Although the focus at the time is more on those that have flown the nest – those young adults so familiar to us – many mothers also describe it as a huge shake up of their identity, with a lot of unanswered questions around what’s next.
Most women I talk to about this stage of their lives express surprise at the complex feelings they are having, and reflect wryly on the times with younger children when they desperately craved solitude.
Different mothers, similar reactions
Others describe fulfilling, busy lives that they actively managed, where they purposely went out of their way to carve a life for themselves outside of their children…but still find it difficult to reconcile their feelings at this strange time.
And then there are the others who quietly maintained the family unit in the background due to a husband or partner’s need to devote most of his time to work or a family business. They were so used to being the port of call for anything and everything…but now what?
I’m not foo fond of the description ’empty nest syndrome’, mainly because of the syndrome bit..it sounds a bit clinical, even pathological.
I prefer to focus on the feelings that women often experience at this time of adjustment – sometimes a jumbled mix of sadness, grief, happiness, confusion, futility, loss, regret and relief.
Through this, it often emerges that the woman is experiencing an identity shift – where for the first time in a long time, her needs and preferences are suddenly in the foreground, confronting her about where to go and what do next.
Sometimes their relationship with their partner is impacted, where there is more time to nurture the relationship. Sadly there may also be more time to discover they have drifted in the midst of family episodes, child rearing and money stresses, and this suddenly becomes a more pressing and apparent issue.
Some coping strategies:
Accept your feelings, and try not to compare your experience to that of others.
Develop new interests or hobbies; tweak your usual routine.
Make sure you have a good support network of friends to talk to.
Take the time to reconnect with your partner, some people embrace this time as freedom to travel.
If you feel you are struggling, it can be good to talk to an experienced counsellor as they are objective and can support you through this major transition stage.