Empty-nest syndrome is the name given to a psychological condition that can affect parents (most commonly women) around the time that their children leave home.
Because so many people feel they suffer from this condition, the charity Family Lives has recently set up a specific advice line for them. Their online help can be obtained here.
Empty Nest Syndrome is not a term you’ll find in many medical text books, but it has become a useful ‘label’ for the feelings of sadness and loss, which many individuals experience when their children fly the nest.
It’s most common in autumn, when vast numbers of teenagers go to college or university.
It’s natural for a parent to feel some sadness when children leave home.
Indeed, it’s normal to have a little weep now and again – or even go into the absent child’s bedroom and sit there for a while in an attempt to feel closer to him or her.
We know of a successful, busy and confident woman who admitted she used to go into her son’s bedroom to sniff his dirty T-shirt and have a little cry, after he left for uni the first time.
So, don’t be ashamed of your feelings – they happen to lots of parents.
More troubling reactions
But if you experience any of the following severe symptoms, you should seek professional help – especially if they go on for longer than a week.
– You feel your useful life has ended.
– You are crying excessively.
– You’re so sad, you don’t want to mix with friends or go to work.
In this kind of situation, what seems to happen is that the child’s departure unleashes seriously depressed feelings, and these probably need treating.
So, if your sadness is overwhelming you, go and discuss your feelings with your GP as soon as possible.
You almost certainly could use some counselling to get your feelings into perspective.
Nowadays, there’s a good chance that your GP could refer you for a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or you may be offered antidepressants.
For a natural alternative, try St John’s Wort which is sometimes known as the “Sunshine Herb” due to its natural mood enhancing properties. KarmaMood St John’s Wort is a traditional herbal medicine used to relieve symptoms of slightly low mood and mild anxiety. These one-a-day tablets are available in two strengths – normal and maximum strength. For more information and special offers visit www.karmamood.co.uk. Always read the label.
A time of change
When a woman is at the stage in life where her kids are leaving, she may also be going through other major changes, such as dealing with the menopause or trying to cope with increasingly dependent elderly parents.
It can be a difficult time, and there’s nothing wrong if you need help of various kinds to get through it.
One good thing to do is to lean on your friends – particularly if they have experienced ‘empty nest syndrome’ themselves at some point.
If menopausal symptoms are badly affecting you, and they seem worse because of your kids leaving home, see your GP who should be able to help.
You may also find natural treatments effective. MenoHerb Black Cohosh tablets , MenoMood Black Cohosh and St John’s Wort tablets and MenoSage capsules have all been shown to relieve common menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings etc. Always read the label.
Keeping in touch
In 2013, it’s never been easier to keep in touch with kids who have left home. And one thing you can do as a parent, is to help pay for a mobile phone contract, so that your offspring no longer has to ‘pay as you go’.
You don’t want your children to be stranded without credit when they’re finding their way round a new town or city – especially at night – or when you want to contact them.
Many families nowadays also use social networking sites, such as Facebook, to keep in touch.
However, a recent survey by Endsleigh insurance showed that 72 per cent of young people aged between 18 and 25 deliberately choose NOT to be ‘friends’ with their parents on Facebook.
And who can blame them? You’re not a friend – you’re a parent. And you’re probably better off not being able to view your child’s party photos.
The survey also showed that families nowadays contact each other principally by texting (60 per cent).
Another popular way of keeping in touch was email (36 per cent). And 13 per cent are using Skype with a webcam – and doubtless this percentage will rise in the next few years.
Their misery – and yours
We have already discussed the fact that you may feel miserable when your children first leave home. But should you tell them how you feel?
Probably not. This is a time for your kids to find their feet as adults, and they have enough on their plate without becoming anxious about your state of mind.
By all means say: ‘I miss you’ when you email or phone. But it really wouldn’t be fair of you to do more than that. If you want to confide in someone about your unhappy feelings, choose your partner, good friends, your doctor or a counsellor – not your offspring.
Of course you may not be the only one who is miserable. Your child may initially feel quite homesick and distressed at university or college. If this happens, do resist the impulse to be pleased. And don’t suggest that he or she gives up and comes home.
Many teenagers are upset and lonely for a couple of weeks, but most of them deal with it by making new friends, joining university organisations, or taking up volunteering or sport.
Your new life
There must be many activities you’ve longed to do, but never had time to pursue before now. Well, this is your time to indulge yourself. So make a ‘wish list’ of things you’d like to try – and then work through it.
You might want to join a choir, learn Russian, do some travelling, or find a new partner – well, maybe now you can.
Also, do be kind to yourself, and have some treats. For example, you could have a long lie in a scented bath.
The chances are you’ve still got half of your life left to live – so get back in touch with who you are, build up your confidence and start planning to really make something of your new-found freedom.
You may be a lone parent and currently single: in which case, this could be a good time to extend your circle of friends.
But if you are in a long-term relationship, then what seems like empty-nest syndrome can actually be a sense of despair about the state of your romance.
It’s marvellous when a couple rediscover each other after the kids have flown the coop and start having a happier, more companionable and sexier time.
This is a challenging time for you. Nothing will ever be the same again. But just because everything’s different, doesn’t mean it can’t be as good.
Many parents enjoy the second half of their lives hugely – and end up doing all sorts of things they would never have dreamed of when their children were at home.
In 2010, Unite commissioned a poll of 2,000 parents whose kids had recently left home. They found that the majority of mums and dads:
– felt 10 years younger
– were about £600 a month better off
– had increased their number of friends
– had taken up new hobbies
– felt that their relationships had improved.
So, even if you’re feeling pretty sad as you read this article, take heart from the fact that soon you’ll almost certainly feel happier than you ever did before.
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