Joy turns to loss as soon as the children leave the house

The future has surprised me. What happened decades later, which I dreaded but was also secretly looking forward to, is suddenly now. My youngest was the last of the four to leave the parental home. Six hundred cubic meters of emptiness oppresses me. I walk with my soul under my arms for weeks. aimless, meaningless, nor zested; A deflated balloon can no longer be inflated. I look in amazement at the sad woman I suddenly became. did not expect that.

Hundreds of times I haven’t cursed my kids yet, but I definitely have. If I am interrupted in the middle of writing a difficult paragraph by the fall of the last hour, and the son or daughter flips over in the comfortable chair next to my desk to tell his or her story. As I lay awake I still didn’t hear the sound of the older stumbling on the attic stairs after the bars closed. When the youngest called she missed the last train and stayed with a friend I had never heard of before.

Unexpected Events, Hospital Visits, Fears Big and Small: Over the course of 33 years, my work and my own desires have often been subject to what my extended family has demanded of me. My time will come, I cried when someone referred to self-absorbed motherhood. Meanwhile I found space in the cracks and crevices between all the activities, I took different jobs, then I trained, wrote books, gave lectures and taught. How much time will I have if the younger one leaves too? The works I would write, the knowledge I would gain, the journeys I would take: the future was a sea full of the prospect of temptation.

Now is the time – and I am suffering more than I could have imagined. My husband had a hard time with the passing of his first two children, both. He no longer likes a house with only women. Of course, the four of us found a new balance, and again when our eldest daughter left and the youngest occupied our spacious living space for another ten years. Now that she lives in the rooms, my husband misses her, but the deep sadness I feel is alien to him.

I work part-time and have mostly been working from home for the past 20 years. This void exists for me more than my husband, who works full time outside the home. My body aches and my mind seems wrapped in the porridge I cook for my young children when they are sick. As I studied the pain, I realized there was a faint voice whispering that I was feeling this way of nonsense. I should be happy with the extra time, rejoicing in being with my husband, finding new endeavors, or working harder. Guilt mingles with my sadness. I’m in mourning, but it may not be me.

And only now I realize I was assuming empty nest syndrome was a thing of the past. A phenomenon since women were unpaid work and men hardly interfered with their children’s education. None of my friends stopped working after having kids. I never asked them how it was for them when their children left home. Nobody ever told me if she ever had it. Only now that I ask one by one the stories come. One says, “I thought it was horrible.” Another says, “I loved it.” “I often visit them, which is always fun, but then I also feel happy when I can focus on my own activities,” says a third. “But I still miss them a lot,” she adds reluctantly.

None of my friends stopped working after having kids. I never asked them how it was for them when their kids left home

It turns out to me that the mothers I speak to have all struggled to a greater or lesser degree to get used to their empty homes, but this topic is not easily discussed. After all, we are independent women who don’t just derive their raison d’être from motherhood.

In addition, my friends and I suffer from shyness. “There are worse things,” she says, more than she misses her children. There is war, climate crisis, refugee influx, there is a lot to worry about. Then I sit and cry over the children who have left the house. While they are also very happy.” I understand what you are saying. I feel guilty that I am not happy with this new phase of life and am ashamed of my sadness.

Illustration by Fran de Bruyne

Empty nest syndrome still exists, I realize when I delve into it. And that makes perfect sense now that I think about it. As long as there are parents with children, those children will leave their parents one day. How they will experience this will vary in time and culture, but they can go through a difficult period which is not at all strange. Oddly enough, I thought I could skip the accompanying pain. Oddly enough, I feel like I’m not allowed to feel what I feel. I google empty nest syndrome and find a lot of stereotypical descriptions of women falling into a hole when the kids are out and the bleak feelings that go with it.

These posts always appear as being about women, especially women who are not in paid employment. What time do we live? After recent conversations with my friends, I have concluded that I am not the only woman who, despite her employment and economic independence, still has a huge void after her children have left home. Psychologists classify the syndrome as depressive disorders when sadness and grief persist after about a year. It’s normal to feel confused and sad for a year. So why talk a little bit about it?

My husband feels the loss, but the joy of the time regained prevails

The books I have come across emphasize the pressure I feel to look forward, to fill my time with new tasks. Giving way to mourning that obstructs the fullness of the future is not discussed in the present. The focus is on how the relationship between parents changes when children are out of the home, and it is written about threats and opportunities, but in my opinion little attention is paid to the grief that children leave behind. And certainly not for the grief of parents. Do men not miss their children? My husband feels the loss, but the joy of the time regained prevails. It excites me more guilt and makes me feel alone in my grief.

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I think of the growing group of parents in the schoolyard, attending parent evenings and making crafts for Sinterklaas. When I listen to my children in their 30s, the pattern of parents working four days a week is becoming more and more common, especially among highly educated couples. In my search for publications, I find only a few sentences about men and empty nest syndrome in one article. I wonder if the growing group of parents interested in seeing their children leave, a plethora of posts would suddenly appear about the void these parents are in. Or is the law that gets more attention to men’s and men’s problems no longer in effect by then?

I give my heart to a friend who has taken on a lot of educating his children. Ask him how it was for him when they moved into the rooms. “I was very sad,” he says. “The meals, the noise, the unexpected, the fun – I miss them so badly. It took me a year and a half to find my way again.” They are reassuring words. Not only because I feel visible in my grief, but also because I foresee a future in which men and women work and care. A future in which greater equality of care leads to a more shared experience of moving from caring for parenthood to life without children living at home. In which we can mourn together the empty nest and celebrate together that the void creates space for next steps and new experiences.

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