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Pain of emigration felt by the 'Skype mothers' and grans that are left behind

There's no denying that the recession has been extremely difficult for an entire generation of young people.

Because of negative equity, debt and joblessness, many have been forced to move overseas in search of work and a decent standard of living.

But a new study has found that there is also another segment of society that has suffered enormously because of the economic downturn of the past few years - the mothers that these adult emigrants had to leave behind at the departure gates since the recession began.

According to a report from Trinity College Dublin's Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), which is monitoring the health and well-being of over 8,000 people living in Ireland over a ten-year period, women whose children moved abroad in recent years are more likely to suffer from depression and mental health issues than those whose children are still living here.


It's hardly surprising. When you wave goodbye to your children, knowing that there may be no chance that they will ever return to live in the same country as you again, a little piece of you must die inside.

And even if they plan to return in a few years, what will they have missed at home during that period?

As a mother of two, I can't ever imagine not being able to see my children for months or even years on end, no matter how grown up and independent they become.

Even with the advent of Skype, email and social media, nothing could ever compensate for physically being with your child.

How heartbreaking it must be to wonder when you will get to hug your son or daughter again, or when you will be able to hold your grandchild in your arms.

It's no wonder then that many mothers in this situation feel so lonely and despairing.

How many parents around the country are suffering in silence?

I can bet there are many thousands. Parents often won't complain or admit to feeling this way to their emigrant children, for fear of making their offspring feel guilty or upset.

Interestingly, the study didn't find that the emigration of adult children affected the mental health of fathers in the same way as it did their mothers, but I'm sure that there are plenty of dads out there who are just as sad that their child is living so far away from them.

I lived abroad myself for years - first in London and then in California. At the time, my move overseas was born more of a desire for global adventure than of any economic difficulty.

I was having the time of my life and selfishly, in retrospect, I gave scant thought to what my family felt about it.

It's a testament to my wonderful parents that they never discouraged me from travelling or pressured me to come back, even when I know they must have been missing me terribly.

If I'm put in the same position years from now, when my own children get itchy feet, will I able to hold my tongue and encourage them to spread their wings and fly?


Considering that I'm already trying to brainwash them into attending colleges close to home, I doubt I'll find it easy.

Part of me wants them to experience all the world has to offer, naturally, but I also wish they could do that while living right next door.

I moved back to Ireland when my first child was born, because when I became a mother myself I was suddenly hit with a primal longing for home and family that was so fierce it shocked me.

Luckily for me, we were in a position to come back. I loved travelling and I don't regret a minute of my adventures overseas, but I count my blessings every day that I had that choice to return when others don't.

For so many people who are desperately missing their loved ones, there will be no happy homecoming or joyous reunion.

They will continue to suffer, often in silence, and they need our support.