Joanne Koegl M.A.,LMFT
245 S. Euclid Avenue, Pasadena, California 91101
Marriage Family Therapist, License #MFC 45854
Servicing Pasadena, Glendale, La Canada, Montrose, La Crescenta, Alhambra, Sierra Madre and surrounding areas of Los Angeles
When children are young, we teach them to tie their own shoes, fix their own sandwiches and eventually how to drive a car and do their
own laundry. Parents spend time teaching children so that they will be independent, productive young adults. But, amid all the day-to-day
care and feeding, it can be easy to lose sight of this goal. Some parents have conflicting feelings when their kids begin to venture out on
their own. A mother may feel a sense of uselessness. She may find herself searching for what to do with the extra time that was spent on
chauffeuring, attending school functions, hosting slumber parties, and so on. Additionally, spouses might find they have little to talk about
since their children have been the focus of conversation for so many years.
It is quite normal to cry now and again or go into your child’s room in an attempt to feel closer to them. I have worked with clients that are
successful, busy and confident men and woman who in fact admitted to feeling sad and lost. And there are parents who delight in their
children leaving home-- which does not make them uncaring parents. Everyone is different, we are a culturally diverse country, and for
some, adapting to the North American style of acculturation of their children is often challenging, especially if you remained at home until
you married. When I run groups on life transitions, I ask that everyone respect each others opinions, traditions, and point of views by
sharing their feelings and through each person’s uniqueness a strong bond of understanding and support is developed.
The one area that parents who are facing the “Empty Nest’ syndrome agree on is that they want to see their child succeed and be happy.
We live in a society that focuses on attainment and often loss is seen, even in today’s world, as taboo to talk about or quickly dismissed.
Loss is not only about death. Throughout life we will experience many losses that we need to mourn for our emotional and physical well-
Your child leaving home and gaining independence is bittersweet. How can you spend 18 years of direct caretaking and not feel a void
when your child moves away? Parenting is a balancing act. You do not want to upset your child by making her/him feel guilty for “growing
up,” but it is healthy to let your child know they will be missed. Walk through this transition together. The honest communication between
the parent/child strengthens the relationship that will promote a continuing relationship throughout your lives. You may think your son or
daughter can’t wait to get to college but keep in mind that your son or daughter is trying to take a significant step in life, without you. If your
child is frightened and lonely as s/he is away from home for the first time, resist the temptation to go and rescue your child. Instead,
encourage, support, and believe in him/her so that she can do it. Even from a distance your child still needs your support as s/he
negotiates this new stage in his/her life. It is normal for children to experience “homesickness” and it requires a nurturing parent to
tolerate the fears and to further teach your child coping skills. Parents spend years teaching their children in hopes they will grow into
independent, productive young adults. It’s enormously important that you know you aren’t losing a child. Instead you just won front row
seats to observe a superb performance; you’re watching your child turn into an adult.
Once you grieve the sadness of missing the young voices and the activity of kids going in and out, it is time to take care of yourself. Find
friends that are supportive, that may be going through the same life transition as you. Eat well, and get some exercise. If you are married,
this is the juncture to focus on each other and renew the intimacy you once shared before children took priority. Take up a hobby, go back
to school, travel. It’s a good time to reappraise your own self-esteem. Perhaps you only identify yourself as “mother” or “father” rather than
as a distinct person in your own right. Your child seeing you move on with your life will help the child adjust as s/he moves on in her/his
If you experience severe symptoms such as feeling your life has ended without your child at home; you are crying excessively; you feel so
sad you don’t mix with friends or go to work and it has lasted more than a week, seek professional help. In this kind of situation, what
seems to happen is that the child’s departure has unleashed depressed feelings that may definitely need treatment. It is not uncommon
that when a woman is at this stage in life when her children are leaving she may also be going through other major changes, such as
dealing with menopause or elderly parents. It can be a difficult time, and there is no shame if you need help to get through it.
Don’t forget that your child going away to college is not goodbye forever. Just because things are different, doesn’t mean they can’t be
good. The following is a wonderful analogy from Erma Bombeck "I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the
ground. You run with them until you're both breathless ... they crash ... you add a longer tail ... Finally they are airborne, but they need more
string so you keep letting it out. With each twist of the ball of twine there is a sadness that goes with the joy, because the kite becomes
more distant, and somehow you know it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that bound you together and soar
as it was meant to soar, free and alone."
I applaud the “helicopter parents” for their involvement. Now, how exciting and freeing it will be when your child comes to visit and wants
you to fly next to him/her with the confidence you taught her/him. Congratulations to both the parents and children.
Every August thousands of men and woman across the country experience a unique form of heartache…it’s the
bittersweet act of sending a child off to college. I was inspired to write this article after having conversations with
several friends who will be facing the powerful pangs of separation together with other parents as millions of
freshman head off to college this fall. “Empty Nest Syndrome” is the name given to a psychological condition that
can affect parents around the time that one or more of their children leave home.
It has become a phrase for encapsulating the feelings of sadness and loss that parents experience when their
child no longer lives with them or needs day to day care. The friends and clients I have spoken with want their
children to have the best possible college experience and are genuinely happy for their child, but letting go is not
easy and is not always appreciated when others tell you, in an effort to be encouraging and upbeat: “Think of all
the time you will have for yourself now”.
Some studies say that the move to college is even worse than the empty nest syndrome when a child grows up
and moves away completely. This is largely due to the fact that Baby Boomer generation parents are ultra-invested
in everything, from the first day of preschool, to weekend soccer leagues to the last day of tutoring before SAT’s.
College administrators use the term “helicopter parenting “to describe a mother and/or father that hovers to the
detriment of their child’s personal growth. I know this is not a term most parents appreciate because it feels like a
criticism to be an involved parent. Your child needed you to watch over them when they were younger and now
college administrators are saying it is time to stop and let your child navigate for her/himself. This might feel
abrupt. They are right that we should avoid excessive involvement, and you know it intellectually. But emotionally
how do you prepare yourself for all the feelings of loss that you experience at this time? I believe allowing yourself
to feel and talk about the sense of change and loss you are experiencing is the beginning of taking care of yourself
and moving forward, which is essential to personal growth.
It’s natural to feel some sadness when a child leaves home. As an empty nester, you have the loss of normal
routine caused by the absence of your loved one. When a child leaves, your everyday events and responsibilities
change from being the primary caregiver to feeling a loss of purpose. More than ever, for many parents, raising
children has become life’s main preoccupation. When the time comes to let your child “fly” alone, the
accompanying loss of control and sense of displacement can be frightening and unsettling to parents.
DEALING WITH LOSS AND THE HOLIDAY SEASON
When we have lost a loved one, the holiday season can be a painful reminder of how terrible you are feeling instead of bringing warmth,
love and excitement. The holidays are especially significant because they are familiar signs of time. They seem to have a way of filling
our memories with warm glimpses of good times shared with the people we love most. What happens then, when one of those people
is gone? The holidays still rush on; people all around are making their usual plans as if they didn’t notice your broken heart. They try to
cheer you with their laughter, include you in holiday cheer, and it’s obvious that few can understand your numbing pain. There are no
special privileges or special parking places for those crippled with pain. In watching the celebration of others, one feels even more
isolated. On the other hand, we may also catch ourselves singing with a Christmas carol and than feel a sense of betrayal that we can
actually be enjoying moments without our loved one. Grief is not rational.
Grieving over the loss of a loved one is a necessary and natural process. Time and balance are important components. The first few
years are perhaps the most difficult, but even years later, the holidays may lack the meaning they once had for you. No two people grieve
the same and there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Tradition plays a special role in celebrating Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years. When a loved one is missing during
these celebrations it can force a change in all of these traditions. Traditional times you have shared underscore the significance of the
loss…”Dad always hung Christmas lights while mom cooked Thanksgiving dinner”.
The full sense of loss of someone loved never occurs all at once. The onset of the holiday season often makes us realize how much our
life has changed by the loss. Perhaps your major need is to acknowledge and work to survive the naturalness of the “holiday grief”. Many
people I have had the privilege of working with, as well as my own experience, suggest that for some of us, the anticipation of the holiday
is sometimes worse than the actual days itself.
The holidays can become a time of reflection and peace, a time to cherish the gift your loved one has been—and continues to be—in the
life of your family.
While there are no simple guidelines that will make it easy to cope with grief during the holiday season, hopefully the following
suggestions may help you make your personal experience more tolerable:
- Be patient and realistic. Plan ahead so that you are not overwhelmed by responsibilities at the last moment. When you are
grieving it is difficult to make decisions, so make lists. Prioritize things. Decide what is important to you this holiday season, and
scratch the rest off of the list for this year. You can always add back things in the years to come.
- Listen to your heart and acknowledge your limits. Become aware of your needs and express them to family and friends with
whom you plan to spend the holidays.
- Encourage others to share their feelings, too, so that everyone affected by the death of your loved one has an opportunity to
express his or her wishes about holiday plans.
- Remember it is okay to say no. You don’t have to accept every invitation that comes your way. Do what you can this holiday
season, and let it be sufficient.
- Don’t try to tackle all the decorations. Just decorate a small area. There is nothing wrong with simplicity.
- Don’t deny yourself the pleasures of good food and companionship out of sense of obligation to the deceased. Remember
that your loved one would want to see you smiling, happy, and surrounded by those you hold dear.
- Adapt cherished traditions. When grief and loss overwhelms us at the holidays, we are tempted to scrap the whole thing. To
do absolutely nothing. But you can keep traditions alive in ways that make sense given your new reality. For instance, if the fact
that you are not buying a gift for your departed loved one this year saddens you, buy a simple gift that you know he or she would
have liked and give it to someone who otherwise would not have a gift. If you are alone this year as a result of your loss, find a way
to share a part of the holidays with others. Visit a soup kitchen or shelter.
- Allow the tears to come, but look for joy amidst the pain. As you unpack and sift through holiday decorations, understand that
along with warm, loving memories, you will be unpacking some heartache as well. Don’t deny yourself the gift of healing tears.
You may decide you can not bring yourself to see the previous ornaments you shared and may purchase new ones.
Be patient and know that every process, even grief, has an ending. People want us to get over the loss, we will never get over the loss but
we can find a place of acceptance. You hurt deep because you were blessed to have the capacity to love deep. In fact I don’t think you
would want to get over it. There is a difference in unresolved grief and remembering. We never want to forget tragic events in History such
as the holocaust, slavery, 9/11, Katrina, etc. because the people that died were somebody’s loved one and in remembering we keep their
spirit alive. Your life, my life, will not be the same again but it can be good again with the beginning of a new phase of your life. To
acknowledge and move toward these feelings is healthier than attempting to repress or deny them.
Remember…don’t let anyone take away your grief during the holidays. Try to love yourself and allow yourself to be embraced by caring,
THE ECONOMY, LAY-OFFS, and IT'S TOLL!
There’s been little research on the psychic toll of the Mancession. But this month NEWSWEEK conducted an exclusive
poll of 250 unemployed (and underemployed) men ages 41 to 59. Most of them are married, white, middle-class, and
looking for work. The results (see chart) provide a rare window into the BWM and a characteristically male contradiction
between feelings and action. As in: I’m never going to get a job as good as my old one, but I refuse to sell the house!
Or: I’m depressed, I can’t sleep, my sex drive is shot, and my wife now has to support the family, but I don’t need
marriage counseling! I’ll just give Mommy a back rub, do some housework, and we’ll be fine!
In my practice there is not a week that goes by that I do not meet with a couple seeking support because they are
feeling disconnected, angry at each other, scared or lost. Many of these couples are struggling with the effects the
downfall of the economy and the pressures it has put on the relationship. What I do in my practice is for the couple to
practice open communication and express their individual feelings and allow their partner to feel "HEARD". Often
partners go into the "fix it" mode and that may be the last thing someone may want from their partner. Often when a
man loses his job he feels so confused that all he wants is to be left alone to try to figure things out on his own. Already
the loss of a job has made one feel he has lost his identity and a "nurturing" partner may only add to the low self worth
he is feeling. Typically woman are caregivers and take it personally when their husband isolates and does not share
how he is feeling...how can he share when he doesn't know what he is feeling? It is not easy for a woman to feel
"ignored" when all they are trying is to be supportive.
There is an article I am linking on this site from Newsweek magazine
that provides an honest and realistic view of what is happening to the
unemployed middle age white male in today's society.
The economic climate is putting lots of strain not only in marriages but
with family members and friends who feel shut out by their loved one. I
can help you understand that like any "loss", it takes time, empathy,
and sometimes the best support is to provide space. I use role playing
to get the awareness started. I help both parties gain awareness,
empathy and identify how this difficult time in ones life is affecting the
entire family. The last thing a man of a certain age wants is pity, just
as menopausal woman do not want to be viewed as old. This is a
different era, a different generation that being 45-65 years is still
young but the job market is dictating differently. We all are trying to
figure how to navigate the obstacles that happen, because "life
happens when we lest expect it". Seek help to understand how to
survive this temporary set-back without additional losses.
"Empty Nest" Syndrome... When Your Child Leaves For College.