Life Beyond the Empty Nest
My mother once told me that during the war my dad came back on leave and after she had put him on the train she came back to their empty flat and sobbed and sobbed. That's an empty nest! In these days of telecommunications we might have an empty bedroom but we also have instant world wide visual and audio link ups. I know grandmothers in London who regularly join Sunday lunches in New York via Skype. There they are in your magic box. I only wish some one could walk my dog via Skype.
So what is this big sadness and loneliness we feel as our kids progress along this natural healthy development from their first day at school to their gap year, to living away from the family home. In my opinion it's a way our psyches have of getting us to pay attention to our own lives. So many of my clients go to graduate school when they get divorced, it almost feels like a rite of passage. Maybe the sadness is a real ache for our unlived lives and an urge to meet some of our unfulfilled dreams.
Relationships with partners and kids are negotiations, and losses. How people are supposed to collect their kids at three thirty and still have jobs is an unsolved mystery. The question is, who has the empty nest syndrome these days - mothers, fathers or grandparents? Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, would never see children under twelve. He believed that kids were reacting to the strains in the parents’ relationships. Maybe we need to focus on the parental sadness and emptiness as a time to convert all the time and energy and empathy we devoted to bring up our kids to ourselves and use the creative energy to meet our grown up needs, thinking and focussing on ourselves.
Just a few thoughts from both a psychotherapist and grandmother (who is about to experience a version of the empty nest myself as my daughter's family are soon to leave London).
Claire Odeon Hershman is a therapist on the welldoing directory.