Is “Empty-Nest Syndrome” a Thing of the Past?

When a child leaves for college or moves out of the family home, moms are sure to shed a tear. The house feels silent and empty, especially if it was your youngest or only child. It’s called empty-nest syndrome, and it can even lead to depression in some cases.

Empty-nest syndrome: A positive experience for some

Empty-nest syndrome isn’t always a bad thing. For parents who cope well with the change and eventually get over the feelings of sadness that accompany a child moving out, they develop a new sense of freedom and opportunity.

Some empty-nesters throw caution to the wind and take off on wild adventures across the country in an RV. One couple even blogs about their journey at The Gypsy Nester, providing both entertainment and inspiration for other boomers and retirees.

Empty Nest Syndrome

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Empty-nest syndrome is a disappearing trend

But empty-nest syndrome is becoming a thing of past generations, according to researchers at Oregon State University. Children are living at home longer than ever, sometimes well into their thirties, because they can’t find a job in today’s volatile employment market. Some may have had to sacrifice and take a lower-paying job outside of their fields of expertise just to get by. But these lower-paying jobs sometimes aren’t enough to cover a rent or mortgage payment, student loans and all the regular monthly expenses that come with having your own home.

On top of this, life expectancy continues to rise as advances in medicine make it more possible to live with chronic conditions and delay more serious disease processes. The older your aging parents become, the more likely it is that they will need some type of assistance from their now-grown children. Whether you’re running errands for mom and taking her to appointments in your spare time, making modifications to her home to make it safer or even moving her into your home, caring for an aging parent can be a significant undertaking — albeit one most grown children are happy to take on.

Getting sandwiched between two generations

The combination results in pressure from both generations, sandwiching adults in the middle. Oregon State University’s study, published in the Journal of Aging Studies, found that most parents express positive emotions about supporting their children through the early adulthood stage in their lives — even if that means living at home until they’re 30.

Those same parents who are now caring for their own aging parents don’t report negative feelings, but feelings of angst and uncertainty. It’s hard to know what to expect from day to day when caring for an aging loved one. The study finds that parents aren’t expecting their children to be financially independent in their 20’s, realizing that it’s more difficult to get through this phase in life today.

Caring for aging parents comes as a shock to many

Caring for aging parents, however, isn’t something that many parents have come to expect. It’s a natural urge to want to care for your children, but we’re used to our parents being the ones to support us. When those roles are reversed, it can come as a shock — especially considering many adults today have had grandparents who died younger and never saw their parents taking on the role of caregiver.

Study participants say it’s harder to make plans, never knowing how your parents’ health will be from day to day. And as a result, many members of the sandwich generation are taking steps to ensure that their own needs will be cared for without placing a burden on their children.

Whatever your situation, you’re not alone. There are plenty of resources on the Web offering advice and information for the sandwich generation, such as The Gypsy Nester and Wriggling in the Middle. Check out our Best Boomer Resources and Best Caregiver Websites categories in the Best Senior Living Awards 2013 for more fantastic resources for boomers, caregivers and sandwich gen-ers.

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