The Empty Nest Syndrome: Who are we without our children?

What is left of us when they leave?

By Kavita Srinivasan

Published: Thu 23 Jun 2022, 4:49 PM

My child is only five years old but it struck me the other day that in a matter of 12 years, he would be gone; to college; to life. It is a wake up call. I do not know if I want another child. What I do know is I want to be me, with or without a child. How can we see and be ourselves without our children? We are so consumed by them that, despite wishing we could be devoid of responsibility, their absence leaves us empty. We are bereft.

I have a friend whose children are now at college. She visits them at least two times a term. She has the means to do so and, she told me, “To be frank, I do not know what to do with myself without them.” She raised three beautiful children, staying home with them, making sure she was always there. What happens when the children are no longer there? I see her, flitting, attempting to start a business of her own and scared. Visiting her children is no different, except for the snatched lunch or dinner. They are secure, she has filled them with her presence; they are ready to be whole and alone.

Another lady I know is a high-powered lawyer. Being a mother crippled her. The hours made no sense anymore. There was nothing she could get right; she wasn’t herself at work, always wondering if she was doing the ‘right’ thing by being away from her child. She was never home even when she was physically there, her mind flitting to work, wondering how little she had accomplished. The tug of war abated with time and finally ceased when her child left for college. She confessed her relief. The empty nest allowed her to reclaim her life. She was happy about the reprieve. The day-to-day demands of parenting may have lessened but she still finds it hard to believe there is no one at home who needs her perpetual attention. The shock hasn’t worn off.

Having children defines you in ways that are irreversible. You are changed forever. There is no going back. But how do we move forward when the physical demands of parenting lessen? If you are scared and feeling lost, you have forgotten your first and most important child: yourself. The nest is not empty. It has a child whose needs never cease: yours. So, look within. What is it that you need? Are you forgetting yourself?

My friends occupy almost opposite ends of the spectrum of the empty nest syndrome; one follows her child, hoping to be needed; the other is relieved but doesn’t know how to recover from the years of arduous demands. They may be different but they have one flagrant thing in common: they have forgotten themselves and their needs. If we only realised that we are never done parenting ourselves, we would know that our children leaving home makes valuable space for another child; one who has been neglected: ourselves. The nest is never empty. It is full of you.

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