mothers hug the limelight for themselves…and only for themselves!