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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Part 1 of 3 posts! Not that long ago you held them in your arms for the first time, you nurtured them around the clock, taught them to sit, walk, talk, eat, wait their turn and a zillion other things. You supported them with school work and making friends, held them in their sleep and sometimes during feverish episodes, you worried about their health, spent endless evenings ferrying them around to their activities, listened to their problems, shared their joys and sorrows … and now, seemingly all of a sudden, your children have flown the nest.

And the home once filled with life, voices, laughter, busy demands and love is now quiet and empty.

Hopefully, you feel a sense of pride for the people they have turned into as well as a sense of excitement for the adventures they are about to embark on, but then there are the ugly feelings of loneliness, lack of control and emptiness alongside the longing to be close with them again: Empty Nest Syndrome!

What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty Nest Syndrome is not a diagnosis, but refers to feelings of emptiness, loss and grief occurring in parents when their offspring move out of the family home. Moving out is generally regarded as a normal, healthy event in a young adult’s life and as such, this particular kind of grief often goes unrecognized meaning suffering takes place in silence.

Who suffers from Empty Nest Syndrome?

All parents can experience sadness and grief for adult children leaving home. Due to mothers often being the primary care takers of children, the condition is mostly seen in women, but can of course also occur in men. Often the condition is amplified by other difficult life events and circumstances such as being a single parent, going through menopause, caring for elderly parents, grieving for the death of a parent or a spouse or recently having begun retirement.

The experience can be enhanced by the fact that young adults tend to be preoccupied with enjoying their newly gained freedom and perhaps don’t feel the need to stay in much contact.

Many factors play a role in who is most susceptible to suffer from Empty Nest Syndrome; to mention a few:

  • Some deal with change and transition better than others.

  • Some have less of their identity hooked onto their parenting role (it’s often harder for stay-at-home parents than working parents).

  • Some have unstable marriages and marital matters become clearer once the children leave home.

  • Some see their children as dependent and not ready to take care of themselves.

  • Some feel guilt for missed opportunities with their children.

  • Some regret not spending more time with their children.

  • Some find it difficult to live on their own.

How does Empty Nest Syndrome feel?

Having teenagers in the house might give you a taste of the redundancy you may experience when your children embark on their detachment process: young people spending most of the time in their rooms or with friends; sometimes, only reluctantly engaging with their parents and often mostly about practicalities and at shared mealtimes. However, during this phase, there’s a fine balance between letting go of and holding/supporting your children.

With them moving out, it can seem as if it all about letting go. And it is! Having dedicated two decades of your life to care for your children, many parents feel a sense of loss of identity and purpose when their children have left home.

Many describe feelings of being redundant not dissimilar to how you would feel if you had been sacked from your job. Feelings of

  • loss of identity and self-esteem

  • worthlessness

  • depression

  • sadness, melancholy and being prone to tears

  • confusion

  • loneliness and emptiness

  • boredom

  • sense of loss

  • guilt for what you might have wanted, but haven’t succeed in being for/experiencing with your children.

  • anxiety about your child’s ability to cope on their own and a lack of control in relation to supporting them in this.

  • and being at a loose end ...

are not uncommon ... and depending on your life situation, it may take a couple of years to regain your equilibrium, find a sense of purpose and built a new identity for yourself.

Adding to this, you will also be faced with the challenge of needing to negotiate a new kind of relationship with your spouse as well as with your adult children.

Part two of this mini-series on Empty Nest Syndrome explores the added complications of being an expat parent whose children leave "home", and part three will provide tips on how to prepare and deal with this potentially challenging life transition, including building a new relationship with your adult children.

An empty bird's nest



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