Empty-Nest Syndrome

Q: My youngest daughter is getting married soon, iy”H, and I seem to already feel quite lonely. Though my husband and I are happy with the young man she is marrying, I can’t imagine how the house will be with just my husband and myself, alone. The thought of it makes me feel very uneasy. Are these feelings normal?

 A: Transition in the life of a family is always difficult, at first. What you are describing seems to characterize the empty-nest syndrome, which occurs when older children leave home. Parents are then left to re-identify themselves as “husband” and “wife” rather than as “mother” and “father.” For those who have put little emphasis on their actual marital relationship, this stage of life can be quite difficult. Though striving for shalom bayis, many couples find it easier to concentrate on childrearing, rather than endeavoring to work on their marriage. Thus, once a couple finds itself alone once more, unresolved marital issues that were not addressed directly for a long period of time arise once again. If a couple uses this time for marital growth, husband and wife can appreciate the time alone and view it as a time of revitalizing their marriage.

Another basic problem encountered during this period of life transition is that of a mother losing her sense of essential identity. After many years of considering motherhood her ultimate role, with her main goal that of meeting the needs of her dependent children, it may be difficult to begin finding other outlets and areas of interest in middle age. Although new areas of endeavor at this stage in life may initially feel uncomfortable, exploring them is a way for a woman to come closer to her full potential as a person.

In the Torah, the vision for “woman” extends beyond the parameters of immediate family. In Parashas Bereishis, Chavah is described as the “eim kol chai” — the mother of all life. As childbearing and childrearing are limited to a certain period in a woman’s life, Chavah’s role is extended beyond immediate family to include that of being a nurturer of all human beings. This special capacity given to women is utilized throughout a woman’s lifetime.

The agitation you speak of can stem from various fears. Change within a family’s composition brings forth natural apprehension in relation to the future. When children are young, rules within the family unit are quite clear. Yet once your child becomes a married adult, your parental role becomes vaguer. On the one hand, more independence on the part of your children is assumed and expected. On the other hand, parents do not know when their input is desirable and appropriate, or when it is objectionably overbearing. The word “mother-in-law” itself often conjures up a picture of an interfering, unwanted woman. It takes a delicate balance to enter this role in a sensitive manner.

Though initially you may find the quiet of your home deafening, the manner in which you decide to accept the change will cause a deeper, more fulfilling melody to permeate your household.