The Empty Nest Syndrome (2)
By: Beth McHugh 2008
In the previous article on the empty nest syndrome we looked at the grieving process that often accompanies the departure of an adult child from the family home.
This phenomenon commonly occurs when the oldest child leaves, as that represents a break in the family circle. It is also common when the youngest or last child leaves home, as that signifies that the active role of parenting is effectively over. In households with only one child, the parent experiences the full force of the eldest, middle and youngest child leaving in one powerfully emotive hit. In the latter scenario, the parent, usually the mother since it is the female who is customarily the primary caregiver, is faced with the sudden dilemma of moving from a “family” situation to a “couple” situation, often in the period of a single day.
It is extremely difficult to move instantly from being a member of a family to being the member of a couple. Although the couple has previous experience in being a couple prior to the birth of their children, after such a long period of time, it genuinely seems like it occurred in a different lifetime. Adjustments have to be made, and part of that adjustment involves grieving for the past.
Of course, when the parent is a single parent and the adult child leaves home, there is an even greater adjustment to be made. The parent now finds themselves living in a very quiet house which once reverberated to loud music and midnight snack raids in the kitchen. Little wonder that a shortcut through the children’s wear department of Walmart can suddenly plunge an unsuspecting mother into a flood of tears.
The experience becomes even harder to deal with if the mother opted to be a SAHM and therefore has had more time to develop close ties with her offspring. The ending of the role of an active parent as the last bag is loaded onto the car can be a particularly poignant moment for the SAHM. Torn between the pride she feels that she has given her child an excellent start to life, she has to deal with the emotional fallout surrounding that fact that this job has now become redundant.
Next article, we will look at ways to deal with this extremely common phenomenon.