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Empty-nest Syndrome - for Grandparents?
A phenomenon rarely commented on in society is the growing minority of grandparents, who having had their own children when young, are now facing painful feelings associated with grandchildren growing up, becoming adults and no longer wanting to spend time with Pops or Nan in the way they did when they were four, or seven, or seventeen. Among the Baby Boomers are a group of women who had their own children in the late 1960s and early seventies, some of whose daughters and sons also went on to have their children in their twenties. Those grandmothers are now only in their mid-60s and find themselves preparing for the day their youngest grandchild leaves home with no more new babies left to look forward to for at least another ten years. Whereas other women of a similar age are just beginning to enjoy the delights of being part of the life of their son’s or daughter’s new baby (without the responsibilities), these grandparents feel the emptiness of the nest for the second time around. Mary, a retired teacher and successful businesswoman, whose marriage collapsed after her children left home is one such grandmother. She was only 45 years old when her first grandchild arrived. Her relative youth meant they could enjoy travelling, camping and swimming together. Her grandson, Hugh, and later her grand-daughters, Jemima and Claire, helped to keep her young, she thought. But gradually, bit by bit, she saw them less and less as school and exams, boyfriends and girlfriends, finding jobs or places at uni took over from taking time to be with Gran. And Mary understands:
“I can’t complain… I’ve had a wonderful time with them and now they’re making their own lives. I just didn’t expect to feel so lonely now they’ve grown up… And I’ve got all these years ahead of me!”
Mary doesn’t want to feel sorry for herself and normally she would talk to her daughter, Sue, about anything that was bothering her but this time she thinks it would be the wrong thing to do. After all, Sue is trying to deal with her own feelings of loss as she comes to terms with her children leaving home. With these feelings of loneliness and loss, at this stage in her life, now could be a time for Mary to consult a counsellor. Talking in confidence to a qualified, experienced counsellor for a number of sessions could help Mary unburden herself, allowing her to reflect on and understand her feelings and thoughts and explore ways forward. Ultimately, counselling may enable her to come to terms with her loss and to accept this stage in her life.
Negotiating the ups and downs of adolescence can be difficult, not only for young people themselves, but also for their parents and carers. Teenagers may be struggling with school work, underachieving, feeling hopeless and helpless – thinking that it is all too much. There may also be confusion about new feelings they are experiencing to do with gender and sexual orientation. Many will begin to question their parents and other authority figures but feel unable to talk to them as they struggle towards adulthood. Some young people benefit from talking in confidence to a caring non- judgemental adult, who is able to offer them the space and time to explore some of the confusions and mixed up feelings they are experiencing. Parents and carers, too, can benefit from talking with a counsellor, in confidence, about some of the issues they are having to deal with, as their young people apparently reject them or seem to be changing out of all recognition. As a teacher for over thirty years, I supported many young people as they negotiated the stresses of studying for exams, dealt with peer relationships and got on with their parents. In addition to counselling young people, I have experience counselling young adults at college and university as they make their way through higher education.
Managing Teenage Exam Stress
Worried about how your child will cope during the forthcoming exam period?
We are about to enter the end of year school exam period; a time which many young people face with dread; a time when parents’ own fears and anxieties may resurface to complicate matters. For many adolescents about to sit AS and A level or GCSE exams this is such a fraught time. Most of our children have been told since primary school how crucial it is for them to work hard and do well in their final school exams; how their future depends on getting the best results; how they must achieve those 5 A*s if they are to get into any decent university. Not realising it perhaps, as parents we have been putting pressure on our children because naturally we want to see them fulfill their potential. Our children on the other hand may have become so concerned not to disappoint us that they become overly anxious and unable to cope.
Of course for some students the pressure of study and revision brings out the best in them and they sail through the choppy waters of exam time; for others unfortunately steering themselves through the waves is too stressful and they flounder, or find themselves in the doldrums, or worse they capsize.
How to help
- Gently encourage your son or daughter to talk to you about their studies and how their revision is going. Offer to help plan a timetable for revision.
- Make sure they are getting enough sleep – revising into the small hours works only for a minority!
- Encourage them to continue to play sport or take exercise. This will help them mentally as well as physically.
- It’s especially important they have time away from revising, time to see friends.
- Remind them you will love them whatever happens.
If you are particularly concerned for your son or daughter, if they seem to be more than usually withdrawn, angry or anxious, encourage them to speak to a school counsellor or contact a registered, qualified counsellor who has experience of working with young people.
Christmas Past & Present
As Christmas approaches, panic begins to set in for many of us: Have I bought presents everyone will like? Have I remembered to check that the lights from last year work? Will the turkey be too big, too small to feed everyone? How am I going to keep Grandad away from the brandy? Has the trifle set?
Can I keep all the balls spinning?
Then when the big day arrives and we are surrounded by our family and friends, you wonder why you are feeling stressed and exhausted. Why can’t Christmas be like it looks on the Christmas cards and t.v.? Why can’t it be perfect like it was when we were little? (It was, wasn’t it?) Remember those past Christmases, full of Father Christmas and mince pies, stockings and Christmas trees, mistletoe and presents – they were perfect – weren’t they? Or were they? For lots of people, Christmas Past only recalls rows and fighting, shouting and tears or missed loved ones no longer here. For them the memories of Christmas Past maybe pushed away (deliberately or unconsciously) and the goal becomes to make Christmas Present perfect.
However, real-life is not perfect and nor are we, our families or loved ones. So it might be worth remembering that the first step to having a good time around the holiday is to realise there may be potential conflict and that it is normal. Laughing about past Christmas events can be a great way to break the ice or diffuse tensions if things are beginning to go downhill. Getting people to talk about the funniest or most embarrassing thing that happened last Christmas can be a life-saver!
During Christmas Present, we are often also saddened by the memories of Christmases Past and the loved ones who are no longer with us. If this is the first Christmas without the loved one then feeling lonely, scared, lost, angry and depressed all at once or separately is normal. It may be particularly painful to remember the moments of another Christmas Past that we shared with that person – maybe decorating the tree, or wrapping presents – or the things we didn’t get to say or do. It may help to talk about these memories with those around. Take the opportunity of having family and friends around that Christmas Present may provide to talk about your loved one and the stories about them you can recall.
As Charles Dickens showed us in “A Christmas Carol”, Christmas is not just a time for celebration and feasting but it is also a time when we find ourselves reflecting on Christmas Past, in the light of Christmas Present and perhaps as a result, resolving to make changes for the future. This may be the time to talk to a counsellor who may be able to help you with this.