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When Baby Leaves Home - Coping With The Empty Nest

Updated on December 30, 2015
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My mother raised 10 children (8 boys, 2 girls). She was a saint of a woman with a heart of gold and nerves of steel. I seldom saw her cry, but she confessed to me that one rare bout of tears occurred in the airport while seeing my baby brother off to his first real job after college graduation. Even after 10 children, she still felt sadness when the last one left home.

Each parent, from the first time a baby holds its own bottle, to the first step and the first day of school, works to create independence in their offspring. While watching a child leave home is hard, when the oldest ones leave, the remaining children (if there are any) help to distract from the loss. How then are parents to survive when the youngest or only child leaves?

According to Mayo Clinic, "Empty nest syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis. Instead, empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home."

Empty Nest:  

a stage in a parent’s life after the children have left home.    

Dictionary.com

Since the idea of empty nest syndrome first surfaced - a lot has changed. According to the American Psychiatric Association, research has shown in addition to their parental role, it is not uncommon now for mothers to work outside the home. This may help to define a woman's role in life keeping the impact of the empty nest at a minimum. Ways of communicating and traveling have become cheaper making staying in touch with our "babies" much easier than the days of snail mail and costly flights. This too has lessened the impact of empty nest syndrome. Author and Psychologist Karen L. Fingerman, PhD strikes down the popular misconception of the grieving empty nest parent when she says, "People do miss their children, but, based on what I've seen in my research, what happens is actually the opposite of the empty-nest syndrome."

According to Fingerman, most parents:

  • enjoy greater freedom
  • a reconnection with their spouses
  • and more time to pursue their own goals and interests once their children leave home.

Instead of the misconception of sadness and depression, parents instead feel pride and joy and actually enjoy a better relationship with their children once they leave home.

Cheaper long-distance charges, e-mail and lower airfares have made it easier to stay in touch once children leave home.
Cheaper long-distance charges, e-mail and lower airfares have made it easier to stay in touch once children leave home. | Source

Tips for Coping

Julie Morgenstern, in her article, The Cure For Empty-Nest Syndrome, shares some of the following ways to cope with the change that comes when your last child leaves home.

She suggests:

  • Find Ways to Fill the Void Before They Leave
    Go back to work, take classes, volunteer. You don't have to be home just because your children are gone.
  • Throw a Send-Off Party
    Ceremonies are largely lacking in American culture, yet when we do have them (graduations, bar mitzvahs, confirmations), they give everyone a chance to acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate life's passages. Consider throwing a joint party with other family friends who are sending their children off, too.
  • Keep the Lines of Communication Open
    Establish a weekly check-in routine like e-mail updates every Sunday, or Saturday morning phone calls. (And let your child know they can call you whenever they need to.)
  • Love Your Children Enough to Let Them Make Their Own Mistakes
    It's okay if they struggle a bit finding their way in the world. Remember, you've already done the hardest part—raising a smart, resourceful kid!

And so in the week before I send my fourth and last daughter off to college, I too, am a victim of a set of mixed emotions.

  • Excited to see her excel and succeed
  • Delighted she has made it to this point in her life
  • Pleased with her choice of study
  • Happy with the college she has chosen
  • Anxious on how her adjustment will go
  • Thrilled that my house will stay clean
  • Sad that I will miss her
  • Satisfied with myself for a job well-done

Plan on, as I do, being really patient with yourself and treat yourself with careful understanding.

Yet still, embarking on this change of letting "the baby" go out the door into this big wide world, I cannot help but to wax sentimental one final time. I think how quickly those years went by and how it was only yesterday when I helped her learn to ride a bike, take a school bus, flag down public transportation and then drive her own car. All these stages, all these things slowly taking her one step closer to independence from me.

And I often tell harried young mothers to enjoy the nights when they know their babies are tucked safely in bed. The Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, captured this maternal protective instinct well when she penned:

"Here in my arms I have enrolled you,
Away from the grasping world I fold you,
Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!"

But the American poet e.e. cummings, captures best the love that abounds between a parent and their child even as the child leaves the nest. He writes of a loved one:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

REFERENCES

  • Clay, R. (n.d.). An empty nest can promote freedom, improved relationships. American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses.aspx
  • Empty nest syndrome: Tips for coping - MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/empty-nest-syndrome/MY01976
  • Morgenstern, J. (n.d.). Empty-nest Syndrome - Oprah.com. Oprah Winfrey's Official Website - Live Your Best Life - Oprah.com. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.oprah.com/relationships/Empty-nest-Syndrome

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    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

      I experienced the "empty nest" syndrome 25 years ago when my children left home for college and the military. I never expected to experience it again, but I did when my granddaughter went off to college after living with us for a year.

      You've certainly listed all the mixed feelings we have. Yes, the house will stay cleaner. Yes, I'll feel sad when I see her room neat and unlived in. Yes, I'm proud of all that she's accomplished.

      Great insights into "empty nest" syndrome, and good tips for getting past it. Voted up and shared. P.S. I love the e.e. cummings poem!

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 3 years ago from NW PA

      Thanks Steph - we have an interesting year as my youngest daughter goes to college and my grandson goes to kindergarten. Certainly, all these changes bring emotional adjustment. Thanks for your support - don't you just love e.e. cummings?

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      A great read. Thank you for sharing from your mother's and your experience. Congratulations to you and enjoy your sense of satisfaction.

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 3 years ago from NW PA

      Thank you, Ms.Dora

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I remember the feeling of freedom when my child graduated college and was out of the home. I was happy for his new page in life, but yet I felt a hollowness within my soul. It is a bitter sweet experience. Thank you for reminding us of what is important about this transition. Blessings.

    • carlajbehr profile image
      Author

      Carla J Behr 3 years ago from NW PA

      Thanks Teaches -transition, no matter what they are - are challenges. It's great to know I haven't walked this path alone. Take care, cjb

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