Pre-empty nest fears come at you suddenly, and gradually invade your waking hours. Pre-empty nest fears start when your child says, “I want to make my own play date!” It’s that bitter sweet moment when you are simultaneously relieved that your child is pushing towards doing things independently but also doesn’t need you in that way anymore.
Pre-empty nest fears make your heart palpitate with the fear of irretrievable loss – making you frantic to search for other ways to be needed and relevant. Pre empty nest fears envelop your blood stream withth adrenaline to vanquish that threat of loss and helplessness, sending you into battle for control over whose mind gets to be dominant – an attempt to erase the gnawing reality of ceding to the natural development in a parent-child relationship.
Pre-empty nest fears – what are the signs?
• Not wanting to do things with your partner as an adult couple because you think the kids need you – a fear of emotional intimacy
• Unhappy about leaving the children with a babysitter
• Discomfort when kids are on play dates or sleep overs
• Intervening in your children’s conversations to be included and relevant
• Allowing kids to sleep in your bed over and above when your children have nightmares or need comfort
• Making one or other of your children your ‘friends’ or ‘companions’ as opposed to having a social life with peers and your partner
Pre-empty nest fears – how does it show up?
1. Experiencing your child’s different opinions, actions and feelings as a direct threat to your connection – as if they are untying the knot.
2. Filling your kids with your mind, your thoughts and your feelings in order to stay connected and make sure they stay close and dependent on you.
3. Showing your kids that you feel wounded by their wish to spend time away from you with friends or other relatives.
Pre-empty nest fears – no daylight between your life and that of your children
Monica, a 38-year-old mother of two pre-teen children was totally invested in their lives. Her life was their lives with no daylight in between – despite times when she was exhausted and wished they would get on with things and let her rest or sleep. She created a scenario whereby her entire waking life was intertwined in theirs. There wasn’t a moment or situation where she didn’t tell them what to think, and fill them up with her ‘goodness,’ and ‘wisdom.’ To Monica this was good parenting, much better than the wishy washy parenting she had received as a child, having to see take risks and survive without getting guidance or a sense that her safety was important.
Pre-empty nest fears form an emotional backdrop when your kids are born
Pre-empty nest fears was part of Monica’s backdrop from the moment the kids were born. Their birth filled a hole that was already there. But they also presaged the time when they would be gone and leave that hole bigger, deeper and more painful.
The children’s’ arrival offered her a perfect place to settle her anxious and empty self. Just as her first child Angela felt replete and satisfied after a good feed, Monica merged with her daughter and felt that same sense of completion. She fed Angela and Angela fed her– a perfect combination of co-dependency that worked until the second child Martin came along, thirty-six months later!
Shifting her focus to the new baby meant that Monica never missed a beat. If attending to Angela had it’s ‘off’ moments, Martin was there to receive and to reciprocate that precious sense of being ‘full.’ And if Martin was fussy and wouldn’t feed or sleep, cuddling with Angela met Monica’s needs. There was rarely a moment when she felt that hole where the anxiety of being alone with no path or purpose might come and scare her.
Pre-empty nest fears began to swirl as the kids grew and started pre-school
Angela’s connection to Monica changed when Martin came along. She threw temper tantrums and insisted her mother sleep with her. Her envy and rage at being torn away from the blissful bond with her mother was often turned against the baby and Monica. But at pre-school she was a little angel!
This rupture was the beginning of Monica feeling wound of separation and wanting to control Angela-preventing her from making the smallest of choices for fear of losing her altogether. Something similar happened with Martin as he became more of his own person. Monica was doubly threatened by each child having a mind and a will of their own. That hole inside her gnawed, and burned with anticipation of being depleted, dried out with nothing and no one to fill it. She was enraged, and forced herself on the kids even when their rhythms were not in synch.
• Keep the relationship with your partner as your primary focus and make time for adult play, down time, emotional intimacy and fulfillment as well as intellectual stimulation.
• Have clear boundaries with your children such that they know when it’s time to be with them and when it’s just for adult or mom and dad.
• Make relationships with peers and neighbors. Join groups locally and/or online so you have a purpose with that group that is nothing to do with parenting or family obligations. Cookery, home maintenance, and or gardening classes; book clubs; church or synagogue socials; creative writing adventures and yoga retreats can all help you fill that hole in healthy and sustainable ways.
• Keep up hobbies and interests that you had before you became a parent. That could be something like roller skating or playing a musical instrument to a sport.
• If you are not employed, start your own business or seek jobs that match your skill sets.
• Seek therapy to understand that hole inside you. It’s been there a long time and is begging to be explored and accepted as part of your insecurity.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2022
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