Parenting is not limited to the biological relationship of a mother or a father with their child. It is a long-term process of rearing a child and catering to his/her needs, by promoting and supporting overall emotional, physical, financial, social and intellectual development. Being a parent is one of the most beautiful yet challenging experiences. It’s not an easy job and hence demands a lot of hard work, time, dedication, love, and care. In this process of fulfilling the responsibilities of being a parent, our parents lose touch with their own desires and needs.
Taking care of, and looking after their children becomes so central to their lives that they overlook what lies ahead. As children grow up, they leave their parents’ house for college, or job or for some other reasons. In such cases, parents who’ve made their entire lives about nurturing their children, all of a sudden are pulled into a state of emptiness.
This is a typical phenomenon which is experienced by parents when their children no longer require their constant care. In such situations, there is a void in the life of caregivers when they have time at their hand but no longer have their children to look after to. This phenomenon is called as the Empty Nest Syndrome. As the name suggests, it is a state of loss and sadness that is commonly experienced by parents, typically when their last child leaves home. It does not imply an enmeshed type of relationship between a parent and a child, but only a reaction to the sudden loneliness looming over parents.
It is common among both men as well as women, however, several studies suggest that women are more prone to it, especially when they are already going through a stressful or difficult time in the lives, like menopause, retirement etc.
Other factors that create a predisposition to empty nest syndrome can be
- An unfulfilling marriage: owing to an unsatisfied marriage, people usually make their entire life about their children and hence find it difficult to handle when their children move out.
- An enmeshed family environment: if the boundaries of the relationship are not clear and adhered to, it leads to an unhealthy bond creating dependence and lack of personal space.
- Full-time parenting: When one is not working then there is a high likelihood that the parent’s life would revolve around the children. They invest all of their time and energy solely on nurturing and upbringing of children.
- A general inability to adapt to any change: Different people have different attitudes towards change. Some are resistant while others are accommodating in nature. For some parents this change in family dynamics might be hard to accept.
Parents who deal with empty nest commonly experience-
- Grief and sadness
- Constant worry about the safety and wellbeing of the children
- Sense of loss
- Guilt over lost opportunities, etc.
Such individuals often feel a loss of purpose, after having dedicated the majority of their life to nurturing their children. Even though parents encourage their children to become independent, still letting go can be a painful experience for them. Some recent studies have suggested that after the last child leaves home, it gives an opportunity to the parents to start focusing on themselves all over again. During the days of early parenting, parents often wish for some time off so that they can spend some personal time with each other or at least get the opportunity to pursue their interests.Although it’s difficult to manage that when we have a new born to look after, however, empty nest gives us that opportunity to embark on a new journey.
There are different phases of life, first we are a child, then we get married and become a spouse and then later we become parents, but we focus so much on the latter that we forget that the other phases are a part of who we are and are equally important.
Ways to overcome empty nest syndrome
- Acceptance: It is important for parents to accept the inevitable, that their children at some point will move out of their protective shelter. It’s exactly parents raise their children for, to help them adapt to the world beyond their immediate circle of care-givers.
- Plan ahead: almost every individual at some point of their lives thinks about retirement plans, consider this as a part of it. It’s better to plan what we’re going to do with the time we’re going to have when our children will no longer require our constant support or care.
- Quality time: spend quality time with children as a family. Plan vacations and trips to create memories and make the best of the time you have with your loved ones.
- Rekindle relationship with spouse: In the process of being a good parent, we somewhere stop being a spouse or a partner,and overlook its effect on the relationship. After kids moving out, one can once again start focusing on one’s relationship or marriage and give time to one another.
- Keep in touch: stay connected with kids to maintain a healthy relationship, however, do not get too involved in their lives.
- Discover yourself: indulging in introspection can help one discover new things about oneself, like new found interests etc.
- Hobbies: catch up on the things that may have been overlooked while fulfilling the responsibilities and demands of being a parent, like a hobby, another career option, taking up a new course, or learning a foreign language.
- Support system: develop friendships, meet new people, and keep in touch with your friends. It’s often reassuring when we know that we have friends and loved ones that we can rely on.
- Adopt a pet: Although no one can replace children, it goes without saying that pets are affectionate and keep us busy. Having another being to look after to, helps us redirect our focus from the void that’s left after children move out, to something positive to look forward to.
Although it’s not in our control to stop our kids from growing up so that they would not leave one day, but it is in our hands to celebrate and cherish every moment with them, and make the best of what we have. It is also an opportunity to rediscover ourselves and pursue our own goals once we are free of parental responsibility.
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” – J.W. von Goethe