Empty-nest syndrome

EMPTY-NEST syndrome is not a term that you will find listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Nevertheless, for all of us who have experienced it, we can vouch for its existence.

It is the name given to a psychological condition that can affect a woman around the time her children leave home. The term encapsulates the feelings of sadness and loss that many women feel when their children no longer live with them or need day-to-day care.

The condition is most common in late summer or early autumn, when vast number of teenagers leave home for college or university.

It’s natural for a mother to feel some sadness when her child leaves home and to have a weep now and again- or even go into the teenager’s bedroom and sit there for a while in an attempt to feel closer to the absent child.

When my son left for the US and university three weeks ago, I’m ashamed to admit that upon returning from the airport I went into his room and sniffed a worn T-shirt he had left behind. It helped being a therapist because I could remind myself not to be ashamed of my feelings because they are natural.

What is not natural, however, is if you experience the following symptoms for longer than a week or two:

-You feel your useful life has ended -You are crying excessively -You’re so sad you don’t want to mix with friends -You’re so sad you can’t go to work or attend to household chores

Perhaps you have strictly identified yourself for too long as a “mother” and not a special and unique person in your own right. Upon losing this role, you may be suffering from an identity and self-esteem crisis. Or, you may be going through other major changes in your life at the same time that your kids are leaving, such as dealing with menopause.

Along with empty-nest syndrome feelings, you might also be experiencing feelings of despair regarding a sense of redundancy in your relationship with your partner. Unfortunately, your children leaving home can expose more vividly some of the flaws in your romantic relationship.

If you feel that your sadness is overwhelming do go and discuss your feelings with a counsellor as soon as possible.

In this kind of situation, what seems to be happening is that your child’s departure has unleashed seriously depressed feelings, and these very definitely need treating.