Most people think that Empty Nest Syndrome is passing phase that happens to most parents particularly around September when children leave home to attend college or university for the first time. Recent studies show that this is not the case, contrary to belief most parents thrive when their children fly the nest. http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses.aspx Yet for some women in particular the pain of watching a child leave home can be just as debilitating and as lengthy as bereavement.
“First my father, now my youngest, I’ve lost him. I’ve lost them both” Sobbed Elaine. It took a while before the emotions stopped enough for a rational conversation. Yes her father had passed yet her children had only left home. In Elaine’s eyes there was no distinction.
“I do not know what to do with myself, I have no purpose in life, I have no interests, no confidence, no experience, I am totally lost. One minute I feel okay and the next I can’t stop crying.” she said
For many women who have dedicated a huge chunk of their lives to child rearing, there is nothing to fill the gap, empty nest syndrome can rear its ugly head. This was Elaine’s case, despite she had two very well educated and rounded boys, who would be an asset to the community and the world in general did not appease.
Empty Nest Syndrome is not always easy to spot
Empty Nest Syndrome is not always easy to spot, and although it is not seen as life threatening by the medical profession, it may turn into severe depression and need medical intervention. (Empty Nest Syndrome is not formally recognized in the diagnostic and Statistic Manual of mental Disorders (DSM-IV) the authoritative word in mental issues.
Both women and men can be affected, yet it is those full time parents who are most vulnerable, people who dislike change, or who are struggling with other issues such as menopause, retirement, aging parents. Those parents that feel their child is not ready to leave home or have relationship issues with their spouse also fit into this category.
The symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome
Here is a list of some the possible symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome:
1. Feelings of sadness
2. Crying excessively
3. Feelings of loss
4. Not wanting to talk or mix with friends or family
5. Feelings of uselessness or that your life has ended
6. Feeling overwhelmed
7. Change in sleeping and eating patterns
8. Spending obsessive amounts of time in the child’s bedroom
Even if you don’t suffer from any of the above symptoms keep reading, if your child is about to fly the nest or has just flown the nest, here are some ideas you may want to include in your new life.
Top Ten Tips to cope with Empty Nest Syndrome:
1. Plan ahead,
Prepare Your Child: It’s easier to let go if you are confident as parents that your child is ready to hit the big wide world. Help them learn to prepare meals, do the laundry, balance a bank book before they leave home. There is more to life than a take out pizza!
Prepare Yourself: Rearing a child means that at sometime you expect them to leave the nest, it is a logical step which both parents and children are usually willing follow, it is therefore logical that with less washing, cooking, and playing taxi, you will have more time on your hands. Make a plan to fill this constructively before the time comes. Remember also that you will have a little more cash to play with too!
2. Do Nothing
The first 24 hours are always the strangest, plan to do nothing but rest, relax and recuperate. Things are about to change and you will need time to adjust. Part of the adjustment process is to take it all in without judgment or criticism. You have worked hard for the past decade or more now its is ‘Me’ time and you deserve it!
3. Get help.
If you are feeling any of the symptoms in the list above, get help. Particularly if your symptoms are severe and last for two weeks of more. Talk to your GP, find a life coach, psychologist or just talk to your spouse. A problem shared is always a problem halved. Don’t bottle up your loss, acknowledge it for what it is so that the healing can take place.
4. Check for the menopause!
With all the other stresses at midlife, your symptoms may not be ENS it may just be hormonal. Speak with your GP and check for the menopause.
5. Use the internet
We are very fortunate in todays world to have everything at our fingertips. You can schedule to talk with anyone in the world for free via computer. Keep in contact with you children so that you know they are safe. Come to some agreement so that you are both happy with the amount of weekly calls. Don’t let them know that you are missing them or burden them with your emotions, they have enough in their new world to cope with.
Use the internet to research a new passion, local charity needing help, new education course which is also tip number nine.
6. Re-kindle your relationship
Get to know your spouse again. This is a great time to put your love life back on track. No kids means no excuses! You can even go back to walking around the house naked! Get out those recipes for your favorite meals, put the candles out, watch a movie, just spend some quality time together.
7. Pen and Paper
Keep a journal, begin by including the good job you did in child-rearing, all those positive memories, then use it daily to help keep track of your goals, achievements, and insights. Refer to it often so that you can be proud of what you have achieved. Spend a day and create a dream board, with pictures of all the things you want to achieve in your second life, display it where you can see it every day.
Why not go through all those photo’s and put together an album which you can present as a gift at your child’s next birthday.
8. Avoid BIG changes
Although you may feel like it, this is not the time to get divorced or move home! Give yourself time to find your feet before making any drastic changes. When you are emotionally ‘unstable’ and making big decisions it often leads to regret.
9. Try on new hats
As midlife women you will have worn many hats in your life: mother, sister, wife, daughter, cook, nurse, taxi driver, sex kitten, cleaner, entertainer, etc I am sure you can fill in hundreds more! Now is the time to discard some of those hats and try on something new. Perhaps its a new job, planning your dream holiday, helping a local charity, getting fit and eating healthy. Now is the time to experiment.
10. Be You
This is the prefect time to explore your passion in life, to focus on what you want, a term I call ‘Sensibly Selfish’. I am sure you have sat and listened to the flight safety procedure often enough to know that in the case on an emergency you must put on your oxygen mask before helping others. This is something that we all need to do on a daily basis and now is the time to start doing it.
Say what you mean, be what you are, find your passion, live for the day, spoil yourself, celebrate, laugh and most of all have fun.
Try working with a coach
For Elaine and I as her coach, it was a case of sitting down and drinking lots of English tea, coming up with a strategy that we could comfortably increase week on week. First we began by making sure Elaine’s time was occupied with a familiar daily routine.
In the plan we included space to just sit and relax, to let the emotions come to the surface, to let them just be without holding onto them, feeing ashamed, or ignoring them. Rest and relaxations was our key focus in the early stages, Accepting each day as it comes and that life always moves forwards.
Working together as coach and client, we gradually added daily tasks to the routine, a visit to the local market, a meeting a friend for coffee, research on the internet to see what was available in the local community, preparing a romantic meal for her partner and exploring their relationship again. Each day was recorded in Elaine’s journal so she could look back and see the changes as they unfolded.
Step by step Elaine found a new purpose in life, something to fill the gap left after the years of child rearing. It has been spine tingling to see her confidence grow. Her new passion and purpose in life involves standing daily in front of a local TV camera. Now that’s inspiring!
(The names in this article have been changed to keep the persons identity private.)
Kay Newton is a group facilitator, Personal Development Coach and Author of ‘Sensibly Selfish – How to put the ME into Midlife’
You can find her at: http://www.SensiblySelfish.com
Photo credit: David Costillo Dominici