"It’s a big house. I never realized how big it was until it was empty." Those might be mom’s thoughts as she sits alone drinking a morning coffee, contemplating her day. Her youngest child has gone away to college or has left home to wed or start a career. Mom is left with no job and a feeling of no longer being of value. While well-meaning friends might try to tell her that she should be thrilled that her job as chief, cook, and bottle washer is over, she is still left with an empty feeling that no one needs her anymore.
Others will insist that the end of her child rearing duties carries with it a variety of positive benefits. But those well-intentioned people would be missing the point. Adapting to change is the most difficult of all human endeavors. It is the reason why so many people find it difficult to carry through on new regimes, whether they relate to diet, to exercise, or to psychological reactions to new circumstances.
Faced with a major life change, most of us will revert to the ideas and beliefs we have practiced over our lifetimes. Mom is liable to isolate or to act strong; in either case covering up her feelings, and trying to be brave in the face of a complete overhaul of her routines. The third-highest cause of adult male death is retirement, but you will never see that on a death certificate. It stands to reason that the breaking of a lifelong habit of going to work, with all of its routines, could cause major distress to a person’s health and well-being.
Emtpy nest syndrome or grief?
Mom is no different. When a twenty-to thirty-year habit of full-time planning and activities and care giving has ended, there are bound to be emotional consequences which can often have physiological complications. There are no stats to indicate that heart attack rates skyrocket for empty nest moms, but anecdotal evidence indicates that any number of emotional and physical problems accompany the ending of active day-to-day motherhood. Lest it go unnoticed, working moms are also subject to the range of emotions that attach to empty nests. Oh, and dads too. As friends, family, co-workers, and just folks, we must remember not to dismiss or diminish the emotions about which empty nesters want and need to talk. Listen to them - listen with your heart, not your head. Hear them, don't fix them; they're not broken, they're only honest.