Dads and ’empty nest syndrome’: another ‘taboo’ for the headline writers

21 July 2011

Jeremy Davies writes:

Another day, another newspaper article purporting to reveal something fascinating and new about that most bizarre of creatures…the father.

This time it’s The Daily Mail, uncovering one of the ‘last taboos’ of men – that, like mothers, fathers can suffer from ‘empty nest syndrome’.

As the article’s author Celia Dodd rightly points out, researchers have known for years that fathers can suffer psychologically when their children leave home – often more so than mothers in fact.

Ms Dodd offers up several case studies of dads who’ve experienced these feelings – including the Fatherhood Institute’s very own head of corporate development, Charlie Rice. She does a good job of analysing the phenomenon, and no doubt the book her article promotes is well worth a read.

The big turn-off, as is so often the case, is the headline: ‘It’s not only women who dread an empty nest… A fascinating new book uncovers one of the last taboos among men’.

Is this a taboo? Is it really being uncovered? Evidently not, given that researchers have known about it for more than thirty years!

Headlines like this pop up all the time around fatherhood – a sign, perhaps, that the media is becoming more interested in dads and their experiences. That’s great, but the sensationalist tone of so much of the coverage can also reinforce the idea constantly that fathers are different and other – genetically programmed to live like robots.

Yes, let’s talk about dads and how they feel when their children leave home – and let’s explore any differences in how they might respond to that. Ms Dodd rightly points out that dads may find it harder to talk about this stuff, for example, and that for some men, ’empty nest syndrome’ may feed into a more general ‘mid-life crisis’.

But please let’s not sound so surprised that fathers should struggle with such a potentially difficult transition. Just like mothers, they love their children, and will have been living with them for the best part of two decades at the point when they move out. Why wouldn’t they find it hard to adjust when the children leave?

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  • bill fathers says:

    All good and valid, but look at it another way – if you’re saying it’s not new then how (and why) would a paper run a story? They wouldn’t. Isn’t it better that this phenomenon – which doesn’t appear to be written about much – gets some coverage, even if it’s sensationalist, than none at all?

    • Fatherhood Institute says:

      Hi Bill – Take your point, but in fact this was in the features section (Femail) so wouldn’t necessarily require ‘newness’ to justify inclusion…post-natal depression is hardly new but would be covered frequently, in different ways, on the same page, for example. There’s a fine balance to be achieved here – of course we want dads to be more visible, but at the same time I spend a lot of time reading stuff which implies that men and parenting are fundamentally mismatched. I think that’s a sign of a media that’s way behind the times.

  • bill fathers says:

    Agreed, the mainstream media is way behind the reality. Unfortunately, a lot of parenting blogs and websites are as well: Mumsnet, Netmums, Cybermummy; the bias is evident in their names.

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