Dealing with an empty nest
June 10, 2005 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Empty Nest: My mother is having a very hard time adjusting to my recent overseas move. How can I help her?

I've recently moved overseas for postgraduate study and my mother is having a very hard time adjusting. Every time that I talk to her on the phone, she talks about how she is feeling down and really missing me. My brother and I have been out of the house for four years now--attending university in a city five hours to the north--and she was very happy with this arrangement and my parents would visit every couple of months or so. There was certainly a period of adjustment with our first moves out but she got over it quite quickly (and turned my brother's bedroom into another office). This time--nearly a year after I moved--it's as though she's waving goodbye at the airport.

Since I'm slogging away as a postgrad, I'm not able to move back (and I'm not sure that this would be the best idea). She understands this and--as she'd really like to see me with an honest-to-goodness job--she is encouraging and supportive. She's recently seen a doctor and started taking antidepressants and they seem to have helped a bit, but she's still struggling. She is physically active, eats well, is generally quite healthy and, as far as I know, her marriage is good.

What can I do for my mother and what can she do for herself to get over this severe case of empty nest syndrome? Any and all help is much appreciated.
posted by lumiere to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
Does she have friends? Hobbies? Now might be a good time for her to lean on her friends a little more, or to become involved in a community activity. When I left the country for a number of years, it was a very hard adjustment for my mom, but after a year or so, she decided that she would take a french class. She was nervous about it at first, but that turned into a few very good friendships. Then she tried midnight hiking with a group. Then tango dancing. She's fine now, and whenever I go home for a while, she's very happy to see me, and also happy to get back into her life when I go.

I also found a childhood friend in the town I grew up in whose mom was lonely too, and we pretty much forced them to go out for coffee. They're friends now.
posted by jennyjenny at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2005

Get her to come out and see you. She'll be able to more easily visualize where you are. It helps.
posted by nyterrant at 1:46 PM on June 10, 2005

Recently had the same situation from the other side, oddly enough. Good suggestions above, but it never hurts to call her when she's not expecting it. Indicates the love.
posted by Sparx at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2005

You can get her a webcam. Skype with the new video4skype works really well. I just got this webcam (cheap and high quality) and have been video conferencing with my international friends with great results. The audio quality is better than phone and the video is well synched to the voice. A nice feature of this camera is that you can position it near the window of the person you are speaking to, which gives them a feeling of looking at them.
posted by blueyellow at 2:14 PM on June 10, 2005

Send lots of pictures. Is your mom online? Can you email her and send her pictures of what your days are like and what your friends look like? My mom loves that stuff.

You must be a good kid to your mom for her to miss you so. Try, if you can, not to let this bother YOU too much. It is the way of things, and your mom would feel badly to think that you were overly troubled by this.
posted by puddinghead at 2:17 PM on June 10, 2005

All of this is really helpful - thanks! I do try to call and email pictures as well as do other small unexpected things (like send postcards when I travel). She has visited and it certainly helped - before her visit and even though we're Canadian, she was convinced that I wouldn't be able to handle English winters. She has a good group of friends and I know they get together often.

I dunno, though - I just wish I could understand why she seems to be getting worse. I've tried to ask her about it--in various careful and mindful ways--but she really doesn't want to talk about it.
posted by lumiere at 3:22 PM on June 10, 2005

The people who stay behind go through stages, just like the people who leave do. Let her feel what she needs to feel. If she's seeing a doctor for her depression, let the doctor treat it. You just be a "good kid":

-Do your best to keep her up to date on your daily life- send pics of even the most mundane stuff.
-Find ways to include her in some decisions.
-Make sure you stay informed about her life, too- ask her about it like you live just down the street.
(I think these are the things my parents wish I was doing! It's a start anyway)
posted by wallaby at 3:38 PM on June 10, 2005

It's possible she's dealing with more than just empty nest syndrome. Might she be going through menopause? That is a major source of emotional stress for some women. If that's the case, she's in good hands with her doctor but she might not want to talk about it very much.

It sounds like you are doing the right things. Keep in close touch, listen when she wants to talk, and don't spend too much time feeling guilty. It sounds like that's not what your mom would want, and it is very possible that something besides your absence is the root cause of her depressed feelings.
posted by rhiannon at 4:25 PM on June 10, 2005

Keep a blog/livejournal about neat stuff happening in your life, with pics and stuff. It's also useful at no extra effort for keeping in touch with friends back home - if you know what's happening in your friend's lives, and they yours, then it's less like you've dissapeared into the yonder and are drifting apart.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:51 PM on June 10, 2005

It sounds to me that you're already doing what you can, and if she doesn't want to talk about it, then perhaps ask a few of her friends to look out for her, sharing your concerns. Beyond that, there may not be much more that you can do.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:54 PM on June 10, 2005

I second the online journal idea. I started a journal soon after leaving for college, and now it seems like I'm closer to my Dad then ever, even though I don't live at home, because he really knows what's going on in my life, and it doesn't take a lot of time or energy to let him know.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:17 PM on June 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'll second a video cam.

My 5 yo niece and I talk via cam. I got my stepmother hooked...with her daughter who is 1k miles away.

It's cheap (around $50-80) per cam + high speed internet.

AIM + MSM both do it, but I think that AIM does it a little better.
posted by filmgeek at 5:22 PM on June 10, 2005

Also voting for the online journal idea. We started ours for our families and they read it everyday.

Also, know that if she is being treated for depression, antidepressants can take up to 8 weeks to "kick in". And they may not get the right ones on the first try. It's common to feel distress around major life changes...even good ones. I think the fact the you are so concerned is a real testament to your relationship with your mom.
posted by jeanmari at 5:32 PM on June 10, 2005

Thanks everybody! I'm strongly considering putting together some sort of online journal and make sure she feels included. I'm quite sure that her depression isn't all about my recent move but I will do what I can on my end to be supportive. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!
posted by lumiere at 2:43 AM on June 11, 2005

There was a short audio piece (9 minutes, 6.4MB MP3) over at about a father who sent his daughter a postcard everyday while she was away at college. He is a bus driver and would sometimes pen his daily postcards while waiting at red lights.

A card a day would be overkill, but maybe a postcard a week? Or you could carry a bunch of pre-stamped postcards in your bag or whatever and when you have a moment (waiting for a friend, in line at the grocery, whatever) you just write a quick "Hey mom, right now I'm at the grocery buying onions... the woman in front of me smells great; like lemons..." postcard.

Also, moms luh-huv photos of their kids. So send her one of those every once in a while. "Mom, here's a picture of me with my friend's dog Sam".
posted by blueberry at 3:38 AM on June 11, 2005

My mom has had a hard time with my living in Iceland - I went to college close to home, so we were used to seeing each other at least once a month. It was a hard adjustment to make - harder for her than for me, I'm sure. The things that helped the most were her visiting me here (which I take it your mom has already done) and my sending her photos.

I have a digital camera and post to Flickr ( on a regular basis. My mom really loves to see where I go and what I'm up to.

I also have a livejournal, but my mom refuses to read it. I guess she respects my privacy (though there's nothing there that I would object to her reading), but her official stated reason is that I'm too boring. Gee, thanks mom.

My mom hates the phone, so I don't call much, but I do try to email everyday. My mom particularly enjoys getting peculiar e-cards, but YMMV.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:19 AM on June 11, 2005

look, this is not your responsibility. if you want to help, that's good, but your mother is ill. it's not normal to behave like this. people miss their children, but they don't cry every time they are on the phone. your mother is likely depressed. she is probably crying about a lot of stuff, not just you. you cannot make this better - it needs a good doctor (or psychiatrist) - the important thing is the relationship between your mother and her doctor. all you are doing is providing five minute feel-good moments, which is good, but is not going to fix this problem.

other people's replies here are fine, but i have been in a situation much like this, while i suspect most of them just have "normal" mothers - and i went pretty much crazy thinking it was something i had to fix. my mum eventually (after a lot of work with a good doctor) found the right treatment and became another person - strong and confident. all my years of support and trying had done, in retrospect, was make the suffering tolerable enough to not solve the medical problem. and so make things worse.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:34 AM on June 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

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