It is always interesting for me to read about how people deal with empty nest syndrome depression. Most people manage to negotiate the transition in healthy ways but some people battle to cope. When your whole life has revolved around caring for your children for many years, it is to be expected that you will experience feelings of sadness and loneliness. You should not feel guilty for having these emotions. It is how you deal with them that matters.
I was the kind of mother who probably erred on the side of over-protecting my children and doing too much for them. Once they had left school, I missed fetching and carrying them, making their lunches, attending concerts and watching sports. Every mother reacts differently to an empty nest but I think those who have been extremely involved in every aspect of their children’s lives tend to feel it more intensely. They have devoted so much time and energy to their children that there is a huge gap in their lives when they leave.
Worry and a sense of guilt
When you adult child moves out and makes unwise decisions, you may feel that you may have failed them as a parent. You feel this sense of guilt that you haven’t prepared them enough for life. You are no longer able to protect them as much and you have to let them experience the consequences of their decisions. You worry all the time about how they are coping.
Changes in your marriage
You have spent many years focusing on your children. When the children leave home, you and your husband suddenly have to become a ‘couple’ again and this often involves some adjustments. Any issues that have been swept under the carpet for the sake of the children rise to the surface once again. For some couples this is a great time of rediscovery but for others it’s a time when they find that they no longer have much in common. They have grown apart over the years and no longer have much to say to one another. This creates tension and stress, increasing the risk of depression. I am experiencing the ‘double whammy’ of going through a divorce and an empty nest at the same time.
Some people find they have more disposable income on their hands when their children have left home and become independent. However, there is often a transition period when they are studying and trying to find their feet. This phase can be more financially demanding than when they were living under your roof. I have to try not to worry about my daughter’s tuition, textbooks and living expenses while she is still a student. She has taken out loans and received bursaries but she is still our responsibility as parents until she can stand on her own feet. In an unstable economy when living costs are high, financial worries are often a major cause of depression.
Other life changes
Other factors may come at the same time as an empty nest, making you more vulnerable. Menopause is often common during this time of life and women have to cope with their fluctuating hormones as well as their empty nest. I had fortunately gone through the worst symptoms of menopause before being hit with divorce and an empty nest.
Many people also start having to care for their increasingly frail adult parents at this stage of their lives. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and chronic illness in a parent can add tremendous stress at a time when you are already feeling extremely fragile. I am fortunate in that my mother is healthy and of sound mind. At this stage, she is a support to me and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to care for a parent who has become more like a child than an adult.
Some consequences of empty nest depression
Depression is a serious problem and it should never be taken lately. It makes you feel hopeless, worthless and lacking in energy. It affects your appetite, sleeping patterns and concentration. If you are seriously depressed and do not have treatment, it may linger on and cause damage not only to you but those around you too. When experiencing these feelings, some people find ways to cope that are not helpful to them or those around them.
Finding comfort in alcohol or drugs
In Britain polls have found that empty nest mothers are resorting to alcohol as a way to cope once their children have left home. They admit to drinking on their own and usually on a daily basis. They think their drinking as ‘moderate’ and do not realize that, according to doctors, a couple of glasses of wine each day can cause as much, if not more, damage than binge drinking. Mothers who have experienced addiction before they had children may fall more easily into this trap once their children leave.
Seeking a cure for loneliness
Meri Brown who stars in the reality show Sister Wives, has revealed that she struggled with loneliness once her daughter Mariah left for college. She finally told the members of her family that she had been lured into an online relationship by someone with a fake persona. There are many women who suffer from loneliness that become the victims of what is called ‘catfishing’. By the number of requests I receive on skype from good looking males who profess to be professors, engineers, majors etc. I realize just how easy it may be to fall into this kind of trap, especially if you are very lonely. If a person proceeds very quickly to ‘romance’ you over chat and email, they’re most likely a ‘catfish’ and it won’t be long before they ask you for money.
Finding solace in the arms of the wrong person, if you are a divorced woman experiencing an empty nest, is another danger. Some people, especially those with low self esteem, find it almost impossible to be alone. They would rather have any partner than no partner at all. When you feel that you no longer have a purpose in life, it may be tempting to find another person to cling to but this could lead to more stress rather than happiness.
One of the most unusual ways I have ever heard of dealing with empty nest loneliness is the woman who knitted herself a son. Marieke Voorsluijs from the Netherlands is a textile designer. She says that she and her son laugh a lot about him needing his own space and her still having a need to smother him with love. She told Bored Panda that she had a lot of fun making this life-sized replica out of wool with her son contributing creative ideas. The replica wears a cap, a knitted sweater, sneakers and even has an ipod.
How to cope
Is it normal to feel sad and lonely when a child leaves home? Yes, of course. However, if you find your emotions are interfering with your daily life and you’re resorting to destructive behavior, it has gone way too far and you need help. It’s time to consult a mental health professional. With a treatment plan in place, you are able to manage your depression and enjoy life once more. If it has not gone this far and you are just ‘feeling down’, there are many ways to prevent it from going any further.
If you are no longer sure about your identity or your role, you need to redefine yourself. Find ways to rebuild your self-esteem. Find new activities you enjoy doing. Act like a tourist in your own home town, take your camera along and snap photos of what you see. Think about doing things you may have not been free to do when your children were around – lie in bed late, eat at unusual hours etc. I love to take long drives (my children both hated going for long drives) when I feel the walls of my house are closing in on me. I have joined a local club and go to the local library every week for basic French lessons. It’s amazing how learning a new language or a new skill helps to boost your self image.
Connect with others
Take time to catch up with friends – go out for tea, enjoy a spa date together or go to a movie. Treasure the relationships you do have and don’t allow your negative feelings to cause you to withdraw. It is when you feel isolated and disconnected that negative feelings quickly escalate into depression.
Here are some more simple ways to help you improve your state of mind on a daily basis. As you find your feet in this new phase of your life, your feelings of sadness and loneliness will slowly fade. You may just find that you are entering one of the best phases of your life.