Several mom friends of mine have lately come down with a bad case of “empty-nest depression” — moms who just dropped off their youngest offspring to college, or moms having difficulty keeping busy now that the youngest is in kindergarten all day.
I googled the term “empty-nest depression” to see what I could find on this topic. I was surprised to see the Beyond Blue post I wrote in 2007 at the top of the search results. But, after reading it, I can see why it was so popular. I merely asked a question, and all of you answered it. On the comment box of that post are written different kinds of compassionate and insightful responses to my question: How do you treat empty-nest depression?
Beyond Blue reader Barbara initiated the discussion with this practical piece of advice:
I am a mother of five children; the oldest 29, the youngest 20 in college. My children all went off on their own around the age of 18. Those in college worked their way through school so only returned home for a weekend occasionally; not for summer vacation. I was involved in all their lives, but I hope, not as a smother mother.
During a long period of their growing years, I was suffering from major depression. My therapist encouraged me to find some work outside the home. He was aware how much emphasis and identity I had tied up in motherhood, and how deeply depressed I was. I totally rebelled because raising my children was my first responsibility. But an opportunity came my way that would allow me to use my musical talent one day a week at a school. For some reason, I agreed to do it. Later it went to two days, then three. I finally decided to return to college and finish my degree while still teaching three days a week. By that time, only my son was still at home. He found he loved karate so my husband and I juggled our schedules so that he would never come home to an empty house.
Gradually, and as my children needed me to step back from hands-on mothering, I found myself gaining a lot of satisfaction in my new life as a teacher. My children were proud of me, and were a very boisterous cheering section at my graduation.
Now my husband is on the road for weeks at a time, so my nest is really empty. I am happy that I started building for the future before the nest started emptying. My vow had been to be a stay at home mom like mine had been. But I now see how important it was to anticipate the changes that were inevitably in my future.
My suggestion to any woman currently suffering separation depression and loss of identity, is to remember that you have years ahead of you that can be quite fulfilling. After menopause, the energy that our bodies put into reproduction each month is over, and we often gain a new burst of it. I went back to college at age 50 and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and the sense of accomplishment that earning my degree gave me. Also remember, that while your children have moved away to develop their own identity, they will eventually move back toward you, albeit in a new relationship. They will live on their own, but have a new appreciation for you, as you will for them.
Look at the skills that you developed and practiced as a mother and pick the brains of your friends for ways to incorporate them into a new life. It seems scary to step outside your comfort zone, but it is something that everyone has to do if they are to grow and find satisfaction in life.
Change is daunting for almost everyone. We like things to be familiar and easy to understand. Sometimes all we need is a bit of reassurance that someone else has been in our shoes, and managed to walk in them.