It seems standard to assume that Empty Nest Syndrome is really only a problem for stay-at-home mums, but I’d like to suggest that working mothers can actually be doubly impacted by the emptying of their nests, because it affects both their home and work lives.
The chances are that a working mum has shaped her working life around her role as a mother in some way – if not all ways. So, when her role as mother undergoes a fundamental change, it’s going to have a knock-on effect.
Maybe the only reason she works rather than being a stay-at-home mum is to secure some degree of financial security for her family – whether it’s a necessity in order to pay the bills, or a means of achieving a better quality of life for the children.
Maybe she’s stayed in a job she doesn’t much enjoy because it gives her flexibility to meet her childcare needs, or because balancing work and family leaves her without the time or energy for meaningful job hunting.
And if she has a job she values or loves, she’s probably spent years working twice as hard as everyone else to show that being a mother doesn’t affect her ability to deliver at least as much as and as well as her peers, while also struggling with Working Mother Guilt.
Maybe she pursued promotions she didn’t want because she was worried about financial security for the children. Maybe she refused promotions she wanted because she was worried that the associated workload would affect her time with the children.
In such circumstances, how can the emptying of the nest NOT have some impact on a working mum’s relationship with her work?!
Even if she relishes the opportunity to focus on and flourish in her professional life, she may initially feel somewhat unanchored by the removal of the familiar time constraints, routines, and her “working mum” identity.
And, at the other end of the spectrum, if her role as a mother is what’s kept her in a job that doesn’t suit her, then the children leaving home is going to highlight her unhappiness at work, at the same time as she’s struggling to adjust to the changes in her home life. Yes, perhaps she’s now better placed to look for another job, but that’s not always an easy thing in middle age or when going through a difficult time emotionally, is it?
A working mum may take longer to process her feelings around her empty or emptying nest, because she’ll be suppressing any emotions that arise during her working day – experiencing them at work could cause her to feel embarrassed by them, even ashamed. If she’s spent a long time making sure that she doesn’t display any “weakness” at work, she won’t be about to start doing it now.
I am not saying that all working mothers are floored by their children’s departure, or that those who are suffer more than any other parent: Empty Nest Syndrome can affect any parent and there is no hierarchy of suffering.
What I am saying is that we shouldn’t assume that a working mother simply replaces her child with her job.