Empty Nest Syndrome?

You've just strapped your kids into their car seats when you suddenly realize - you forgot to pack the diapers.  There's no way you'll leave the kids in the car while you run back inside. Here we go again.

   You wake up with a throbbing head. The niggling cough you felt yesterday is now full-blown.  The baby is crying and your kindergartner is pulling on the bedclothes.  And this is the day you have no childcare help.

   Your husband needs a suit picked up at the dry cleaner, which closes in 25 minutes, and you're stuck in traffic.  Your grade schooler's soccer practice finished five minutes ago, and the baby is starting to whimper.

   Why didn't someone explain that motherhood is a 24-hour, all-consuming job?  When will you ever get a break?
   But you adore your kids and can't imagine how you'll miss them when they finally go off to college.  Your neighbor is an “empty nester” already - and she looks so lost.  How will you cope when it actually happens?

   Westchester mom and author Carin Rubenstein, Ph.D., offers this advice:  Relax! You're raising your children now. Time is fleeting, so try to enjoy this phase of your life.  When the time comes for your kids to leave home, you will re-find yourself and it will be a liberating, joyful feeling.  “Empty Nest Syndrome”?  It's a myth. 

   As the Sleepy Hollow resident points out in her new book, Beyond the Mommy Years: How to Live Happily Ever After . . . After the Kids Leave Home (Springboard, $24.99), “. . . everyday motherhood does not last. Our time with our children is borrowed, leased, rented out to us, and there comes a point at which we have to realize that it is mostly over.   “ . . .Your child is a child for barely 18 years; but your grown child is an adult for decades.  So we have to prepare ourselves to be mothers of adult children for the rest of our lives.”

   Setting out to write a book about the “empty nest” phase, Rubenstein says she was prepared for a study of a negative time of life.  A mention of her project in More magazine had women flocking to her website to answer her questionnaire. A thousand responses later, Rubenstein had a different book from the one she started out to write; moms were reporting that, after the initial transition, they were feeling freed, happy, fulfilled.  For the vast majority, the focus was back on them - and they were loving it.  

  Rubenstein's research led her to the three stages she outlines in her book.  At first, there is grief.  “You might find yourself wandering around the grocery store teary-eyed because of the gallons of milk you'd don't need to buy anymore.  Or you still drive by the high school your kids are no longer attending.”

   But after a short time - anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months - most moms begin to feel relief: stage 2. “You realize you don't have to pick up your child from school, that you don't have to buy the milk.”
   And then comes stage 3 - joy - “as you realize that the whole point of parenthood is to work yourself out of a job.”  

   Now, good things start to happen.  “Half of marriages get better because the couple has more time to focus on each other.  Sex can be more frequent and better in many ways others than frequency.

  “You can work late, or on weekends, without feeling guilty.  You can socialize with your co-workers without having to rush home.  Friendships can be vastly improved because you now have more time for others - and you can now make your own friends, not just through your kids' connections.”  Even the onset of menopause can be turned into a positive, Rubenstein believes, “because it forces moms to pay attention to themselves for a change.”

   Of course, not every mom will experience such liberation.  “Women stuck in stage 1 are most likely prone to depression anyway, or they may have other issues in their lives, like sick parents, or personal health problems.”

   But Rubenstein's advice for moms of young children, who can't fathom a household without them because it seems so far away, is to “embrace child-raising, and to see it as a lifetime job that is going to turn into a part-time job.  And it's coming down the pike!”  

As your children go off to school for the first time, have their first sleepover at a friend's, board the camp bus, Rubenstein urges moms “to see these times as smaller echoes of the big event to come.”

   Rubenstein and her husband, David Glickman, have two children, both of whom have flown the nest.  Rachel is 22 and a recent college grad currently living in Rio; Jonathan is 20 and a junior in college.  When we talked, there was an interruption - a potential buyer arrived to look at the family minivan.

  Rubenstein is also the author of The Sacrificial Mother: Escaping the Trap of Self-Denial, which could well make for additional reading.  “It's all about how it's not a good idea to give up too much of yourself for your kids,” the author explains.  She is currently at work on a new book - this time, a look at marriage.

   If you'd like to be a part of her research, she invites moms to go to her “Beyond the Mommy Years” survey at dr.carin.com, and both husbands and wives to answer questions for her new book at www.whodoesmore.com.


“The way in which a woman reacts to her child's leaving home depends very much on the way she handles most stressful situations,” says Dr. Carin Rubenstein.  Do you confront, or deny? Take this quiz from Dr. Rubenstein's new book and find out!

Score with points each statement, indicating how strongly you agree or disagree with each one.
1 = Strongly disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Agree
4 = Strongly agree

1.    I'm better off when I look only on the bright side of life.

2.    As long as I keep smiling, troubles don't get the best of me.

3.    Most problems are just a state of mind.

4.    For me, laughing is a good way to keep from feeling bad.

5.    I usually try to tell myself that everything is okay.

   Your score should range between 5, if you answered all 1s, to 20, if you answered all 4s.  If your score is between 5 and 9, you are likely to be a Denier.  If it's between 10 and 14, you are somewhere in between; if your score is 15 or above, you are probably a Confronter.