redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Empty Nest Syndrome, the non-clinical condition that can lead to feelings of loneliness in middle-aged adults after their children have grown and moved out, is becoming a thing of the past in an age where those individuals are caring for both aging parents and kids who have trouble finding employment and escaping the family home — but researchers say that this new situation brings with it problems of its own.
Writing in the Journal of Aging Studies, researchers from Oregon State University report current economic conditions and a highly-competitive job market have made it difficult for young adults to set out on their own, start a career and a family independent of their parents. At the same time, seniors are living longer, and the special care they need often requires them to move in with their children, potentially placing three generations under the same roof.
“The end result, researchers suggest, are ℠empty nest´ plans that often have to be put on hold, and a mixed bag of emotions, ranging from joy and “happy-to-help” to uncertainty, frustration and exhaustion,” the university said in a statement Friday.
“We mostly found very positive feelings about adults helping their children in the emerging adulthood stage of life, from around ages 18 to 30,” explained Karen Hooker, director of the OSU Center for Healthy Aging Research. “Feelings about helping parents weren´t so much negative as just filled with more angst and uncertainty. As a society we still don´t socialize people to expect to be taking on a parent-caring role, even though most of us will at some point in our lives. The average middle-aged couple has more parents than children.”
Hooker and her team based their findings on data obtained from six different focus groups between 2009 and 2010. They found the majority of middle-aged parents with young adult children are reasonably happy to help them through tough times, and they also understand it is harder to get started in life now than it was in the recent past. That´s due to a variety of different social, economic and cultural factors which have “combined to radically challenge the traditional concept of an empty nest,” the scientists said.
“The recession that began in 2008 yielded record unemployment, substantial stock market losses, lower home values and increased demand for higher levels of education,” the university said. “Around the same time, advances in health care and life expectancy have made it possible for many adults to live far longer than they used to — although not always in good health, and often needing extensive care or assistance.”
The study also discovered while parents do not necessarily expect their children to be 100-percent financially independent during their early 20s, they have a somewhat different reaction to caring for aging parents. Mothers and fathers who require an increasing amount of care could be both a joy and a burden. The care of their parent was not, in most cases, something the middle-aged adults had expected to deal with.
“Many middle-aged people said it was difficult to make any plans, due to disruptions and uncertainty about a parent´s health at any point in time. And most said they we´re willing to help their aging parents, but a sense of being time-starved was a frequent theme,” the statement said. “The dual demands of children still transitioning to independence, and aging parents who need increasing amounts of care is causing many of the study participants to re-evaluate their own lives.
“Some say they want to make better plans for their future so they don´t pose such a burden to their children, and begin researching long-term care insurance. Soul-searching is apparent,” it added. “An increasing awareness of the challenges produced by these new life stages may cause more individuals to anticipate their own needs, make more concrete plans for the future, reduce ambivalent approaches and have more conversations with families about their own late-life care,” the researchers said in their study.