A few weeks ago, my husband and I gave our daughter away. Not because we didn’t like her anymore, but because she married a wonderful young man and we thought he should have her now. Although all our children have been out of the house for a couple of years, this first-time wedding experience made their vacant rooms seem even more….vacant.
Don’t get me wrong. My husband and I are definitely not pining over the loss of our tenets. We survived a few ‘Boomerangs’ (otherwise known as come-back-and-live-at-home-as-a-young-adult-till-you-figure-it-out) and, man oh man, we have no desire to repeat that scenario. It’s just the ‘wedding’ served as a distinct marker that, not only was our daughter not coming back home, but my husband and I were now meant to carve out a different home for ourselves.
This shouldn’t be too difficult a task to wrap my head around, as I actually wrote my Master’s Thesis about adjustment to a life event known as the “empty nest”. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, between the ages of 40-65 people are busy working and/or raising their children (Erikson termed it “generativity”) and thereby contributing to society’s greater good. However, if a person does not find their role in life meaningful anymore, they can develop feelings of “stagnation”. Once children leave the home their parents, particularly mothers, may have periods of sadness, loneliness, and even depression. These symptoms may be compounded by parallel events such as menopause, caring for older parents, or retirement.
However studies, besides my own, have found that the empty nest “syndrome” may have reached extinction. Dr. Caren Rubenstein, in her book “Beyond the Mommy Years: How to live happily ever after….after the kids leave home”, suggests the term “MotherLaunch Stage” to replace the negative connotations of an empty nest. This lifespan marker would indicate that the “mother mode is in the ‘off’ position and ‘me’ mode is turned back on”. Her book offers women examples of how to effectively engage in, what Dr. Rubenstein believes to be, an exciting and challenging new stage of life.
Other research has provided possible explanations for the end of the empty nest. One reason may be a growing number of women have maintained fulfilling careers while raising a family; another is the rapid growth of communication technology such as smartphones, Skype, and social media options which allow mothers to remain in contact with their children on a regular basis.
Along with mothers finding life satisfaction through their workplace or community involvement while still retaining the ability to keep tabs on their adult kids, there is also the allure of the ‘bucket list’. A lot of people my age seem to have one and everyone loves to share what’s on theirs. Checking off to-do items on a bucket list would be a great distraction from the truth that your child-rearing days are so-OVER!! If you haven’t created your bucket list yet Christie Mellor, author of “Fun Without Dick and Jane: Your Guide to a Delightfully Empty Nest”, recommends doing something you would want mentioned in your obituary.
Still, even with all the perks this new found freedom affords me and all the research that debunks a “syndrome”, the fact remains that your children leaving home is bittersweet. During the end of winter months that preceded my daughter’s wedding, I started noticing barren trees with branches supporting exposed empty nests. I kept spotting those empty trees with nests everywhere I went, until spring finally bloomed and beautiful leaves lent cover once again to new nests.
While I have been accused of erecting shrines to their achievements in each child’s room, my husband has been giddily contemplating which one has the best floor plan for building a home gym for two. Waiting for his dream to become a reality, I have added it to our mutual bucket list and I look forward to joining his “exclusive” health club in the near future.
Hopefully, he will approve my membership request.
Positive Outlook Counseling
Barbara Crowley, M.S., LPC-I
16610 North Dallas Parkway, Ste 2100
Dallas TX, 75248
Positive Outlook Counseling services range from individual counseling to family therapy to marriage counseling services. Barbara Crowley specializes in individual therapy for adolescents and adults.
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