Depression and the Empty Nest

Depression and the Empty Nest
The “Empty Nest Syndrome” is something I hadn’t given much thought until I experienced it. You think you’re looking forward to your children being grown, being responsible for themselves, and moving on. Less work to do, more space in the house…an all around good thing, right? But then it happens. Whether you see it coming or not, the depression sets in.

Growing up and moving out is a natural part of life, but as moms, it’s very difficult to let our children go. Particularly in cases in which the children are very close with the mom, it’s even harder. We tell ourselves that it’s okay, and that they’re going to be fine, but that feeling of responsibility for those lives is overwhelming.

What if she gets locked out of her apartment? What if he loses his keys? Or worse! What if something terrible happens, and I’m not there to take care of them? How do I know he got home okay? What if she goes out with a psycho, and I don’t have his name and phone number to give to the police? Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but then, maybe not. Our minds can go a little out there, if we let them.

But the depression about the “empty nest” isn’t just about the child being out of the house and all the “what ifs.” It’s also about facing the fact that not only are our children growing up, but we are also growing older. That’s a scary thing. Our own mortality begins to sneak up on us, and we realize that our “whole lives” are not still ahead of us. That can be a hard thing to face.

We all know that sitting around crying is not a good idea, but for the first week or so after a child leaves, I think it’s okay. We need some time to grieve because though the child is just living somewhere else, it almost feels like a death, because they are no longer there with you.

Some people immediately take all the child’s things out of their room and turn it into a guest room or a craft room, etc. Others just close the door and try not to go in there. I think that we’re all different in how we handle our grief, and what might be good for one in that situation might not be good for another. Regarding the child’s room, I think that’s up to each individual parent. Personally, I couldn’t stand the thought of putting my daughter’s things away, but if it works for you, that's what you should do.

So you cry and grieve for a while. Then what? Well, you take an evaluation of your life. You think about what you’d like to do. You probably have more time now, so you might want to take a class. Maybe you could take up a new hobby. Join a gym. Be more active in your church. Take a walk in the park and marvel at the beauty of nature. Adopt a pet. Watch a comedy.

There are probably some projects around the house that you’ve been meaning to do. Jump in there and make some positive changes. Clean out your closets, and get rid of anything you haven’t worn in two years. (Most people say one year, but I just threw out some things I hadn’t worn in over ten years, so I’m lenient on that!)

Take care of yourself! Try a new hair style, get in shape (exercise), and get a little sun. Get your nails done. See an aesthetician, and get some of those little brown spots zapped.

Spend time with your spouse, and renew your relationship. Think of things you both enjoy, and do them together. Bring back a little spice in the bedroom!

Take time out to spend with friends and family. Many of your friends are going through the same things, and they can empathize with you. They might also have some good advice.

If you haven’t already, get on Facebook or any of the social networks. It’s a lot of fun to get in touch with friends from the past, see their photos, see what they’re doing, and find out what’s been going on with them since you last talked. It helps you feel as if you aren’t so “cut off from the world.” You hear about gatherings, and you might even want to join in!

The empty nest is just one of many adjustments we have to make in life that is likely to cause depression, but not impossible to handle. It just takes some time to get used to it, and to make some changes in your life. Remember that if the kids never left, that wouldn’t be good for them, or for you. But don’t get too comfortable in the extra space and converted room…they might be back someday!

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