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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

August 2012


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month





 “A parent’s main job is to prepare her children to become independent adults.” (Brenda)

“I was ready to let them go and curious to see how good a job I’d done. They both seem to have flourished and with the time I have gained in their absence, so have I.” (Donna)

“I need to be needed. My children and their grandparents all depended on me. Now nobody “needs” me.” (Sheila)

“Get a hobby. Renew old friendships. Fall in love again with our spouse—like when you were a ‘couple’.” (Helen)

“I miss them.”  (Fred)

The quotes above are taken from Susan M. Kearney’s study of the empty nest syndrome, one of life’s transitions that does not receive much attention in the media these days. The magazines are chock-full of features on parenthood, the pleasures and the strife, and the unexpected changes in the neophyte parents’ relationship. And in the papers there’s been an ongoing series of letters about the stay-at-home mother versus the working mother. This is a decades old discussion since at least the 1960s when I first faced the choice.

For her graduate thesis at Wayne State University, Kearney decided to focus on the empty nest. She had faced it herself and was now back at university pursuing her degree. Kearney designed and sent out a questionnaire. She was surprised at the overwhelming feedback. It seems that everyone had a story. She also consulted the experts and read as many of the books and articles available on the subject.

So what do the parents and the scholars have to say about this transition. We can conclude that with the research projected into the larger population, the parents’ reactions to the empty nest are as individual as they are. There is one generalisation, though.

It’s clear that mothers appear to feel, or admit to feeling much worse than fathers do when their children leave home. While it was difficult to find much research on fathers’ feelings, what they actually did write was written in a humourous vein. This may be a man’s way of dealing with these emotions. Humour is a safe way of expressing the feelings that they do not feel comfortable discussing.

Working mothers who thought they would be safe from the emotions of the empty nest transition found that while their roles in the working world continued to keep them busy, they were still parents who were forced to retire from this role, who were connected to their children, who loved their children and who missed their children.
Roles change. You become in-laws, grandparents, retirees, but still a mother or father. Your 50 year old son or daughter calls you for comfort or advice, you worry about their happiness, and you worry about the well-being of the grandchildren. And there are those grandparents whose nests are full again raising their children’s children who are unable to take care of them because of drug abuse, divorce, or death.

When your children find it difficult to adjust to adulthood, you worry what did you do wrong. It is your job, it is said, to bring up children who will be independent and contribute to society. And most of us can be assured that we, too, by raising the children have made an enduring contribution to society and humankind.

There was a recent interview with Chris Tarrant, the host of a Who Wants to be a Millionaire who said, “The death of parents gives your perspective. Now I know my greatest achievements are my children. There’s no gong, media success or a million quid cheque that beats that.”


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