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What are some of the different components of empty nest syndrome that one might have to endure during the empty nest stage, and what are some potential aides in overcoming the problem?

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A problem which impacts some parents when their last child leaves home is empty nest syndrome. This often happens in the fall when students leave for college.  Mothers, particularly those who have stayed at home to raise the children, are more likely to experience this problem than fathers. 

In a 2008 poll of mothers who had experienced the empty nest syndrome, approximately 10 per cent of the mothers had difficulty moving on after their child left home.  This is a major life adjustment and may take some time to find the best life balance for the mother or parent who experiences this event.

What are the feelings faced in empty nest syndrome? The pain of separation from their last or only child becomes consuming. The syndrome may include some or all of the following issues:

  • Extreme grief
  • Depression and loneliness
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Excessive crying
  • Lack of energy
  • A persistent feeling of uselessness

In extreme situations, parents may feel that there is nothing left for them in life.  The main purpose was to raise their children and that has been completed.  In these cases, counseling and medication may be needed to help the parent find the middle ground needed to go with a normal life.

For women,  the empty nest syndrome may occur at an especially vulnerable time: menopause.  The woman is already experiencing hormonal changes which may increase with the “empty nest” depression. A woman’s identity may have circulated around her child.  Then, with the child gone from home, the absence along with the menopause symptoms can be extremely stressful. 

Another reason that the parent may feel traumatized by the child’s absence comes when he/she does not leave home at the normal or expected time.  The longer that the child depends on the parents, the harder it is for the separation to occur without distress.

Despite the fact that this condition is not an outstanding medical disorder, various studies and research have been conducted to somehow address the symptoms parents may feel when they come to a stage in their parenting life when their children have to leave them for something different or better. 

The best cure for the syndrome is prevention.  Long before the child leaves home, the parents should begin planning life after the children.  This may entail taking vacations, spending more time on individual pursuits, or connecting with the spouse through a hobby or agreed upon  activities. 

A positive attitude is the only real way to prevent the extreme symptoms.  The child leaving home is what the parent has raised the him/her to do.  Leave the nest, fly the coop, stand on their own two feet---all of these cliches were meant to show exactly what the parent has achieved: enable their child to be resourceful and live his/her own life.

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