Because of the fact that an adult child moving out of the home is seen as a healthy transition into competency and adulthood, depressed parents may have a hard time finding support or sympathy. To add more stress to this life transition, it also coincides with other life changing events like retirement, menopause, caring for aging adult parents, and even divorce.
Even though fathers also get depressed when a child leaves home, the mother is usually more disturbed and depressed when children leave home. Women are socialized to have motherhood as a major purpose in their lives; therefore motherhood is often her primary sense of identity, even if she has a successful career.
It is the loss of a mother's major role in life that can set her into a course of grief and confusion about what her purpose is at this time in her life. It's as if she's suddenly forced into retirement. Once the feelings of shock and sadness subside, there emerges a need for a future focus which can actually lead to unexpected fulfillment.
In order to reach that place of exploration and growth, a woman must recognize and deal with the sense of loss that this empty nest transition brings. She must deal with the feelings of a loss of power in her life and the feelings of helplessness, and even hopelessness, that this loss often brings on. Therapy can help getting through this difficult time, and it can take up to 2 years to recover from empty nest depression. If a woman is depressed beyond 2 years there might be other issues that are causing the depression.
The challenges that empty nest parents need to address are:
- Establishing a new kind of relationship with their adult child.
- Redefining the couple relationship so that it addresses the couple relationship more.
- Creating new interests that are not related to the children.
This can be a wonderful time of growth and new discovery for women! For a list of action steps to get you out of empty nest depression click here.
- Susan Quinn