08 Apr Empty Nest Syndrome
When the school bell rings for the final time, marking the arrival of summer, it is usually an intoxicating time for children – young chicks and hardy fledglings alike. Who can forget those shimmering fields of grass (which seemed both bigger and greener in those days); the lazy hum of distant lawnmowers and the soothing warmth of the sun as we threw our blazers to the ground (or hung them away neatly, if we were brought up to do so)? In those heady days, turning the alarm switch to ‘off’ (did we even have alarms?) was all it took to disconnect from the notion of time and bask in that ocean of presence that only the young and the mystical seem to enjoy.
As devoted parents, the school routine forms the axis of our yearly sojourn through time and space, and, unlike our progeny, we can find it difficult to accept the end of the spring term gracefully, especially those of us who may need to come to terms with the prospect of a last summer together as a family. For we know only too well that the six or eight weeks of frenetic summer activity will pass by in the blink of an eye.
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
‘Empty nest syndrome’ is an oft-ignored psychological issue but can be a source of immense pain and suffering to parents who find themselves facing a future of much reduced contact with their children. Being unable to share simple rituals, like sharing a goodnight kiss or watching a favourite soap, can bring up feelings akin to bereavement, and stories of parents sitting in their teenager’s empty bedroom and crying – even sniffing their old clothes – are common.
Allied to this sense of loss can be a fear for the future, particularly with regards to marital relationships. Some family lawyers cite empty nest syndrome as one of the top three reasons why some couples seek divorce. Issues around the menopause might also be relevant for some mothers, and elderly parents may start requiring more care around this time.
Of course, it would be unusual to adapt to such a considerable upheaval without shedding a few tears, but when ordinary grief becomes depression, it is time to seek advice about empty nest syndrome from the GP, who may recommend counselling (alongside other treatments). Excessive weeping, feelings of having no part to play in the future and loss of interest in friends and work can all be symptomatic of a deeper problem and the first step to recovery is to seek expert help.
For less severe cases of empty nest syndrome, it is worth coming up with a rescue plan sooner rather than later. Distance can be made that little bit shorter these days with the help of technology so for those who have never sent a text or operated a webcam, now could be the time to learn (while the children are still around to teach you). For a lucky few, becoming part of their child’s online social network could be a possibility – though probably not for the faint-hearted!
Feelings of empty nest syndrome can be alleviated by finding new activities, meeting new people and starting further education; in short, everything you didn’t have time to do because you were too busy being a great parent!
Empty nest syndrome does not have to be all doom and gloom though.A 2010 survey by Unite interviewed two thousand ‘empty-nesters’, and found that the majority enjoyed more friends and hobbies, had better personal relationships and even earned £600 more each month. This goes to show that just because your young birds are on the verge of taking flight; it doesn’t mean you can’t find new wings yourself.