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Life after children: Empty Nest Syndrome

April 22, 2012
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News

LISBON - Emily tended to look past the end of her nose, to plan ahead. So when her last child began her final semester of high school, she knew it was time to do something. She had no desire to be affected by Empty Nest Syndrome. She'd heard women talk about the devastation they felt when their last child left home, how empty their homes-and their lives-were. Some women spoke about alcohol abuse, often in secret. Some advised the best times were now ahead because their children were independent and that meant Mom could be, too.

Empty Nest Syndrome refers to the major changes that occur when the last child leaves the family nest. It's not just restricted to mothers. Fathers can experience it, too. There is some adjusting to do for both. Often Mom isn't just coping with her child leaving home. She's also experiencing menopause.

Some mothers define themselves through their full time dedication to their families and are uncertain how they are supposed to 'flip a switch,' and suddenly shut off mom mode and become their adult child's friend, especially if they have traditional ideas of family.

Just as parents once were children who grew up and wanted to get on with their independent lives, they have to accept that their children are the same and deserve the same respect. Parents may not like the decisions their adult children make. They don't have to like their decisions, but they have to accept that it's time to let go. That is not an easy task.

Some empty nesters become depressed because of the changes. Depression gone untended can lead to other problems, mental and physical, including substance abuse. But others, having seen it coming, have made their lists and checked them twice. They are stepping up and out to live every moment of their lives.

The Harvard Medical School advises that, "Scientific evidence suggests that positive emotions can help make life longer and healthier. But fleeting positive emotions aren't enough. Lowering your stress levels over a period of years with a positive outlook and relaxation techniques could reduce your risk of health problems."

The pathways to happiness are feeling good, participating in activities that get you fully involved and personally doing well because you know your true self. True happiness is having less pain and more pleasure. Happiness is found in accomplishing the things you enjoy most. Knowing who you are and why you are takes you outside of yourself as you explore the world around you. Happiness is not going to be found in material possessions that own you. You can't go back to your youth. Age has nothing to do with happiness. And when all of your children have moved out onto their own, your stress levels should go down because you don't have those day-to-day demands you had when you were raising your children. You might even be able to put enough money aside to do some of the things you always said you'd do when you didn't have children to worry about.

How do you positively prepare for empty nest syndrome? You make sure that you've taught your children what they will need to know to take care of themselves: laundry, cooking, balancing a checkbook, dealing with neighborhood disputes. Reassure them that home will always be there but reality is not as bad as the unknown. They need to make their own decisions, and Mom and Dad need to let them make their own mistakes. Cell phones make communication a lot easier nowadays. Text messaging and e-mail make family togetherness and keeping updated on news much more convenient.

Then, like Emily, you must understand the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome so you will recognize them when, or if, they happen to you. You make a list of the things you've always wanted to do but postponed for good reasons. Then you decide where you want to start. Emily chose to go back to college and finish her bachelor degree. Then, under the advice of her adviser, she applied to grad school. She has dusted off the old dreams she had and is pursuing them again. She has some Life Experience under her belt and another 20 or 30 years ahead of her. When you feel depression over more than a week or two, don't be afraid to ask for support. You have to look to your own needs now, and make sure your children see how it's done. It will happen to them one day.

This also is a good time to be totally open and honest with your partner about your relationship. This is the time you always looked forward to, Someday, that time when the kids were grown up and it would be your time again. Romance is not only for the young.

There are major changes in life. And as the saying goes, "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain!"

Family Recovery promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities. For more information about this topic or about our substance abuse programs for education, prevention and treatment, contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.



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