Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Empty Nest Syndrome"--New DSM IV Classification for Women?

O.K., so this doesn't have anything to do with Promise House, but I had this thought late last night. As I am helping my youngest get ready to go to UT in the fall, everyone I know is asking me, "What will you DO when she leaves?" "What are you going to do with ALL that time on your hands?" "Won't you be lonely??"

It almost feels like I'm being lumped into this "syndrome" that could be part of the DSM IV (which is still very sexist):
"symptoms include depression, anxiety, and sadness at last child's departure from the home. Patient is unable to cope with ALL that time on her hands and becomes lonely and despondent. Affects women, primarily."

So here is what hit me last night. Do people ask men the same questions?? I have NEVER heard anyone ask those questions to a father. I may just not get around much, but I would bet that mothers are asked those questions at least twice as often as fathers.


The first assumption is that, as a mother, your child is your entire life, even if you have a career. Not so, with a man. No one EVER expects his child to be his whole life. In that same vane, have you ever heard men talk about work / life balance?? Rarely.

The second assumption is that a mother can't find anything besides children to fill up ALL that LONELY time. When fathers are included in the questions, they are framed around the premise that he is going to have time for ALOT more fun! More golf, more hunting, more, more, more. Poor mom, though, is going to be sitting on the couch depressed and anxious without her precious baby.

Give me a break!!

I love my children more than life itself. I have spent the last 29 years raising them; and loving EVERY minute. But they have never been my WHOLE life. I built a career, went to graduate school, participated in two singing groups, joined several book clubs, took voice lessons, etc., etc., all of which made my time and relationships with my children all that much better.

I find it insulting that people assume that women are nothing without their children--that assumption is never made about men.

So, if you want to ask me those questions, you have to find a father whose last child is leaving home and ask him the SAME questions!! are my answers: "I will do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it." "After literally running for the last 29 years, I will totally bask in 'all that time on my hands' '". "No, I won't be lonely. How can I be when both daughters have texting, email, facebook, twitter, etc., etc.? I love solitude and I need it. I have alot of "non-solitude" to make up for. So, no, I won't be lonely."

Yes, it will be different. But I have loved every stage in my girls' lives, and this will be no different.

It will be poignant, it may be a little sad for a bit. But, it will be an incredible journey, just as every step of our lives together has been.


  1. Dr. Boorhem, thank you for your important work. I love your take on the DSM and the sexist DSM As I'm sure you are aware,the DSM is a political not a scientific document. It pathologizes everyday behavior. It pathologizes women, children, and minorities. It defines existentially normal behaviors, such as grief and sadness as mental illnesses. It is a money making endeavor for psychiatry and other mental health professionals. It sometimes dangerously defines what is normal and what is abnormal For more detailed critical article about the DSM go to .
    Nola Nordmarken MFT contributing author Zur Institute

  2. Thanks for your comment. I will check out your institute!