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February 28, 2013

Single parent in empty nest

“Why don’t you write a column about empty nesters who are single?” asked an executive at a health care facility recently. Later, we talked about her experience as a divorced mother with two children away at college. She believes that the “empty nest” stage — when children grow up and move out of the home — creates an additional set of issues for single parents.

“You have to deal with this change, this loss, by yourself. A married parent can turn to a partner and say, ‘I’m not feeling OK about this’ and know that the partner is feeling the loss, too. Married parents have each other for comfort and support. Single parents have to face a major life change without this kind of comfort and support.

“My focus — even with a career and other things in my life — has always been family. Now that my children are grown, that focus is no longer valid. I’m now struggling to find a new one.”

Married empty nesters can focus on a new, redefined relationship, she says. She agrees that the best situation is to have a balance of work, family, alone time, and time with friends. “I work, I have quality alone time — which I treasure— and I have time with friends. But, I am feeling, with acute sadness, the loss of family in my everyday life.”

The need for adjustment to this new life stage goes on even when the children come home. “We’re all living very different lives, and then we’re suddenly together again. There are always a few emotional land mines. That contrast between complete aloneness and the commotion of their return feels extreme and unsettling. And, when I don’t see eye to eye with them, I don’t have a peer ally to give me support. Sometimes, I feel outnumbered during arguments.”

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