‘Empty-nest syndrome’ is the name given to a psychological condition that can affect parents, mostly women, around the time that their children leave home to go to college or get married. I became an empty nester this year. What’s the big deal, one might say- our parents went through it many years ago and did not seem to make an issue out of it. It indeed is a big deal for me, perhaps because I was a parent more than anything else for the past 11 years and hence more affected by the empty nest.
I have been going through mixed feelings- anxiety and loneliness are predominant emotions, interspersed with brief periods of joy at all the freedom I suddenly seem to have! I am happy for my children, at the same time I dread what the future holds in store for them; I am glad my children are being independent and self-sufficient to an extent, at the same time am anxious that nothing should go wrong. My older daughter left for college in London in 2008 and prepared me somewhat; I was not yet an empty-nester as I still had my younger one with me; but I got a fleeting glimpse of what future held in store. She did cope rather well and came back home after graduation in 2011 and lived with us for a year while she was working. It was good to have both of them at home again but 2012 was looming- the year when my younger one, the baby of the house, would leave to go to college. Along came August 2012 and my younger one left for college. My older one decided to leave home too, to pursue her dreams, and there I was, an empty nester after almost 22 years of being a mother and 11 years of being a mother more than anything else.
I still try to do a lot of remote parenting, though I am facing resistance from my girls. I am no longer a part of their daily lives, no longer a part of their moods, no longer privy to what is going on with them everyday. Both my children are my friends on facebook, albeit reluctantly (under threat of withdrawal of funding!), but they stay clear of me for the most part- they are tolerant as long as I do not comment on their posts and am an unseen presence in their online lives. There are various other means of communication available to us today including email, skype, blackberry messenger and what’s app, apart from the traditional phone call, but a surfeit of methods does not necessarily mean more communication. What I am finding most difficult to handle is that they really don’t want to communicate with me every day- we are still working out the ideal frequency for staying in touch.
I gave up my full-time job many years ago to be a full-time parent and a part-time everything else. Having given up on a corporate career, it is not easy to go back, nor do I wish to. But I need things to keep myself occupied so that my thoughts don’t keep veering towards my girls all the time. I do have several things to do- I organise cultural events, I learn music, I dabble in some gardening, I spend time with my dog, I exercise, I connect with old friends, make new friends, plan and organise trips, and am planning to get involved in a pet-project that has been in the making for awhile now. My husband and I try to do things together (he feels the empty nest too, though to a much smaller extent), attend shows every so often and have friends over.
But I still have the ‘blues’ now and then and feel excessively maudlin thinking about the girls. I give in to tears occasionally and even go to their rooms on the top floor of the house, in an attempt to feel closer to them. It is quite devastating that your child does not depend on you any more; does not want to talk to you half as often as you want; is forming friendships and relationships that will one day matter to her more than her bonding with you. It is heart-breaking that the child that not so very long ago still held your hand and sat on your lap is now off discovering herself and that journey does not include you.
It is the beginning of a new phase in life not just for your children, but for you as well. I have several productive years ahead of me and shall endeavour to build a life that does not revolve around the children as it used to, but is more about other things. Here is what I am planning to do:
- practice my music (sitar-playing) more often; – take up volunteering more seriously – enjoy my dog and derive joy from the simple things an animal can teach us – exercise more regularly – read and write more; start my own blog; attempt to write that long-simmering book – go out with girl-friends for movies and indulge in girl-time which does not involve talking about children – travel around without feeling guilty – try to be more understanding with my aging parents – devote time to my husband’s ‘wellness project’ as a capable project manager I take some comfort from Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’, which I read again after a number of years. What he says about children rings true and will hopefully help me navigate my empty nest cheerfully and with more purpose!