As some of you are aware, I have been struggling with the prospect of “empty nest syndrome” for the past year. My oldest daughter moved away from home about three years ago and has been “exploring the Southeast ever since, living in three different states in three years. My youngest daughter is destined to leave for her first year in college next week. When I return home from that trip, I will walk into a house that is basically empty, with the exception of my cats. I have been sailing along rather well, helping my daughter prepare for college, shopping for dorm room supplies, helping to plan her academic career, and laughing together over the fun she will also experience.
Until this week.
This week I have been struck on several occasions with how much I am going to miss this young woman as she ventures off down her own path of life adventures. I am incredibly excited about the opportunities that await her; I am very happy for her that she will be able to fulfill some of her dreams over the next few years; and I am so very proud of the young woman she is and is becoming. And I will miss her.
What has been surprising to me as I have researched “empty nest syndrome” is that is primarily effects women, that some actually consider it a “mental health disorder” and that is really doesn’t have to be so bad.
The reason it primarily effects women is because of the mother-child bond. Women are preparing for empty nest syndrome from the time their children first begin to explore independence. Every new achievement that they can accomplish without our help takes us one step closer to our empty nest. And women – mothers – really do have a few pangs of separation anxiety every time our children show another sign of independence, no matter how small.
I like to think that as human beings we are always “growing up.” People joke about the 40-year old that states, “I want to be a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ when I grow up.” Humans, if they are living life to the fullest, are in a constant state of change. We grow, we learn, we stretch our limits and test our boundaries. This does not stop just because we reach adulthood, get a job, and start a family! Logically, when you consider these life changes, it makes sense that we are continuing to learn and grow! Empty nest syndrome is simply part of my growing up process.
So, this step, the letting go of our children, is just one more step in the growing up process. As our children learn to be healthy, happy, independent adults, we are learning the next step in our own growth process. It is a time for us to re-focus ourselves. Perhaps our children will not need us as much as they did before; that time can now be put to use for some of our personal goals that we may have delayed. A degree; a new job skill; a hobby or craft that we have wanted to try but not had the time. Travel. A cause that has always had our interest but to which we have not had the time to donate. In short, it is time to learn something new about ourselves.
I know that, like all the changes I have gone through in life, I will not handle this one perfectly. I have promised myself and other that I will not cry; that is not going to happen. What I will attempt to do is not cry in front of my daughter. (I don’t know if I can do that, either!) Regardless of the witness to or the amount of tears, I know that we are both going to survive this new “life challenge” and that we will both be better off because of what we learn through it. If nothing else, I will gain much empathy for the rest of you as your empty nest days approach.