Empty Nest Syndrome
I wonder, would it still be called “The Empty Nest Syndrome” if the parent birds flew away and left the baby birds in the nest to fend for themselves?
This year, my daughter A turned 19, and all our peers with kids of her age are busy getting them into undergraduate university programs, in acclaimed institutions in India and abroad. When A was younger, I would feel like I had missed out on an experience, when I heard about the academic achievements and sports accolades of children of her age.
Now; I still wish their kids happiness and success but I can appreciate that A can be equally happy even without that experience in the same year.
Our current goal, is to turn the empty nest syndrome on its head! We plan to empower our 19 year old A, and her 13 year old brother S, to such an extent that they will be extremely responsible and independent. We want them to attend school, look after themselves with support from extended family, and take charge of their lives while we, their parents, travel to exotic locations, go scuba diving and take time out to just be ourselves!
To put things into perspective; rewind to 1994, when my husband V and I got married after 9 months of a whirlwind romance. We then, spent the next 7 years, travelling the world, pursuing our education and careers, and partying, though not necessarily in that order of priority!
Then; I got pregnant with A in 2001, and had such a seemingly textbook pregnancy that even my gynaecologist used to say, in jest, that I could deliver my daughter at home, in my bed without any help.
I did have a normal delivery but after a prolonged labour. Soon after my daughter As birth, she suffered from respiratory distress that required resuscitation. This seemed to trigger a series of apnoeic attacks and she had to be placed on a ventilator in the NICU for five days. It was heartbreaking to see my newborn struggle so soon after being born and we felt scared and helpless.
When she was being discharged from the hospital, we were told to expect consequences of this event and to be vigilant and to regularly test her vision , hearing, speech and other milestones. This naturally in turn changed who I was and I went from being this cool, carefree, fun loving person into a hyper helicopter mom.
Now; everything needed to be done a particular way for A. Everyone needed to get on board and to follow the rules. She had a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy at 3 months of age. My life became a series of never ending tests and therapies. We still did take time out for ourselves but always second to her needs.
When A was 6 years old, we had our second child ;S. I’d jokingly say, he actually “developed from neglect”. I still gave so much time and attention to A, that S learned to find his way. We spent the next several years as a family, with me, making rules, and hardly anyone following them but I constantly needed to monitor and be in charge of anything concerning the kids!
Back to 2020, when Covid happened to us all. The thought of the kids having online school and all of us cooped up at home with no social interaction, initially felt like someone’s unreal nightmare was being inflicted on us. However, the last 2 years have been a pleasant surprise. A thrived on the excellent online program provided by the school and worked on her speech and anxiety issues.
There has been a significant change in her confidence, ability to regulate herself and being independent enough to perform her activities of daily living.
When my son S had his spring break in July 2021, and A still had school, we took the brave decision of leaving her home alone, with the house help and the option to call on extended family who live close.
We went on a 5 day vacation with S and his best friend and his parents. A managed remarkably well on her own, she attended all her classes online and spent this time happily by herself.
It was a liberating time for me especially and though I had in the last 19 years taken several holidays without her, this was the first time she spent such an extended period on her own.
I felt validated that what we had done for 19 years, as parents, therapists and teachers, chipping away, bit by bit, had all come together, and empowered her to spend that week by herself! I felt confident and happy that all the time we had invested in teaching her and supporting her were finally beginning to work for her.
So as the world reels under lockdowns and restrictions being lifted , V and I are actually marking out destinations on the map and highlighting days on the calendar for our flights to far flung destinations around the globe.Our new adventures are being planned because we know in our hearts that as parents we may be close to the goal of leaving our kids to look after our nest while we soar high and fly around ! Maybe we’ll call it “The Fulfilled Nest Syndrome!!!”
Writer: Purnima Hingorani, Parent
Editor: Shalini Sawhny – Braxhoofden