Monday, August 4, 2014

Empty Nest Syndrome - Myth or Reality?

This post is prompted by a high school friend of mine (let me remind you that our 40th HS Reunion was in 2012!).  Her daughter leaves for college two weeks from tomorrow, and she's not going to the local college (University of Washington). No, she's headed to a very prestigious college in the other Washington. My friend's take on this issue: " I think empty nesting is going to suck, full stop." Gees, I'm with you! I have not had fun being an empty nester.  To me, it may be highly overrated.  So, let's check in with the researchers...

From Psychology Today:
An empty nest in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
"Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. This may occur when children go to college or get married. Women are more likely than men to be affected; often, when the nest is emptying, mothers are going through other significant life events as well, such as menopause or caring for elderly parents. Yet this doesn't mean that men are completely immune to Empty Nest Syndrome. Men can experience similar feelings of loss regarding the departure of their children.

More mothers work these days and therefore feel less emptiness when their children leave home. Also, an increasing number of adult children between 25 and 34 are now living with their parents at home. Psychologist Allan Scheinberg notes that these "boomerang kids" want the "limited responsibility of childhood and the privileges of adulthood." Children may also return home due to economics, divorce, extended education, drug or alcohol problems or temporary transitions."

And this bird still needs me....
I particularly liked where "how stuff works" went, using avian metaphors, see the link below for that article.

And the Mayo Clinic (sounds reliable to me) offers tips for coping and other comments that make sense to me.

Here's where I am at as an empty nester.  Daughter J graduated from high school and left for college in 2002.  (Holy Cats! It's been 14 years!  How did that happen?!?) She didn't come home after her freshman year (there was a boy involved).  She did come home after her sophomore and junior years.  I sold our home and moved cross-country at the end of her senior year.  She actually lost her nest...not so much me.  Sorry J!  Son A, graduated from high school in 2005, and I moved cross-country at the end of his freshman year, he follow me a few months later.  Perhaps moving was easier than dealing with empty nest syndrome.

As the Mayo Clinic suggests, what I missed (and still miss) is the daily contact.  Son A has been the "boomerang child", moving to Seattle after his freshman year in college, moving back to the east coast a year later, and moving back to Seattle now two years ago.  He moved out of my home (I suspect permanently) a year ago.  It's still hard, not knowing where he is and what he's doing.  Wait, that's not really the issue.  My loss is the real issue.  I miss the daily contact of the two most intimate and connected of relationships I've ever experienced. Daughter J, staying in Colorado, not missing Mom much (at least from Mom's perspective).  I've learned to live with this, however it doesn't make me happy.  And yes, I went through menopause and cared for and buried both of my parents during this time frame.

One of the alleged rewards of being an empty nester is more time with your spouse, you know, the man/woman you married 18 or more years ago...and may have lost touch with along the way.  Some research suggests that couples find their way back to each other and enjoy adult life focused on themselves and each other.  I do think this is what happened with my parents, especially after Dad retired.  This is not going to happen for me (trust me, I've asked him...he's so not interested).  C'est la vie!  His loss. Perhaps this renewed closeness and relationship is what my girlfriend will find with her husband (I'm not suggesting they have drifted apart; I've no idea of the context of their relationship). But what happens to those of us without a spouse or partner? Do we sail through the transition to empty nesters or do we struggle even more because there isn't a built in support system and history to share and build on?

I don't know the answer to that question for anyone other than me.  Have I struggled with becoming an empty nester?  Yes, oh yes. I miss my kids everyday.  They (unbeknownst to them) created the foundation for my life as an adult.  I carried them in my womb, and I've known them longer than anyone else will ever know them.  I take great pride ( and humility) in knowing who and how they have become and are becoming.  They think they are so smart...but I know.  I am learning how to create and pad my own nest, with interests and people that I previously chose not to make room for.  And isn't that what all it comes down to?  Choice.  Everything we do or don't do in life is a choice. 15 days from turning 60...I may have finally figured this out.  Who says you can't teach an old  dog new tricks!

And as always, back to the two questions (for more info look at the "About Me" tab above):

  1. Does or has my life mattered?   My life matters to me.  I am moving through the empty nest syndrome.  I am learning how to focus more on me and what I want my life to be.  It is a not an easy transition, however I am having more fun...
  1. Have I been the authentic me?  I'm still learning who is the authentic Gena...stay tuned.
How about you?  Are you an empty nester?  How's it going?  How would you answer the two questions posed by Erik Erikson for yourself.  I'd love for you to leave a comment below!   I will respond!!

PS:  This was Seafair Weekend in Seattle.  One of my favorite weekends of the year here!  Without getting political...I love watching the military jets are some pics!
The Patriots flying high over Lake Washington

The Navy's Blue amazing!

Photo Credits:  All Mine, although some of the Blue Angels might have been taken by my friend Marty using one of my cameras (thanks Marty!!)

1 comment:

  1. So disappointed. Last week, as I was completing what seemed to be a forced upgrade of iPhoto, I lost 6 months of pictures, including 500 (I know, way too many!) from Seafair. I hope you enjoy these two!