When life changes from revolving around the kids to adjusting to an empty nest, many parents find themselves asking “what next?” Wendy Aronssen, psychotherapist and author of Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave, explains the common experiences of many parents when their last child leaves the home.
While popular culture often sees the empty nest as an opportunity for celebration, many parents commonly feel a sense of loss, insecurity, and instability. Aronssen says this is no surprise, because parents who have had the same life and job description for 18+ years are suddenly left without a label. She calls the experience of the empty nest “the shift,” because every aspect of life gets changed.
Aronssen says the emotional experience of empty nesters can follow the outlines of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To handle all these emotions, Aronssen encourages parents to see the empty nest as an opportunity for growth and development as individuals and as a couple.
The impact on a couple’s marriage holds potential for the great rewards of a newly revived marriage or for divorce. It takes intentionality to rediscover goals and dreams for the parents. Aronssen also brings up the complication of the boomerang children, kids that return home after being unable to move out or find a job after graduation. She emphasizes the importance of setting clear expectations on both sides. Ultimately, there is a loss in the empty nest, but there are also many opportunities for a fulfilling future.
To learn more about empty nesting or to purchase a copy of Aronssen’s book, visit the links below.
Wendy Aronssen, psychotherapist and author, Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave
Smartphones have become ubiquitous among those in their teens and older, but there is no consensus on when children should first get a phone. Experts discuss dangers and cautions, and how parents can decide when the time is right for their kids to “get connected.”
Dr. Yalda Uhls, Assistant Professor of Psychology, UCLA and author, Media Moms and Digital Dads
Dr. Richard Freed, child and adolescent psychologist and author, Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age
Brooke Shannon, founder, Wait Until 8th
Dr. Scott Campbell, Professor of Telecommunications, University of Michigan
Spouses of Alzheimer’s disease patients often struggle with depression while caregiving and are desperate for support. Some have started new relationships while their loved one is still alive but no longer recognizes them. Acceptance of such infidelity is highly individual. Experts and a woman involved in such a relationship discuss how it can benefit even the incapacitated spouse, as long as families find it acceptable.
Dr. William Uffner, board certified geriatric psychiatrist, Friends Hospital, Philadelphia and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Drexel University
Sharon B. Shaw, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Group Psychotherapist, New York
Tammi Reeves, author, Bleeding Hearts: A True Story of Alzheimer’s, Family, and the Other Woman
Aging is something that ultimately we all have to face. Everybody reaches a point when they’re not quite as sharp mentally, and physically they may need some assistance. In most cases, before we have to deal with our own aging, we face the aging of our loved ones. Dr. Melanie Merriman is a hospice consultant with a focus on the system of healthcare in relation to illness and growing old.
Dr. Merriman likens the process of her own mother aging to clenching a net beneath a balancing tightrope walker, waiting for the inevitable fall. Her memoir, Holding the Net, details the pitfalls of caring for her defiant mother, as her independence is challenged by the aging process. She says that most people wait too long to have conversations about growing old. Instead of being proactive, most wait to discuss the need for assistance or the move to a nursing home until it’s time to make those tough decisions. She also adds, it’s important for both parents and children to discuss what they expect from each other as the aging process progresses.
Joy Loverde, author of Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?, adds to the discussion by asking the question; What do you want for yourself when you grow old? She stresses that relationships constantly evolve. Friends, and even family, come and go. It’s up to you to envision and plan for your own retirement and aging. Of course, a lot of it comes down to financials. Even if you’re on your own, many services and care options are available for the right price.
For many, independence is an idea entangled in pride and the fear of not being able to control the future. Dr. Merriman says dependence on others as you age is not weakness. The hardest part of planning is getting started, but a simple Google search for aging agencies in your area is a great place to start.
Melanie Merriman, author, Holding the Net: Caring For My Mother On the Tightrope of Aging
Joy Loverde, author, Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can cause many physical and mental problems that last a lifetime. Dr. Eva Redei, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, says that most children who grow up with fetal alcohol syndrome usually never live independently because their neurodevelopment was stalled, and if they make it to adulthood they will require help. Babies with the most severe form of FAS are characterized by wide-set eyes, a flattened crease above the upper lip, a low IQ, and other cognitive and behavioral issues. About one percent of children born in the US have a severe form of fetal alcohol syndrome, with two to five percent falling on the fetal alcohol spectrum. But because there is no definitive test, some children are never diagnosed on the spectrum.
Dr. Joanne Rovet of Hospital for Sick Children explains that adults with fetal alcohol syndrome are at risk for mental illness. They also have an increased chance of getting in trouble with the law. About fifty percent of juvenile delinquents had prenatal alcohol exposure.
A study conducted by Dr. Redei on rats indicates that FAS can be treated at birth. Rats were given alcohol and split into two groups, with one group’s babies given a thyroid drug or a diabetic drug like metformin. The other group of babies which wasn’t given medication showed signs of FAS. Both drugs were shown to reduce or reverse the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. Dr. Redei is now working on starting a human trial.
Maggie, parent of son with fetal alcohol syndrome
Dr. Eva Redei, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University
Dr. Joanne Rovet, Senior Scientists, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and Senior Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto
Many teenage boys are labeled as lazy because they spend too much time online, playing video games or watching TV.. Dr. Adam Price, author He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe in Himself, says these actually want to do well in school, but are afraid of failure. To deal with this pressure, and the issues that come along with it, they choose to opt-out. They choose activities that don’t give them anxiety like school does.
Dr. Adam Price says kids need to be internally motivated to put more energy into school, and suggests an approach using the three Cs. The first is Competence, the belief you can do something motivates people to want to do it. Teach students the growth mindset — meaning that you can always get better, and there is no limit. The second C, Control, involves allowing the student to take control of some choices as long as they also deal with the consequences. The third C is Connection, meaning that the adult needs to listen to the teenager, to understand and respect them.
Dr. Price also says that parents should let kids fail because that is how they learn. When the parents become more comfortable with failure and uncertainty, it allows their kids to grow and become successful adults.
Dr. Adam Price, author, He’s Not Lazy: Empowering Your Son to Believe in Himself
Colleges are required by Federal law to present anti-sexual assault training to new students, but rather than instilling “no means no,” some experts think we need to do much more to enlist men to help prevent sexual assault. Experts discuss how it can be done by making men allies, rather than regarding them as potential perpetrators, and through bystander training.
Teenage Boys: They’re Not Lazy
Teenage boys are often labeled as lazy by parents who see that their homework isn’t done and their attitude is one of disinterest. An expert psychologist explains the inner workings of teen boys and how parents can bring out the best in them.