It’s been super interesting picking up the ’empty nest’ stories from the northern hemisphere of late – there it is the season of farewells – where wings are being spread in their thousands as little darlings leave for Uni. In the southern hemisphere, the build up is in full swing, for a Jan-Feb departure.
I loved the insights of Sabina Zalewska, a family psychologist, in this interview about the impacts on the marriage when children leave home:
“Empty nest syndrome … often means that the spouses are likely to fight more often and have difficulty satisfactorily solving their disputes. Instead of feeling joy and fulfillment in a relationship, they feel defeat and frustration. They have more time for each other, but don’t know how to be alone together anymore. Their spouse’s presence irritates them instead of causing joy.
“Sometimes one parent will start supporting their newly independent child without consulting the other. Usually, one will offer financial help or assistance of some other kind, without talking to the other parent about it ahead of time.
“The parents as a married couple find it hard to adapt themselves to the new situation.
They should start rebuilding their marriage and relationship as a couple, but don’t know how. Having been focused on their children and their needs and care for many years, they don’t know how to refocus their attention on each other.”
We’ve seen from letters to this site, empty nest syndrome isn’t a fait accompli – it depends on you and your unique situation. Whether there are siblings, the quality of your relationship with the departing child, your support base.
Sabina observes: “It depends on many factors, such as whether it is the first or last child leaving home, or perhaps the child they feel most connected to for one reason or another. For example, parents may develop a special bond with a child who went through a serious illness earlier in life. If the parents are working outside the home, they can focus on things other than caring for children, and they are less likely to suffer from empty nest syndrome.”
Also important is the reason why the children left home. At this site we focus on leaving for Uni, but the interesting reveal from some comments and research has been the greater struggle parents have when kids leave to get married. Sabina explains it can be more difficult for parents – particularly the mother – when kids leave for marriage.
“Often, mothers are the ones who find it more difficult to come to terms with the fact that their children have become independent. Sometimes there is friction between the parents and their son- or daughter-in-law, and that only makes it harder to accept the change.
This all is due to the fact that some parents have a hard time dealing with the pain of knowing that their children, for whom they have done so much, are leaving because another person is now more important than they are. The parents then channel their pain to anger, which they direct at their daughter- or son-in-law.
“It’s normal for children to leave their parents, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, and that the pain won’t be expressed in some way.”
When the lemons arrive – make lemonade! Advice?
To paraphrase Sabina’s advice:
- Turn towards each other, and notice the positive side of being alone by themselves
- Make your dreams come true, develop interests and work on self-fulfillment.
- Use your spouse as support
- Cultivate positive relations, in time you will discover joy and satisfaction in the new state of affairs
And my favourite:
- Be patient. It’s a transitional period. and remember: “[If] the feeling of loneliness and solitude during this period is so great that parents are unable to get through this phase alone .. therapeutic help is needed.”