Question: Dear Luise: I am starting to dread the empty nest syndrome. I always thought I would really enjoy the chance to get my life back when our girls grew up and moved on. Now, I think I’ve been kidding myself. Our eldest just graduated and will leave for Jr. College in the fall. Our other daughter is fifteen. They are direct opposites, since the eldest has always been happy and cooperative and the younger has always been rebellious and unhappy. Somehow, there has been a sense of balance between the two. They are very close and interdependent. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to cope with our youngest when I don’t have her sister to placate and mediate around here. Do you have any suggestions concerning this situation? Thanks, Amelia
Answer: Dear Amelia: Family dynamics are often difficult to understand and cope with. Personalities can be, too. If you haven’t gotten your youngest in to see a psychologist, I would suggest that you do that. Whatever her present difficulties are, they will probably increase during her later teens.
Your elder daughter may need some help, too. Consider that possibility. She shouldn’t have had the job of placating and mediating. Too much responsibility, too early, can also create problems.
It is often hard to deal with such a contrast. It sounds like your first child has been too easy and your second one too hard. In such circumstances, we can learn to expect too much of one and not enough of the other. Look closely and see if perhaps you have piled things on one and let the other off the hook to keep the peace.
I would suggest you all spend the summer working with a professional to address the ramifications of your interactions and behavior patterns, your husband included. See what needs to be said and heard and what needs to be done. Your eldest is coming up on a huge change in her life, and her absence will create the same thing for those
of you left behind at home. You will need to regroup and adapt.
I would also suggest that you not get into guilt over this, if possible. No matter what the structure, there are always difficult family dynamics. The only child yearns for a sibling and often feels cheated and incomplete. Kids with brothers and sisters have horror stories to tell about how awful it was. And the childless couple quite often gets bored without all of the trials and tribulations that parenting can bring.
The empty nest syndrome doesn’t have to wipe you out. Do some serious work and you could be ready when it hits. Wouldn’t that be lov-er-ly? Blessings, Luise