You’ve heard of Empty Nest Syndrome: the transition period that parents go through when their children, the humans that they’ve been responsible for for the last 18 years, leave home to go to college, travel the globe, get married, work at the Quickie Mart, etc. (Bear with me here, this isn’t about parenting, I promise) Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome include sadness, feelings of loss, and an unwillingness to immediately turn your child’s bedroom into a gym.
Research was conducted at Simon Fraser University by Barbara Mitchell and Loren Lovegreen who interviewed over 300 parents to learn about their experiences with Empty Nest Syndrome. The study then identified seven key social psychological factors that placed parents at a higher risk of suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome. The number one factor… drumroll please…
An identity wrapped up in being a parent.
That makes sense, right? You’ve been a parent for 18 years. All of your decisions have either been influenced by, in the best interest of, or made to stop incessant whining from, your child. Now the kid has flown the coop and you are left wondering who you were 19 years ago.
Now what the heck does this have to do with divorce? Depression? Codependency?
One of the most difficult aspects of divorce is the loss of identity. When I was going through mine, I had a very hard time going from “Wife” to “single” (and don’t get me started on the Marital Status box on medical forms. I refuse to be “Divorced” for the rest of my life! – Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now.)
You go from a “we” to a “me”, you are suddenly alone, and for those of us with codependent tendencies, you have no one else’s interests to put in front of your own. And that sucks!
Or does it… (insert soundtrack from an old-timey mystery here)
Like living alone for the first time and its subsequent in-house streaking (don’t lie, you know the first thing you did when you got into your own place was run around butt naked), becoming a “me” has a certain freedom to it. Now it’s time to embrace it.
Who are you? Who do you want to be? With every ending comes a time of reinvention, self discovery, or self uncovery (of course that’s a word – don’t bother looking it up – nothing to see there).
Try new things – I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love shortly after my relationship imploded. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about “Divorced women classes” at the local college. I scoffed… and then I went and got the course offering listing. I took a writing class. Three novels, 1 non-fiction book, oodles of blogs, and a content writing business later – well look at that, turns out I’m a writer.
Meet new people – Oh this one can suck for us shy types. When I was married, I couldn’t walk into a restaurant alone because I was so shy. And it was sort of okay, because my husband was always with me… until he wasn’t. Then I had to go make some friends. My dog is an awesome wing woman, but there is a limit to the number of events she is allowed to attend. Go out and meet some people and make some new friends. I met mine at the dog park, writing groups, and through volunteering.
Volunteer – I bring this up a lot, but it’s because it’s so damn important! I’ve discovered skills I never knew I had, met amazing friends, gotten jobs, and found a healthy way to help others (furry others in my case, but others none the less) just by donating some of my time and energy to a cause. Find something you are passionate about and then go spend some quality time making the world a better place and discovering yourself in the process.
The end of a relationship is difficult, but it can also be freeing. You now have the opportunity to discover the real you, outside of a “we” situation. You may even find out that your ex-significant otter (yes, I meant to say that) was holding you back.
Now go redecorate your nest!