Empty-nest syndrome for grandparents?
A phenomenon rarely commented on in society is the significant minority of grandparents, who having had their their 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 when their youngest grandchild leaves home. With no more new babies to look forward to for at least another ten years, a sense of not being needed may be heightened. 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 or psychotherapist. Talking in confidence to a qualified, experienced counsellor/psychotherapist 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.