Empty nest syndrome. It doesn’t just start when the children leave home, it starts much earlier. And for those who don’t have children what would your nest be like without your life partner? Or for those who are married to their jobs, what would your life be like without that job?
My children are still teenagers but because I separated, and later divorced, when they were small, and then they elected in later years to live with their Dad and are now both at boarding schools, I have had plenty of opportunity to suffer from empty nest syndrome already.
When I first separated I made myself make plans to fill the time when the children were away, doing things I enjoy. Thank goodness, I already had friendships, hobbies and interests. Thank goodness, I knew what was joyful to me.
When the children later began spending more weekday time at their father it was difficult and uncomfortable. I had to redefine my role as a mother, but it wasn’t my only role. I already had other activities and purpose that I could now focus more time on.
People often ask “Don’t you miss the children when they are away at school?” Yes, I do a little but I am already used to not being with them all the time. For the most part, I am just excited seeing them grow into amazing independent people. They are finding their own strengths, their own needs, and being challenged to live to their own values, which were first developed at home. They do this in a safe environment with the knowledge that Mom or Dad is only a phone call away.
Recently one of the Headway members told me that her husband, who has just sustained a brain injury, had still been working full time. Looking at the membership form, I enquired whether I had the age right, as he is in his seventies. She said “oh yes, he couldn’t retire because he has nothing else to do.”
We set ourselves up during our younger years for how we will cope later when the children leave home or we retire. We make choices as to how much we live our own lives or how much we define ourselves by others’ needs: our roles of parent, spouse, employee or business owner.
Do you define yourself in terms of your job?
Do you spend all your leisure time either serving your family or accompanying them on their choice of activity? What would you do if those roles were no longer required?
Do you know what brings you joy, regardless of external circumstances?
Do you enjoy your own company?
What interests or excites you, without depending on others?
When you live your life through your children you do them a disservice. The poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet,
“…..And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
…..You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
The role of a parent is to prepare children for adulthood; for taking their place as contributing members of society, for living the life they were born to live.
And you were born to live your own life. Being a parent or life partner or employee is only one role in a life which has many simultaneous and consecutive roles. If you limit yourself to one role and that one goes away, the adjustment is huge. Adjustment will always be needed but the amount and the difficulty is reduced if your focus was more diverse to begin with.
We often forget our most important role – “Carer of Self”.
When we fulfil that role well we have a person with the capacity to fill many other roles superbly.
How do you insure against empty nest syndrome?
o Don’t lose sight of what is important to you,
of who you are as an individual,
of what you contribute to society.
o Keep up a variety of friendships
o Have a number of interests that bring meaning, enjoyment and fulfilment outside of family and work
o Make leisure time for yourself
Wishing you a day with “me” time in it.