The Empty Golden Cage

Mothers are more likely than fathers to experience empty nest syndrome because they always put the needs of others before their own.
The Empty Golden Cage
Representational Pic

Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children move out of the family home, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or job. It is not a clinical condition. Since young adults moving out from their families’ house is generally a normal and healthy event, the symptoms of empty nest syndrome often go unrecognised. This can result in depression and a loss of purpose for parents. The departure of their children from “the nest” leads to adjustments in parents’ lives. Full-time parents (stay-at-home mothers or fathers) may be especially vulnerable to empty nest syndrome. Adults who are also dealing with other stressful life events such as the death of a spouse, migrating to a new place or retiring are also more likely to experience the empty nest syndrome. Signs of empty nest syndrome can include depression, a sense of loss of direction, feelings of rejection and anxiety. Mothers are more likely than fathers to experience empty nest syndrome because they always put the needs of others before their own. Mothers are more likely to change career or educational trajectories when children are born; as a result, when children leave the nest, women may experience a profound loss of purpose and connection.

One Empty nest mother reported “I sometimes express my feelings to my daughter on phone. She blames me all the time. She is busy and stressed with her own life, and I do not want to trouble her too much. On their short vacation, our children treat us well and always buy us something to eat and wear. Those things are unsuitable for me but I accept them gladly I do not want to break their heart. The most common thing they say to me on the phone is to take my medicine on time and to exercise more. They always say that. I know my condition of blood sugar control, and I do not think it’s necessary for me to measure it regularly. I suffer from complications with my eyes. It is difficult for me to install the blood-taking needle, my hands’ shiver. There is nobody available to help me do this. Perhaps because I am old, going to the hospital to see a doctor is really a big challenge for me, because of mobility issues. I will not come to the hospital until my condition is particularly serious. My spouse is hemiplegic. Sometimes when I am busy taking care of him, I forget to take my medicine. Due to dementia I often forget to take my medicine and insulin injections, although I have been unwell for a long time. Sometimes I fail to bring an insulin pen with me when I go out. As I get older, I feel useless. I do not want to bother my children with trifles. What I hope for the most is that there are some spiritual ways to cure pain, so that I can suffer less and be less trouble for my family I used to do exercise and now, it is difficult for me to walk too much since I broke my ankle five years ago.”

This study was aimed at exploring the quality of life of parents whose children are settled outside and the resultant changes in their quality of life. The findings showed that 75% of parents suffered from empty nest syndrome, and most of them seem to be not satisfied with their lives. Understanding the life of such parents has counselling implications. There is a need to develop interventions to enable these parents to continue living their life with enthusiasm, purpose and contentment as well as challenge the popular negative connotations of the term empty nest. The empty nest phase is a psychological condition, in which parents experience unhappiness, worry, loneliness, and depression from their children’s departure from home. In our Kashmiri culture, elderly parents were held in very high esteem, and it was considered almost a duty to care for and respect them. Now, these values are diminishing. Studies have also shown that left-behind older parents had greater degrees of mental health issues, including depressive symptoms, loneliness, poor life satisfaction, and poor cognitive abilities. Some parents who are young old do not get affected by empty nest syndrome but as they age, they start developing the empty nest symptoms.

In our study, few parents without medical complications and sound financial background appear to be leading their lives with satisfaction by remaining involved in some activity, whether it is leisure, social interaction, or work and seem to have made the successful adjustment as well but intrinsically they were missing their children. One of the retired elderly told the investigator that “I curse the day when I constructed the house at Srinagar. I had intentions post retirement I will settle back in my village. But my grown-up children who are now settled abroad did not approve of my idea of settling back in the village. On the death of my mother when I went to my native village I felt like a stranger rather than an uninvited guest. My children were on pins to move back to Srinagar. In this ghost house, we feel alienated and put with a non-local domestic servant and two pets who are our companions. Most of the rooms remain locked and it has been a year I and my wife have not visited the hall housed in the third story. Rarely do we move outside but those moments haunt us of burglary issues, we spend restless nights and wait for the dawn. . Our lives are non –directional.”

One of the easiest ways for parents to cope with empty nest syndrome is to keep in contact with their children. Technological developments such as cell phones, text messaging, and the internet all allow for increased communication between parents and their children. Parents going through empty nest syndrome can ease their stress by pursuing their own hobbies and interests in their spare time. I met an educated elderly couple engaged in teaching slum children free of cost. In Kerala, there is a lady who is around 80 years she walks on foot every day 10 Kms to and fro to teach poor children. I have seen professors post-retirement mentoring students and actively participating in alumni meetings. Discussing their grief with each other, friends, families, or professionals may help them.

(Dr Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir)

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