More on the “Empty Nest Syndrome”

QUESTION: I am a working mom with two kids, a teen-aged son and a college-aged daughter. This year my daughter has decided she would like to stay in her college town rather than come home for the summer, and I am having a very hard time with it. I know she will have more fun because her friends are there, but I have been looking forward to her coming home and feel so sad she won't be here. I don't want to put my needs on her, but on the other hand, I really want her home. Am I being unreasonable? (She is 20.)

ANSWER: The simple answer to your courageous question about being unreasonable is a resounding “yes.” You say you don't want to put your needs first and then a part of you probably schemes of all kinds of ways you can entice your daughter to come home.

If you are successful in convincing your daughter to come home, she will do it out of a resentful compliance rather than a genuine desire to be with you. Is that what you really wish for? Do you really want her to come home out of pity and feeling sorry for you? OK, so a part of you might respond, “Well, I could live with that,” but a bigger part of you probably realizes you are struggling with the empty nest syndrome.

This syndrome is actually a quaint name for experiencing grief over the loss of what was a vital role of your life. Wanting her back is an understandable response. It's the most natural way to avoid or minimize your grief.

Your daughter is moving on with her life while a big part of you remains stuck in your parenting role. Your parenting function now needs to shift to being supportive of her evolution. Tell her to enjoy the summer with her friends and get renewed and refreshed for the coming academic year.

But there is one caveat. If she chooses to stay with her friends for the summer, she must be able find a job. She can stay at home for free. Or she can work to support herself. You should not be expected to pay for her to experience independence. In fact, it wouldn't be independence if you were paying her bills.

I doubt you will need to communicate your sadness as I bet she is totally aware of it. Surprise her with a genuine gift of loving support for her emergence as an independent woman. When she returns home for visits, it will be with enthusiasm and pleasure instead of feeling like she has to take care of you emotionally.

Your challenge is to reawaken your individual interests, goals, values, and other relationships in your life apart from parenting even though you still have another child at home. In fact it is a time of discovery for both you and your 20 year old daughter.

Get a copy of the book “The Artist's Way” by Julia Cameron. It is packed with great exercises to stimulate self awareness and personal development. It's cheaper than therapy and maybe faster if you immerse yourself in exercises that are meaningful to you.

Share your promising insights and experimental actions with your daughter. I guarantee she will enjoy, support and respect your emergence into the next chapter of your life.
© Copyright MMIV The Couples Institute

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Peter Pearson, Ph.D.

Dr. Peter Pearson, Ph.D., Relationship & Teamwork Expert for Entrepreneur Couples Pete has been training and coaching couples to become a strong team since 1984 when he co-founded The Couples Institute with his psychologist wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader. Their popular book, “Tell Me No Lies,” is about being honest with compassion and growing stronger as a couple. Pete has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show,” "Good Morning America,” and "CBS Early Morning News,” and quoted in major publications including “The New York Times,” “Oprah Magazine,” “Redbook,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “Business Insider.”

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