Women beat ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ with enterprise

Niessha Bubna- Left Niessha Bubna wins Miss Health Award at NSCI, Right Niessha Bubna in the Standard Chartered Marathon, Mumbai

Pooja Bhula

Your kids have found their wings, have you? Meet three amazing women who walked triumphantly out of Empty Nest Syndrome and turned the vacuum into entrepreneurial spirit.

Unlike common perception, most housewives have their plates full. They treat family and house care like projects, tirelessly working with immense dedication. Often caring for children takes precedence, therefore when kids leave for education or work, or simply get busy with their own lives, housewives are overcome by a huge sense of loss—medically known as Empty Nest Syndrome.

Niessha Bubna`s (51) attempts to deal with acute loneliness after her children went to study abroad, led her to become an ace fitness instructor. Looking back, she says, "I was a typical housewife and after twenty years of playing that role, I could not imagine life beyond family. When both my kids were gone, I felt that there was nothing to live for. I had surrendered and underwent depression for one full year."

In some cases full-time mothers feel alienated when their children need space as they grow up. This was true for Gita Parekh (46), who found her calling as a psychotherapist whilst dealing with the changing status quo with her kids.

She says, "I was always career minded, but didn`t pursue one because I wanted to participate completely in my children`s lives. My elder son was hyperactive, so I enrolled him, and personally took him to and from several sports classes and extra-curricular activities, to channelise his energies in the right direction. I also played a lot with both my kids to keep things friendly. As my elder one started becoming independent as he neared college, it made me feel unwanted and unneeded, and my urge to work for personal growth resurfaced."

Homemaker, Deepali`s Shah`s (41) case was more acute, but she turned her ship before it could hit the iceberg. "I only have one son and clocked all my chores around to give him maximum attention. When he reached his ninth standard, friends and family started warning me that I was too involved. Counsellors from his school also called me in and asked me to take it easy and focus on myself. I am thankful for it today because getting out of depression to start something of new would have been extremely difficult." Deepali now runs a thriving business of crunchy dates and energy bars.

Gap in relation with spouse adds to the emptiness

"As expenses increase, husbands have to focus more on work and less on their wives and family. It creates distance. Moreover, women tend to neglect themselves, their beauty and many put on weight, which reduces the man`s interest further. Once I had more time I started taking care of my hair and going to gym, as do many women, to get the attention back."

This testimony of self neglect is coming from the woman who did her post graduation in nutrition and dietetics, before marriage, and takes pride in having inculcated healthy habits in her family.

Gita Parekh attending to a client

Rediscovering self, through internal and external lenses

Many full-time mothers who re-activate their social lives to overcome the emptiness, often go through a journey of self discovery and end up finding amazing support systems that lead them to positive transformation.

Niessha says, "Fitness was my passion from the time I was 12, and I never stopped engaging in it. Now that I had so much free time, I started helping my gym friends with their workout and called them home to practice. I had never imagined a career in fitness, but people’s appreciation tempted me to consider it seriously. Before marriage everyone knew me as Niessha, but after marriage only as Mrs. Bubna; during this phase of life I often wondered `Where has Niessha gone? Can I even earn Rs.10 for myself?"

Deepali`s friends too were instrumental in pushing her to start anew. She recalls, "Like most kids, my son just doesn`t like dates and dry fruits, soon I was experimenting with recipes and finally came up with crunchy dates. My friends found it delicious; after I made it for them a few times, they asked me to charge for it. That`s how I began selling crunchy dates on a make-to-order basis. It gives instant energy and because of the dark chocolate content even kids love it too."

Everyone needs a vent for their emotions, and co-habiting also means dealing with effects of each other’s problems. "I was expected me smile even if I was upset, I felt I was being taken for granted and my frustration would come out in the form of anger. My sons found difficult to take and I felt that no one at home understood, when sourness enters relationships you look for happiness outside," says Gita.

And sometimes that`s just what’s required.

She adds, "Ironically, strangers recognise your talents in no time, and family doesn`t after living with you for years. As I interacted with more people, I realised I had an edge over others, people wanted to confide in me and seek my advice. `Your approach is very different`, they would say. One day, my sister-in-law suggested that I learn counselling and that`s how I got into psychotherapy."

Kick the guilt aside, take that FIRST STEP

"I found out about a fitness trainer course at Reebok, but wondered how will it look in a society like ours (upper class)? Except my husband and kids, other family members looked down on the idea. Later, I wanted to convert my living room into an exercise studio with large mirrors and equipment because renting space would be very expensive, our extended family raised objections for that too. But I ignored what everyone thought and went ahead because every passing day was disappointing. It`s difficult, but you have to take that first step."

Gita too learned to give herself priority. "Initially I went for short workshops, moving to ones occupying longer hours and weekends too, which is usually family time. But it brought me a lot of satisfaction, and healed me because to learn counselling we have to undego counselling too. I couldn`t allow guilt to stand in the way."

Success is gradual and failure is not the end

In order to become trainer Niessha returned to books after a gap of 20 years. She reminisces, "It was extremely challenging, especially because the Reebok course required medical know-how that I didn`t have. When I read the books, nothing would go in my head and I would cry. One such night my husband said, `Do how much you understand; at worse you`ll fail.` That hit me, I didn`t want to fail. That night I sat with my books, read one page 20 times and its meaning finally sunk in. Gradually it reduced to 15, 8 and 3."

Niessha even offered fees to doctors to explain things the course work; she cleared the first two exams, but flunked the third. "It was an ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) exam; I got 93% in my practicals but failed theory. My husband and Dr. Ashish Contractor of Asian Heart Hospital, who constantly encouraged me, were stunned when I didn`t break down. Instead I promised to begin my preparations for a re-take that very night."

Niessha has cured people with diseases such as asthama, cancer and spine problems through exercise, post which one hospital invited her to conduct a lecture for physiotherapists. She has also trained in yoga, Pilates, and updates herself with new fitness techniques and machines. She has been a dedicated marathoner from the time Standard Chartered took the initiative and makes it to the top ten every time.

Things improved on the family front too

After taking courses for five years in counseling, occult sciences, and an MS degree in psychotherapy, Gita started counselling professionally. She takes clients from 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm at her house. Today her family looks at her differently. “When you don’t have a strong identity everyone treats you like a punching bag. That has changed. My family realises that my time is as precious as theirs, there is more clarity in our roles as individuals and communication has increased.”

For Deepali it has led to better relations with her son. "After I allowed my son to take charge of his life, our fights have reduced. Our equation is friend-like. Constantly innovating flavours, shapes, and sizes for my products to remain current gives me immense joy."

Niessha too has experienced great benefits on personal and familial level."People now know me as Niessha, not just Mrs. Bubna. You become more confident, manage the house much better, knowledge brings a new energy and having your own money gives you sense of freedom. Even kids benefit if you`re physically and mentally fit because you`re less dependent and they`re less stressed knowing you`re busy with your own life."