Will Autumn Bring an Empty Nest?
Already there is a sense of autumn approaching, the dew on the cobwebs in the morning, the fields stripped bare, the winds carrying memories of bonfires and stormy days to come.
Any change in seasons can be difficult, for many reasons. Sometimes it's about regret for the things we have not achieved, sometimes it’s because of past memories: a summer romance, a chance lost, a job left. We are the sum of all of our experiences, and those experiences can be rooted in a particular time and place. A season, or a change in season, can be a powerful trigger, sometimes bringing up emotions we believe were long buried.
The change from summer to autumn can be particularly difficult. If we believe our own personal summer has passed our attitude to the outer world can reflect how we feel about ourselves. Is the ending of summer a time of regret, a look back at what harvests we did not reap? Or is it a welcome pause, with the crops gathered and a chance to take stock of what we have achieved? It may even be a mixture of the two. It is no surprise many people embark on therapy for the first time in their 50s, as they look at their lives up to that point, and decide what changes they want, what harvests they wish to make.
Of course we cannot talk about the seasons turning without including a huge life change many families are facing at this time of year. With the A level results now in, many young people will be preparing to leave home to go to university.
Empty nest syndrome is often used to describe how mothers feel at this time, especially if they have been stay at home mums, but it is not about gender, or about even being the main carer. Many parents have defined themselves, their role, by their children. Lives have revolved around them for eighteen years, jobs may have been persevered with simply to provide the necessities of life, relationships themselves may have been continued simply for the “sake of the children”. The “empty nest” may lead a couple to re-evaluate their relationship in couple counselling; it may even in some cases lead to divorce.
The term empty nest reduces a whole complex web of emotions that may be stirred up by children leaving home to a cliché. For some it may be a time of mourning, for others a celebration, the start of a new, exciting chapter. Some clients may need help exploring what new roles and opportunities are presented, whilst others may need to grieve and be given time and space to do so.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember as the seasons change is that change is natural. Without the autumn there can be no spring, the cycle may seem scary at times, but the inevitability can also be reassuring, and each season has its own joys even if it can take time, and exploration, to discover what they are.