Paltrow talks about her torment over empty nest syndrome - GulfToday

Paltrow talks about her torment over empty nest syndrome

Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow

Charlotte Cripps, The Independent

He’s leaving me! I feel like my life is over,” sobbed an old school friend when I popped over to her house to pick up a child’s balance bike that she was giving away. She wasn’t talking about her partner walking out on her, but her “baby” — an 18-year-old who is heading off to university in September. It’s as if her world had become meaningless — before he’d even packed his bags and removed his smelly socks. No matter how free his departure will leave her to go on romantic dates with her partner, or enrol on the psychotherapy course she has dreamed of taking, nothing can take away her feelings of grief and loneliness. The house that is currently full of noise and chaos is soon to be suddenly strangely quiet.

It’s clear she has a case of the “empty nester” syndrome: the name given to the feelings of loss experienced by parents when their nearly adult children leave home for the first time. Gwyneth Paltrow, who joined her ex-husband Chris Martin last weekend for their 18-year-old son Moses’s high school graduation in LA, has admitted that the prospect of becoming an “empty nester” is giving her “a nervous breakdown”.

“I started being like: ‘Oh my God, I need to quit my job and I need to sell my house and I need to move.’ It’s putting things into turmoil,” she recently told The Hollywood Reporter about her youngest child leaving home. “My identity has been being a mother. Apple (Paltrow and Martin’s elder daughter) is now 20. So I’ve oriented my whole life around them and their schedules and when school starts.” She’s far from the only celebrity to feel like this. Gordon Ramsay confessed he was so “gutted” when his son Jack left home for university that he sat on Jack’s bed wearing a pair of his pants. Rob Lowe, Elizabeth Hurley, and Heidi Klum have all talked about their torment over empty nest syndrome. “It is no laughing matter,” is how Michelle Pfeiffer summed up the experience in Parade magazine in 2012. “It is really hard.”

Many of my friends are moving into this empty nester territory and suffering a really bad dose of it. I had my two daughters, Lola and Liberty, now eight and six, in my early forties so I’m still at the ferrying back and forth to school stage. Yet empty nest syndrome is just one of many grief traps parents fall into – and it’s one that I’m refusing to buy into. I’m determined to keep hold of my identity as much as possible, so that when they do leave the home, I’ve got a thriving life full of enriching relationships that I can fall back on — and activities that don’t just involve organising the next playdate.

Of course, these feelings of loss are to some extent unavoidable. “Parents go through many phases of what is considered independent distancing; these are milestones of their child becoming more independent and less reliant,” says Dr Scott Lyons, a holistic psychologist in the US and author of Addicted to Drama: Healing Dependency on Crisis and Chaos in Yourself and Others. “This could come after potty training, or when they go to kindergarten or do their first sleepover. While some parents might sigh in relief to have a bit more of their energy and time back for themselves, many others feel an ache, a sudden emptiness, or a gap in connection that was previously there. And in some cases, the distancing triggers a parent’s own attachment wounds, stirring up feelings like abandonment, and behaviours that look like clinging or being overbearing.”

Celia Dodd, author of The Empty Nest: Your Changing Family, Your New Direction agrees that it’s not possible to avoid empty nest syndrome completely — “because it’s such a momentous change in your life, the end of an era of family life”. However, she says, it is possible to manage the transition so that you don’t feel “so bad”.