Sunday, January 23, 2011

Empty Nest Syndrome

Well, my family has spread its wings and left home, and I feel quite disloyal - I couldn't be happier. I get to claim another room in what is a very small and cramped house. However, Empty Nest Syndrome isn't just about feeling depressed and rejected by one's young, and I am noticing some of its other effects.

 (The Farewell)

For women in our society, it is common for the departure of the children to coincide with menopause, which is a time of emotional upheaval until a measure of adjustment to the new hormonal levels is reached. Men don't have this complicating factor, but men, too, find their lives change immensely when the kids leave, especially men who are not the primary breadwinner or men who work from home.

There are a number of things which make this transitional time in a parent's life harder. Having very close relationships with your children and regarding them as your best friends can become a problem, as they are no longer constantly there to chat to. Conversely, feeling inadequate as a parent, feeling as if you have let your children down, or been a bad parent in some way, makes things hard also, as you become aware that it is now past the time where you can mend your ways, and make amends, or at least explain your position. A child that lives somewhere else and visits occasionally for meals is harder to catch in those moments where intimate revelations are likely.

It takes two to tango - for one reason or another it may be hard to communicate your feelings fully to the child once they have gone - in my case it's because she has become an officer-cadet in the army, and has moved interstate. As soon as they move they put them through an intensive, and I know I will not see her for nearly three months. Really, all a parent can do to to alleviate their cocktail of highs and lows is to deal with themselves and their new childless life, not try to engage the child in a dialogue, or place expectations on the child of regular visits, calls etc.

What is crucially important at a time of change like this is to have something to look forward to, to have some form of work  that you feel is important and beneficial to be engaged on. If you have a hobby, or a calling, or a cause that you get involved with, not only to you have a reason to get out of bed every morning with anticipation and leave the house eagerly instead of lingering among the memories, but when you do talk to your absent child it will not be full of awkward silences, but you will have stories of your own to tell, instead of filling the silence with questions about what they are doing. 

This is important even if you work full-time: I couldn't imagine anything more horrible than going home to an empty house after a day's drudgery. And it is few enough of us who are lucky enough to work full-time for money in the area of our passion, which would be the other good alternative.

What have you always wanted to do? Have you always wanted to learn how to draw, so you can make your imaginings into wonderful paintings? Do it - take a class. Has your life been full of ups and downs, interesting people and interesting places? Write about it - craft it into something other people can enjoy and learn from. Painting and writing not of interest to you? Well, what does grab you with passion - what stirs you? Now is the time to take it up, or to get back to it if it was something from long ago.

If you can get a bit of a head-start, and take steps towards starting to do it before they leave, so much the better. And mark the time that they left - do something, some kind of ritual to end one stage of your life and start the next. It doesn't have to be a religious ritual: it could be a weekend away with your partner, or having sex in every room of the house on the same day, or planting a fruit tree, or completely rearranging the furniture. It could be a barbeque with friends, or a glass of wine in front of the fire, or something. Just as long as you commemorate moving from one stage of your life to the next. The human spirit loves ceremony, it thrives on it.

As a Tarot Reader, it's pretty inevitable that I recommend having (or doing) a reading at important transitional times like this, too: a reading by a good reader will give you insights into feelings you might not find easy to analyse, it will help you sort out what is important from what is not so important, it will help you learn who your new, child-free persona is. It will give you hints on just how to feel your way into this new stage of your life, and how to deal with what lies ahead so as to get the most out of your life. 

Tarot reading isn't as much about prediction as it is about self-knowledge and self-discovery. All major changes in our lives, including the departure of a child, change us as a person. Are we to stumble forward into our future blindly, or are we to take charge, get to know ourselves, and stride forth into our newly-independent lives with a measure of confidence?


  1. Love it. So true. I never suffered from empty nest syndrome, because I've always valued solitude and I have a full-on communicative relationship with my son via email, but I see suffering all around me... wise advice.

  2. Well, apparently you'd be in a minority. It's early days yet, but I'm following my own advice, and I seem to be handling it all very well, like some of the women I've watched go through this in their own lives fairly successfully.

  3. Some children don't leave until they marry or reach an earning capacity that allows them to provide for themselves. You may consider yourself lucky that your daughter has, indeed, moved on :)