One day children will grow older and desire to leave the home. Every parent knows this with a certainty that comes with age, and that is realized when they walk through their home and hear only the faint echoes of laughter and children at play. At several points in a parent’s life they might wonder when their children will grow up and simply learn how to be self-sufficient, quiet, calm, reserved, and otherwise behaved. What many parents don’t anticipate is that by the time this happens, their children are almost ready to depart for their own lives, to find something outside the home that will take them to new heights. Few parents are ever ready to face an empty house.
Many parents have been there: the children are loud, mischievous, and even nerve-wracking sometimes, but as the year’s progress and they continue to grow, the disturbances only grow along with the child. Despite unconditional love they are sullen, despondent at times, and tend to want to be independent at certain developmental stages, refusing any and all assistance from their parents. It is a very common condition of parenthood, one that many upon many people undergo while raising their children. Most parents weather through the frustrating times and fully enjoy the good years, because in the back of their mind, in the mind of all loving parents, is the thought that one day their children will be grown, and will embark upon their own lives.
While it might not seem to be the case, it has been seen in studies conducted between parents of higher and lower education that those who are better educated tend to have less problems with loneliness and thereby are less depressed when their children leave (Mahdiyar, Khayver, Hosseini, 2015). This study also points out that fathers are far less prone to depression than mothers when the children leave home, which can be explained by the simple fact that mothers are more likely to bond with their children when they are very young, and are therefore more empathetic to the child’s needs as they grow. While this is not always the rule in every case, it is still a very noticeable dynamic between children and their mothers.
Despite the emptiness that in part defines this syndrome, there is in fact hope after a parent’s children have left the home. Cognitive development is seen throughout the lifespan, and as such during the years of raising their children a parent will typically focus more upon the child, or children, and at times forego their own development. As a means to stave off depression and promote their own personal growth, some adults have found it both therapeutic and life-changing to engage in activities that enable them to learn new skills, talents, and beneficial habits that can help to assuage the empty feeling left by this particular syndrome (Grover, Dang, 2013).
Social connections are also of great importance to parents whose children have “left the nest”, as it allows them to remain part of a social group and therefore occupy their time with other pursuits that involve friends, family, and otherwise like-minded individuals. Without such connections it is easy for adults to fall into depression and eventually experience health concerns that are often associated with the lack of any true reason to continue onward in life. This can even lead to the “failure to thrive” condition that is far more common in elderly adults (Shakya, 2013).
The lack of anything to do and anyone to do it with eventually leads an adult to believe that they are without any resources to draw upon, thereby creating a feeling uselessness that can have adverse effects upon a person’s health and seriously stunt their continued psychosocial development. Thankfully a great deal of the current research on the empty nest syndrome has revealed that while it does still exist, it is not as serious an issue as it was in the past. Since the 1970’s women have begun to work away from the home more often and as a result still have a strong bond with their children, but have been seen to cope better with attachment issues that might otherwise drive them to depression when their children get married, go to college, or otherwise move out of the home.
Having a life and obligations outside of the home is an important factor in countering the empty nest syndrome, though it is anything but a foolproof method. For many parents there will always be too much silence in the house after the children have grown and too many empty spaces to be filled. For the chance to continue their growth and develop healthy habits and continue their psychosocial development throughout the lifespan it is important for a parent to develop relationships and a network of friends and support that not only occupies their time but also allows them to continue to grow and expand as a person (Clay, 2003).
Yet another aspect that can counter the issue of empty nest syndrome is that eventually children do grow and have their own children, which can lead to a new development in the life of an adult, that of being a grandparent. Many upon many people have expressed great joy and contentment in the role of a grandparent, as it is not so much a chance to start over, but to share in the joy and development of another child, a means by which to engage themselves in a new, worthwhile aspect of life that allows them to not only share in their children’s continuing development, but to keep the life that they have fashioned for themselves while not sacrificing
as much as they previously did when their own children were still young.
Being a grandparent is a part of the fabled “golden years”, a time in which most people find that they are retired and able to do much more with their time. At this point in many people’s lives they are through with work, have raised their children, and are grandparents that spend time with their children and grandchildren but are not beholden to them any longer. What this means is that they are free to do as they wish at this point in their lives, and that the effects of the empty nest syndrome, if any persist, have been resolved and set aside.
While this is an important stage of development it is not always as allowable or realistic as it should be, chiefly due to several causes. It is difficult to feel the symptoms of the empty nest syndrome when children continue to live at home well into their twenties, thirties, and even older as has been seen in the past few generations. More than that, it is far more difficult for adults to pay attention to their own needed development when they must contend with the lives of their children, and in some cases their grandchildren.
In this current age it has become almost a normal, if not fully accepted, practice that grandparents take in and raise their grandchildren, thereby putting on hold their own continuing development in favor of caring for the still-developing youths under their charge. In this manner the empty nest syndrome is either never really experienced or hits much harder when not only the children eventually leave, but also the grandchildren, who have by this point taken a heavier toll on the adults as continued child-rearing is seen to detrimental to not only an adult’s state of mental health, but also to their developmental and physical health as well.
The empty nest syndrome is a greater burden to a parent than the act of child-rearing. Still, it is a very natural aspect of the dynamic between child and parent, and can be overcome with the proper support and observance of developmental needs.
Clay, Rebecca A. “An empty nest can promote freedom, improved relationships.” American Psychological Association 34.4 (2003): p40. Web. 28 April 2015.
Grover, Naveen; Dang, Priyanka. “Empty Nest Syndrome vs Empty Nest Trigger: Psychotherapy
Formulation Based on Systemic Approach - A Descriptive Case Study.” Psychological Studies 58.3 (2013): p285-288. Web. 28 April 2015.
Mahdivar, Fatemeh; Khayver, Mohammad; Hosseini, Sevedeh Marvam. “Comparison Between
Empty Nest Syndrome in Parents, Before and After Their Child(ren) Left Home.”
Knowledge and Research in Applied Psychology 15.58 (2015): p17-29. Web. 28 April 2015.
Shakya. “Empty Nest- Mirrored in a growing mind: A Case Report.” Journal of Psychiatrists’
Association of Nepal 2.2 (2013): p43-45. Web. 28 April 2015.