Here’s a simple story you may have heard many times, or even lived through yourself. A middle-aged woman—who may have sacrificed career opportunities, taken long career breaks, or chosen to stay at home from the moment motherhood approached, to bring up a child—is suddenly left with a feeling of abandonment, loneliness and lack of confidence when said child leaves. Now, don’t get this woman wrong. She could be self-sufficient in many ways (she had to be to be able to take care of you, right?), and is certainly happy to see that her child has grown up to be successful enough to move away for better opportunities in life. This woman could be your mother or mine. It could be you or me, right now, too.
The words ‘empty nest syndrome’ (ENS) are quite common and popular, which is why we often use the term very casually while discussing what a woman in the above scenario is going through. But how many of us realise the impact it has on our current and future physical, mental and financial health, and try to find ways to fight through it?
Empty nesters plus middle age is the perfect stormA 2016 study titled The Empty Nest Syndrome: Critical Clinical Considerations, published in the Indian Journal of Mental Health, explains that ENS is a term used in psychology to describe “the long-lasting maladaptive responses exhibited by parents once their last child moves out of their household, and thereby leaves the two middle-aged or ageing parents alone at home.” These maladaptive responses (meaning behaviours that stop you from adapting to new or difficult circumstancs) include depression, sadness, anxiety, guilt, psychologically induced physical symptoms or distress (like headaches, body ache, stomach ache, loss of hunger, etc.), anger, resentment, irritability, frustration and loneliness.
The study explains that sometimes, these maladaptive responses can lead to major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, which are only likely to make your health and ability to take decisions worse. The study points out that ENS usually occurs around middle age, which is also the point where ageing is accelerated—and therefore your risk of diseases increases too. What’s more, women have traditionally been more affected by ENS than men because of their role as the primary caregiver.
What the study doesn’t point out is that middle age is also the time when you’re closer to retirement, have few working years left and are looking forward to stability and comfortable living rather than an upheaval. This is the primary reason why securing your finances and financial independence is of immediate necessity, especially for women. Focusing on your financial health at this stage is also likely to boost your confidence and help you get a fresh start in life. Wondering how to get started with that? We talked to Dipika Jaikishan, a financial expert and co-founder of a financial services app for women, and here’s what she had to say.
Reclaiming your financial independenceJaikishan reveals that there have been some major shifts in the Indian scenario, which are now enabling empty nesters—especially women—to take better care towards financial safety and health. “India has been evolving over the years,” she says, “and hence we have also noticed an increase in incomes of those who are moving towards being senior citizens—something that wasn’t prevalent earlier. You may also have noticed the realty trend that encourages soon-to-be empty nesters to purchase homes which are self-sufficient for two. There is also an increased willingness to take care of oneself.”
So, how to take charge of your life and finances when your children leave? Here are a few tips Jaikishan recommends.
1. Assess where you stand: Now that you may not have to bear the day-to-day financial responsibilities for those dependents, you should re-evaluate your financial situation and see if there is room to do more with your money for yourself and your partner. Whether you are working yourself or financially dependent on your partner, it is a good time to start talking about finances. Take a closer look at all your savings and investments, including EPF, PPF, NSC, mutual funds, insurance policies, property values and gold investments. Get help from a financial expert if you need assistance in making this financial assessment.
2. Focus on your financial objectives: You could easily redirect the funds that went towards financially taking care of your children, towards yourself. This can also help you take courses or generate ideas that can translate into a side hustle, which is even better. “I am aware of several women who have turned their hobbies into businesses,” says Jaikishan. “These are women in their mid-40s and 50s who are selling products that they have created themselves via Instagram.
3. Enjoy your freedom: The key to breaking the ENS loop of feeling sad, angry, lonely and helpless is to shift your gears and get busy with something else. If you are emotionally occupied or invested in something else, you may not have the time or need to worry about the symptoms of ENS. So, enjoy your freedom and get busy with a parallel source of income, which is inevitably bound to give you a great sense of confidence.
4. Health insurance is security: Being financially secure is not only about having a chunk of money in liquid assets. It is also having an adequate amount of insurance for your health care. You are now your primary responsibility. With the costs of health care going up—and the fact that women live longer, and are yet more prone to illnesses—it might be a good idea to assess where your insurance cover is at, and increase that cover if needed. It is very important to remember that health insurance gets more expensive as you age, so it might still be cheaper now than later.
5. Learn and talk about money: “The biggest challenge we face as women is that we don’t talk about money enough,” says Jaikishan. Normalising money talks can ease a lot of worries and help you stay up-to-date as well. So, talk to your friends about money just like you talked about which university to send your child to, your woes at work and gossip from home, office or television. If you feel that you are not prepared or knowledgeable enough, then work on your financial literacy by using any resources at hand.