Cutting Loose the Apron Strings

By : Jaspreet Punian

Kahlil Gibran the poet-philosopher wrote, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow...”

These lines throw a shadow on the hard reality of life, that parents eventually have to learn to ‘let go’ of their children. Be it for better education, career or ultimately marriage in another city or country. In their twilight years, parents are left all alone to while away their time. This poignant situation is afflicting the older populace all over the world. Since the 1970s, relationship experts have popularized the notion of the “empty nest syndrome”, a time of depression and loss of purpose that plagues parents, especially mothers, when their children leave home.

Much the same as it is in nature, the term has indeed been taken from its likeness to the case of birds. The female spends all her time building a nest, laying eggs, hatching and then nurturing her young ones. Once they grow older the young ones fly out and they leave behind an ‘empty nest’. Similarly, after the birth of their children, the parents’ lives also orbit around the kids. For years their life and conversation revolved around the kids. They had to trim their expenses and reframe the household budget for the sake of their children. The sole purpose of existence, especially for the mother was the kids. Her mornings started by fussing over breakfast or the children’s clothes. Her children’s term tests kept her up late at night. She was as nervous as her children on their first day of college or at the new job. The life of her children gave meaning to her existence. It's astonishing that in so many cases, parents sacrifice the best years of their lives to create a nest for the family. When the child finally moves out, it's almost as if the mother is left reeling on the brink of an emotional cliff. She's only around 50 years old, but suddenly has no focus, no support system, no hobbies, no job, and in most cases bereft of conversation with her husband staring at each other, almost as complete strangers. For a working father, the changes are not so dramatic, but for the lonely housewife-mother, her empty nest is a hard reality. Though this is more common in women, as she has a stronger emotional bond with her children, to an extent men also get affected. Sometimes fathers go into depression after the marriage of their daughters when they realize that they are no longer going to stay with them. If the children’s leaving home coincides with the father’s retirement he gets affected even more. For a man, it’s often a combination of events. Not only is the house empty now but their social activities have also been restricted due to old age. The only identity they had known, as a parent, is lost.

As far as an affluent city like Chandigarh is concerned, since there are not many job opportunities here, children have to venture out to make successful careers in far-off places. The elderly are succumbing to the ‘empty nest syndrome’ in their twilight years. Many psychiatrists say they have noticed an increased number of senior citizens in OPD clinics who come for treatment of depression and loneliness. Around 2 to 5 percent of the total cases in the OPDs comprise senior citizens. While 7 per cent of the country’s population comprises senior citizens, 9 per cent of Chandigarh’s population is above 60 years.
The Department of Community Medicine at GMCH, in a study conducted some time back, had found that women suffer more due to depression and loneliness as compared to men. The survey was conducted on 361 individuals (152 males, 209 females) between 65 and 92 years in Chandigarh and found that 72.8 per cent of women suffer from loneliness as compared to 65.6 per cent males.

It is completely normal to feel sadness when children leave home. But sometimes the lack of purpose and grief turn into a full-fledged depression.

How You Can Cope With the Empty Nest Syndrome

Seek counselling :

Counselling may help some parents look at the situation positively and take constructive steps towards rebuilding their lives.

Stay busy :

You can use the time to take up activities you missed out because of your responsibilities as a parent. Getting busy doing something that is creative and fulfilling is the best way to beat the empty nest blues.

Develop friendships :

You can rekindle old friendships, form new ones or renew relationships, which you may have ignored over the years.

Stay in touch :

Stay in touch with your children. If they are away, schedule regular phone-talks or visits.

Preparing in advance :

Prevention is better than cure. All of us who have children have to be prepared to let them go one day. Think of things you will do when you finally get that time off. Plan your life ahead, especially financially.

A large number of elders are joining gyms. This is a testimony to the fact that they are making an effort to keep themselves occupied and healthy. Early and late morning hours are crammed with elders especially couples. This is their way to keep fit and develop fellowship with peers.

Working parents cope better with the situation. Those having retired from their jobs face a long and lonely life.
Parents feel that children too have their personal and social life and by going to live with them they would be intruding.

To read the full Article you can subscribe to the Tri-City Calling magazine