You've spent years taking care of your offspring, putting their needs before your own, finding the happiness in their joys and successes. Now that your children have left home - flown from the nest, as the expression goes - there is a void.
Many people navigate the emotional waters of becoming empty nesters successfully. They grapple with missing their children and adjust to a new lifestyle to fill the void. Others, however, seriously struggle with this transition, instead falling not into mere empty nest syndrome, but an empty nest-prompted depression. What they might assume to be a difficult adjustment is actually something much more serious.
Empty Nest Syndrome
It is difficult to reverse long-standing routines and thought processes, especially when you have two decades of practice following those routines. When children move out of their parents' home, however, that's just what those parents are expected to do: adjust to life without the everyday tasks that come with caring for a child, from infant feedings up to teenagers' laundry. Many parents have built such a substantial part of their lives around raising their families that they encounter senses of sadness or miss their children greatly when those children move out.
In a sense, parents and children each experience their own special sense of homesickness: the child can miss the actual physical space, while the parent misses the sense of activity inside that space. This is at the root of empty nest syndrome.
Much as you might like to think that empty nest syndrome is entirely connected to missing your children, the truth of the matter is there is also a large component that focuses solely on yourself.
When a child reaches the age at which she can strike out on her own, many parents come face to face with their own mortality. They too have reached a milestone age - the age at which their children are now adults, in some cases the same age the parents were when they brought those children into the world. This realization can hit hard, especially when coupled with menopause in women or the discovery of aches and pains that come with growing older.
The Red Flags of Depression
It is natural to miss your children when they have left home. Many parents find themselves calling their offspring regularly to try to feel as if they are still a relevant part of their children's lives. Others might sit in their child's bedroom or look through old photo albums during the transitional period. Feeling sadness is common.
If that sadness takes hold and makes it impossible to focus on anything else, however, empty nest has been replaced by potential serious depression. Many empty nesters think that they are just grappling with a rite of passage when they are in fact experiencing a mental condition that requires professional help.
Common red flags for depression in these situations include:
Counseling or medication can help someone in a depressive state get back on track. Without treatment, the condition can intensify and cause serious, lasting emotional or physical damage.
Your youngest child just pulled out of the driveway, headed for college. You sit down for a cup of coffee and stare across the table at the stranger sitting in front of you. This stranger, of course, is your dear, sweet husband.
Once upon a time the future was yours to do with as you pleased. The years stretched before you like miles of unpainted canvas. Your life was your own. Then suddenly, it was ruled by late night feedings, diaper changes and baby's first steps.