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Women's health

Being a mother when children grow up: how to deal with the crisis

July 16, 2018

The real problem comes with the so-called “empty nest” syndrome. However, even before, when children reach teenage age, it is difficult for many mothers to accept that they are no longer so indispensable. As queens of the house, always in demand and desired, some women feel lonely and forgotten and face a period of strong identity crisis. What does it mean to be a mother even when children are growing up? We talk about this topic with Agnese Rossi, psychotherapist at Humanitas.


The need to redesign one’s role in the family

Managing children is less difficult from a physical point of view, because it is no longer necessary to look after them at all times, but relationships are becoming more complicated. Adolescence in the family is an emotional hurricane that can affect both children and parents. It is usually time for disputes and disagreements. Children want more space and parents struggle to give it. For adolescents, on the other hand, separation from their parents is an indispensable and valuable phase of their personal development. This detachment can sometimes take on the appearance of rejection, especially if the bond established during childhood is very deep.


It is not uncommon for some mothers to interpret this desire for independence, which is not a sign of ingratitude but an expression of the vital spirit that serves young people to find their own individuality, as an undeserved punishment or an attempt to delegitimize them as women. In fact, the safety and emotional independence of children is the best proof of the good work done by parents.


This necessary detachment is destabilizing, but at the same time full of promises: in fact, this is the long awaited period in which the woman can recover her space, cultivating her own interests, regaining complicity with her partner.

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A new social role

The traditional consecration of women to the family implied the renunciation of employment and economic independence. Today, this is no longer the case for most women and the need to remain competitive at work has enabled them to understand that maintaining a social role, alongside the family role, is very important also in view of this subsequent phase: the growth of children.


“Moreover, this moment in life is a time for budgets, related to the realization of one’s aspirations and the goals achieved, but also the possibility of investing new resources, sometimes enriched by the experiences accumulated over the years, with fewer family tasks and with the possibility of fully living and appreciating one’s time in a less hectic and more creative way – commented the psychotherapist. With more autonomous children, the maternal function is also reduced in the caring role, leaving more and new possibilities to reinvest in the life of a couple, creating new communicative modalities and the sharing of interests, after years centered on parenting and family management”.


Incoming menopause

The other psychologically sensitive aspect for mothers of teenage children is the approach of menopause. This means that we are facing two major changes, risking a deep crisis.


Is menopause only a time of crisis or can it be a possibility for rebirth?

“In our society, femininity sometimes coincides with fertility, thus attributing to menopause the meaning of a syndrome (a set of pathological symptoms), which all women undergo, fear and cure with aspects accentuated by our culture that tends to medicalize every change, making it a “symptom” – explained Rossi – That is why it is important to be aware that menopause is an intermingling of physiological and social factors. It does involve hormonal and physical changes, sometimes complex to manage, but this phase of life takes on many individual and social meanings that influence its acceptance and active management, in which we can be conscious and creative protagonists of these changes, if they are not perceived only as a hormonal lack or imbalance, as it was defined in the ’60s.


“Only a conscious attention to emotions can help women not to confuse the world of internal sensations with external reality, in particular with the judgment of others on our physical aspect that changes again and requires further adaptation – concluded the psychotherapist of Humanitas. Emotions that are to be listened to deeply, without repressing them, through the signals that our body sends us: we learn to live with ourselves and our corporeity, to give value to our uniqueness, to rediscover our qualities, our desires, our resources, sharing them with our partner and with the truest friendships.


When the children reach their early adulthood, dialoguing with them usually becomes easier because the points of view approach each other. For this reason it is advisable to exercise patience and not to let oneself be overwhelmed by the violence of the conflict, inflicting wounds on each other that can sometimes leave deep distances”.

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