Relationships evolve and grow over time. Relationships between parents and children, especially as the latter enters adulthood, undergo many changes. In a conversation with HealthEminds, psychotherapist Smita Chimmanda talks about the relationship between a mother and her adult children. Read on for interesting insight about reconnecting with your mother/child, the empty nest syndrome and much more…
HEM: Are mothers depressed/ down after children (daughters, sons) leave home?
Smita (SC): There is definitely a sense of trepidation and sadness at the prospect of or the event of a child leaving home. However, this doesn’t always result in depression.
HEM: How important is it for women to reconnect with their mothers, especially after you become a wife & mother to someone else?
SC: ‘Reconnecting’ with mothers assumes that a woman usually goes through a period of ‘disconnection’ with her mother at an earlier age. While this may be the experience for a few, what is more likely is that as the relationship matures over time and as the daughter finds her own identity and becomes a self-assured individual, she is able to relate to the ‘role’ of the mother without the pressure of the parenting she experienced. It is only then that mother and daughter are able to appreciate the persons that they are which is larger than their roles as mother or daughter. It is therefore important to transcend the boundaries of their roles as ‘mother’, ‘daughter’ or ‘wife’ to truly appreciate how they can be there for each other and make this relationship truly enriching
HEM: What is the empty nest syndrome?
SC: The symptoms of the empty-nest syndrome may include a combination of anxiety over the changing role of the parent, the sense of a loss of purpose, excessive worry about the wellbeing of the child, a deep sense of loneliness, feelings of abandonment and rejection and guilt about whether one has prepared the child well enough to manage by themselves. The intensity of these emotions depends on how one has perceived one’s role as a parent. In extreme cases, depression can occur.
HEM: How can children recognize this and deal with it?
SC: Parents experiencing the empty nest syndrome tend to overwhelm their children with their concerns and their despondency. It is also possible that the child begins to feel responsible for and guilty about having moved out and moved on. Putting this in perspective is important for the child to deal with such stress. Children have to believe that the emotional upheaval that the parent is experiencing is for them to cope with and not the responsibility of the child. When stressed out by the excessive attention or emotions of a parent, one can at best
- lend a patient ear
- reassure the parent that one is coping well by oneself
- communicate clearly where one would like one’s space, in an empathetic but firm manner
- remain accessible during those first few days so the parent calms down in time
A child should additionally take care of him/ herself by:
- claiming one’s space when needed
- not feeling compelled to please a parent by doing things one doesn’t want to or is unable to in their current circumstances (visit more often, call more often, take responsibility for odd jobs etc.)
- taking up activities or jobs that are in line with what one desires/ one’s goals, even if it causes some discomfort to the parents
HEM: How can one elevate your relationship with your mom ( since both are adults, with family & children)? How can they support each other emotionally?
SC: Evaluating the quality of your relationship with your mother may be a good place to start. As an independent adult, one is in a better position to objectively see how each one stands in the relationship – whether it is one of equals, one where the mother-daughter equation remains, or one where the roles have flipped (and the child takes up the role of parenting the parent). There is no one formula in any case. In all these cases, one needs to be in touch with one’s own emotional-self first, to take the relationship to a more meaningful level. A healthy relationship is one that doesn’t breed dependency (by becoming an agony aunt) but that acknowledges and accepts the other through their happiness and struggles (which may be very different from one’s own).
HEM: Any other inputs regarding the challenges faced by adults reconnecting with their parents?
SC: In our age of social media and instant communication, there is sometimes immense peer pressure on young adults to show their circle of friends and colleagues that they have these perfect relationships as good as or better than the others’. When their reality doesn’t match up to the expected (and highly unrealistic) social standards, they are further pushed to believe that there may be something wrong they are doing or lacking in themselves or their parent, that they don’t match up to this imaginary norm. It should be known that the parent-child relationship is ever evolving and they will experience many shades of perfection and imperfection as they journey together discovering each other. Therein lies the value of going down this path, one step at a time.