Empty Nesting Goes Global

I think it’s fair to say many become ‘empty nesters’ when chicks fly off for positive reasons such as attending Uni, College or to explore the wider world and that it’s usually for short prescriptive bursts.

But what of other cultures and religions which demand a period of annexation from family?  The Mormon religion, for example,  requires young men from the age of 19 to leave their homes to undertake missionary work.  What a double-edged sword this must be for their families as they are away for two years during which they may write home weekly but only telephone twice a year, on Mother’s Day and at Christmas but must not return during that period.  Is the psychology different if there is a religious aspect to fledging?  Are families of missionaries elevated in the perception of their peers as the fledgling is away engaged on church business?  How does this impact their siblings?  In this scenario, are feelings different because the fledgling is seen as working through a rite of passage, perhaps?

As we now live in a global village, perhaps we should also consider how demographic changes around the world also impact heavily on family life.  Millions of young people are forced to leave their families, often for very long periods of time if not permanently, to seek employment in the city.  Does the burden of ensuring the very survival of the family alter the net impact of the fledging on the fledgling, personally and in their relationship with family, in ways other than separation?  How does it affect parents for whom the pain of loss is entangled with dependence upon the success of their child, in some cases for their very existence?

Or, perhaps, worse still is the knowledge that the means of gaining money in the city may not be a lifestyle they, as parents, would want for their child.  Does the fact that younger tummies will be filled offset that knowledge in some way?  As a parent, I cannot imagine the emotional turmoil such a situation might create.

How must it have been, and how is it still in today’s global society, for a mother and father to wave their child off for the first time, not to education, mind-expanding travel or to feed the family, but to war?

In modern Western countries, such a first parting would have been off to join the military with the knowledge that combat may one day result from their child’s life choice; a calculated risk.  What about those in war torn areas of the world where children are rounded up (sometimes aged only 8 or 10) and forcibly taken so they can carry arms, with no planning or chance to say goodbye?  What despair must those families feel?  The chances are those nests will remain forever empty.

It is in considering the situations of others that perspective is restored.  How lucky we are that, in free countries, so many of our children have such excellent choices available to them.  Understandably, we are bound up in the emotional, physical and practical changes that fledging has upon our own lives, dramatic and unexpected though they may be.  In any fleeting moments of self-pity, a quiet reflection upon how it is for other ‘empty nesters’ around the world will soon ignite the flame of gratitude.

Positives there are a-plenty; discovering self for the newly fledged and re-discovering their identity for the parents.  Time to creatively sculpt a new future for those whose nest is completely empty and an opportunity for remaining siblings to enjoy a fresh dynamic and perhaps discover each other for the first time.  And what of the singleton sibling left in the nest; maybe one-to-one parental interaction at last?

  • Reading this I am wondering about the reverse, where parents have to leave children at home and travel the globe to earn money. Just as wrenching too I’m sure. The economic necessities are harder on many cultures than on ours, it seems. I wonder how long that will last? Norman Tebbit encouraged people to “get on their bike” which meant Mum or Dad might work all the way across the country even here in the UK. Same ends.

  • Such a lot of food for thought. My children are still very young, yet I do often think about their birth order and how that effects them; the first loves books and is this due to us reading to him from birth? Who knows… Yet his brother is much less interested; we did have less time to do this when he was born. I wonder how these changes will change again when the older leaves ‘our’ nest and goes to school and the younger will finally get some one on one with me… A smaller flying of the nest but still pivotal in growth.
    Thanks Jan, this really got me thinking!

    • Hi Kerry. There are so many things to consider when raising children, I know. In the case of your two young lads, perhaps they’re just different personalities with their own special talents? It may be that your younger son never has such an interest in reading but will be really interested in how things work, or perhaps excel in physical pursuits. Whilst we worry about position in the family and time spent with each child, younger children also have the benefit of learning from their older sibling(s) and so even though their experience within the family is different, it is enriched in other ways. Going to school is certainly an important milestone and brings with it a change in the family dynamics – be prepared for “Well Mrs X said . . .” because Mrs X will surely be seen as right! Have fun! Janet

  • hi Janet, thanks for a thought-provoking post. I think it is so important to have a global perspective on life and to encourage our children to embrace the same. Sometimes we don’t see what we have until we see what others don’t have. Very moving. Thank you. Sally