Mariam Batamuriza woke up to a strange stillness, it was a Sunday morning and the usual babble and loud chatter was gone. The house was silent, and this was unusual, especially for a Sunday morning.
It took her sometime to register the fact that all her children had actually moved out to start their own lives. Even her last born had joined university a few weeks earlier and now, it was just her and her husband.
She was 58 years old and didn’t know what to do. She had been a mother and a housewife for almost all her adult life and now, she wasn’t sure of what she was going to do with herself.
She longed for her kids and with a home that felt more like an empty house, her days seemed longer.
And just like Batamuriza, many parents struggle when it comes to coping with life after their children leave home to start living their lives independently.
Counsellor Kibogora Nsoro says this is termed as an empty nest syndrome. He defines it as a feeling of grief and loneliness that parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time. This, he says, could be as a result of children going to university or college.
He explains that even though this is not a clinical condition, it is disturbing, especially when it comes to women — for mothers are more likely to struggle with empty nest syndrome than men, according to studies.
“Empty nest syndrome can lead to anxiety and depression. And this is inevitable, therefore, parents should be aware and prepared for the fact that one day their children will leave home,” he says.
Damien Mouzoun, a professional counsellor specialising in family and youth therapy, explains that parents may experience this feeling of loneliness when their children, for example, leave home for the first time to live on their own, get married, attend college or live abroad.
He explains that, while we can easily understand the burden it must have been for parents to let their beloved children leave considering the beauty of family living together, it is also important to clarify that not everyone or not every culture experiences empty nest syndrome the same way.
“Some people and societies have a custom of comprehending the importance of their daughters and sons to be out of the family on their own by the age of 21 in order to develop their independence from home privileges and build themselves.
For believe and accept that having a 30 to 40-year-old living with them at home for some sort of happiness, safety and love of the children, is nurturing a deep suffering when they eventually have to separate by any circumstance,” Mouzoun says.
Sarah Mbabazi, a mother, explains that parents want their children to grow up and lead independent lives. “However, this doesn’t stop us from feeling lonely and sad when our children actually leave,” she says.
She notes that this has to be one of the hardest feelings for a mother or any parent, knowing that your child is out there, not sure of how they are, if they are safe, if they are happy or not.
“But we have to let them be and experience life on their own. We have to trust that they can make it in life on their own as we also adjust to the vacuum life they have left with us,” she adds.
Godfrey Ntambara, a sales manager and father-of-three, says that even though the case with empty nest syndrome is more pronounced among women, men too suffer when their children leave home.
“You struggle with grief and emptiness, some parents actually tend to lose purpose. This, especially, happens with women who were full time mothers,” he says.
How to cope
Nsoro explains that the best way to overcome empty nest syndrome is via communication, where both parents and children embark on finding ways of staying in touch even when they are far apart.
“The good news is that due to technology advancement, communication has become relatively cheap. Parents can, therefore, be able to be in touch with their children while they are, for example, away in school, especially for the children who study overseas. Parents can communicate with their children via Skype calls, WhatsApp messaging and video calling, among other ways,” the counsellor says.
This way, parents can at least know how they are doing wherever they are, he adds.
He also recommends housewives or women who have been fulltime mothers and parents who are retired, to look for activities that they can engage in. He points out volunteering activities such as forming cooperatives, or work as an advisor for the youth in the village.
“Rather than doing nothing, find some meaningful activity to participate in, because in the absence of children, idleness can worsen the syndrome,” he notes.
Mouzoun is of the view that when parents are prepared for the eventuality of having their children leave home at some point, they are most likely to be able to cope with the child’s absence (which is not a clinical condition though it does lead to depression and a loss of purpose for parents) since the departure of their children from the nest imposes a new life adjustment.
“We encourage parents to understand that having their young ones departing for real life adventure is part of normal family growth and development,” he says.
He also suggests that it is very important for family members to keep contact through the technological developments such as cell phones, text messaging, and the internet.
“Parents may also keep a journal or go back to work if they were fulltime parents. Taking regular holidays or silent retreats together with the children at their time of availability may also help compensate for the distance,” Mouzoun counsels.
HOW CAN PARENTS DEAL WITH EMPTY NEST SYNDROME?
Parents should find new roles, this can include going for those activities they always wanted to do but didn’t have time to. They can even choose to embark on a new career now that they don’t have the responsibilities that come with caring for a family.
Prossy Mbabazi, Administrator
Parents as partners should make time for each other. They can even choose to have a second honeymoon, I mean, why not if they can afford it. They can also plan on a string of activities to do together. This will fill the void left behind by the departure of their children.
Maureen Katushabe, Businesswoman
I think it’s best for parents to find new meaning or purpose for their lives. At a time like this when they have more time on their hands, it can be a good opportunity for them to explore other activities that can make them feel valuable.
James Bashaija, Cashier
I would advise parents in this condition to do their best as parents to keep in touch with their children regardless of how mature the children are. Children and their parents will always need each other, therefore, it is very important to maintain that bond even when children leave the nest.
Derrick Kabanda, Student