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Empty-nest syndrome and the boomerang generation

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Loneliness is latent in all of us. It becomes more intense and evident as we age and the children move out of the ‘nest’ to explore their own lives. When children were around, our lives were full of many perspectives. We were busy providing for them, guiding them, educating them, and making sure that they grow up to become somebody. We did whatever it took to bring them up a few notches above our situation.

Empty nest-ness is the emotions of desolation, or the feelings of nothingness felt by parents when their children move out of their lives. No one is prepared for such a state of mind and there is no training available to get ready for the experience. The feeling of loneliness can lead to depression and a loss of purpose. Mayo Clinic narrates empty nest syndrome as “ a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” Every parent irrespective of generational gaps has the same worries about their children. It is nature’s law, a fact of life.

Our hopes and dreams are on our children, and we practically live for them since they are the torchbearers of our legacies. As the children grow older and wiser and move on to newer and greener pastures and their worlds, it suddenly hit us: a feeling of emptiness. It is a deep void, a chasm that we do not know how to bridge. That feeling of loneliness and isolation contributes to a mood of contemplation. It diminishes our mental and physical needs, thus moving us close to a hermit-like lifestyle.

We suddenly realize that there is no one to annoy, irritate, ask to lend a hand, argue incessantly, or give and take our affection and generosity with minimal reciprocity, a feeling of isolation sets in. Now, the dinner table is just for the two of us. There is no loud rap music, no shouts, screams, or sudden outbursts during sports and games on television. We feel the house is too big for two. We have a nagging thought on retirement, downsizing, pensions, etc.

This particular phenomenon is more evident in developed countries, specifically in western nations, where the joint family system rarely survived. Customarily, as the children age, and ‘fly the coop’ leaving parents alone without much support and care. Indian society is also slowly inching into that territory. The concept of joint family and extended family is no longer available to look after the elderly. As children move to distant places seeking employment, and as two-income families becoming more common, a lot more aging parents live socially isolated

However, recently the term ‘Boomerang Generation’ is something that counteracts, or offsets the empty nest syndrome. The economic downturn made it worse for the children to live alone, thus they started to come back and re-nest with their parents. This could be temporary as the adverse effects of the economy such as job loss, underemployment, lack of well-paying jobs, and high burden of student loans, etc. gradually disappear. However, it helps parents to ease the loneliness to a certain extent.

Human emotions are difficult to explain, sometimes hard to understand, justify, or emulate. The parents uniquely experience an influx of emotions varying from elation, pain, heartbreak, loneliness, and agony when the children leave the household. We have to feel it to believe it. Coping with difficult emotions is not an easy task, but there are many ways we can lessen the impact. Being socially active and getting involved in volunteering and community activities help us to divert our attention away from the mundane loneliness and monotony. Social activities help us not only to realize our hidden potential but also to keep us active physically and mentally.

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