I cried all the way back from Athens, Georgia (UGA) to eastern North Carolina in 1986 after I waved good-bye to my firstborn child as she stood outside her dorm. Twenty years later, after finally waving good-bye to my fourth and lastborn child at college, I did not cry. This last one had decided to attend and graduate from a local community college before I convinced her that going away to live on a college campus was a good thing. I heard about mothers who went into a depression after all their children left home. It was called the Empty Nest Syndrome. That was not my problem. After forty years of having kids in the house, I was ready to say bring on that empty nest!
My recently retired husband and I drove back to our dark and silent house…I guess the best word to describe our feelings would be FREEDOM! After four decades, we had finally taken our house back. Back to the pre-kid days: watching whatever we wanted on the television; not turning on the television when we wanted peace and quiet; going out for breakfast or lunch or dinner, or all three; going to bed without waiting for all the kids to come home; walking around the house with whatever attire fit our moods; and deciding to take a last minute trip without having to coordinate everyone’s schedules or having to find someone to stay with the kids. Sweet, sweet freedom.
About two years after we were re-liberated, our daughter graduated from college. We were so proud of her hard work and high grade point average. We were certain her future would be unlimited, all the student loans she owed would be paid off in no time…as soon as she was gainfully employed. Sure, she could come home for a couple of weeks until she found her “dream” job. We were all so positive and assured that her stay with us would be brief. She spent hours everyday on the computer looking at any potential entry level opportunity. The amount of time required to fill out one application was mind blowing. There were usually pages of assessment questions even for minimum wage jobs. An example of an assessment question might be: “If you saw someone stealing at work, would you….
a) look the other way b) convince her that stealing is not nice c) help him dispose of the stolen goods d) tell your supervisor (unless he is the one stealing).”
It has been twenty-one months since our daughter graduated from college. She had a few part-time jobs, completed a couple of Internships, found volunteer work, and continues to fill out more employment applications. Although most companies do not even notify her that she didn’t get the job, she searches her emails everyday or waits for a phone call asking her to come in for an interview. I understand how demoralizing it can be after years of burning the midnight oil studying for exams, writing papers, passing algebra and trig (with the help of God), to feel a college degree offers no advantage these days, at least in finding a job.
Also, discouraging for our daughter and many of her peers is the reality that they are back in ther childhood homes, living with their senior citizen parents (in our case) when they really want to build their own lives, realize the American dream by earning their own livings, buying their own cars, and saving for their own nest eggs. They want their FREEDOM, too. If by definition, a syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that are characteristic of a particular disorder, then I’m convinced the Empty Next Syndrome is a disorder experienced by both parents and adult children. I wonder, do you think we would be honest in telling our children that the American Dream is still attainable for them? (Picture drawn by our daughter to add a little humor.)