When children grow up and learn to become independent, parents must let go of their children and allow them to fly free. However, it is the inevitable human condition that the parents will be saddened by this change. For many parents, the moving out of their children can lead to depression and a loss in purpose. This phenomenon has been named empty nest syndrome as it happens as the children leave the metaphorical nest that is home.
As obvious as it sounds, empty nest syndrome can have a serious effect on the parent’s well-being. Common symptoms include depression, loss of purpose, anxiety, stress and a feeling of rejection. The suffering parent continues to obsess whether they brought up their child in a way to prepare them for the big world. At the same time, they feel that they are losing their identity as a “parent” – something they may have defined themselves as while they were bringing up the child. They may also feel rejected as they may believe that the child “does not need them anymore”. It has been observed that mothers are more likely to suffer empty nest syndrome (occasionally, menopause may be a confounding factor). Other factors that contribute are parents who find change difficult, have an unstable relationship with their spouse or those with an unhealthy obsession with their children or with the idea of being a parent.
Empty nest syndrome is a natural part of parenthood, but it is important to know how to prevent it from becoming too severe. The best way to cope with this syndrome is to keep in touch with the children and accept that they are young adults who are moving on with their life. Not only that, but the parents must also recognise that a new era has begun for them as well. This is important as failure to do so will lead to the identity crisis mentioned above. A good way to remedy this is through discovering hobbies and interests while maintaining healthy social networks with other people. Essentially, the parents have to “begin a new life”, just like their children. It is also worth noting that it helps if the children recognise this as well and try to keep in touch with their parents to make sure they are coping well without them.