Empty Nest

Some parents celebrate their kids flying the nest. They have plans for those bedrooms. A much-coveted craft room. A space dedicated to yoga and meditation. Perhaps the room has the best natural light (once the blinds are lifted) and will lend itself perfectly for painting. Through those doors, marks left by sticky-tack and the dust that collected behind the don’t-touch bookcases are now ripe for deep cleaning. The smell of all things teen is sugar-soaped away, to be replaced by the newness of fresh paint and scented sticks. For some parents there’s a quiet relief. After years of self-sacrifice, a sense of freedom returning.

Then there are others.

Heartbroken. Sad. Lost. Tired. Confused. Empty.
Fed up. Dissatisfied. Tearful.

Cross but you don’t know why.
Lost for words.

Too many words.
Prepared, yet not prepared.

However much you think you’ve got it all covered, the sense of loss begins long before the fledglings take flight. All the planning and the worry; the lists, debates with each other about how to do this efficiently. And the necessary safety talk.  None of that prepares you for what’s to come. You feel it creeping up on you. But the reality of it all, when it actually hits, is darker than you imagined.

You may have predicated a few dignified tears, a clingy hug and maybe a glass of something on return home. But the chances are, you didn’t expect to eat away every scrap of lipstick on the journey back. Or to see yourself in the hall mirror as you enter, suddenly looking pale, exhausted and a bit older. You wouldn’t dream of changing their bedroom. 

We’ve watched the birds in the garden teaching their young how to fly.  If we’ve done a great job, our kids will leave with confidence. A wobble is ok. But core confidence is what we worked so hard for. That’s what we want for our kids, isn’t it? We wouldn’t want them crumbling at the thought of venturing out to find their dreams. We want them to prosper. We want to hear about all the great stuff they are learning and experiencing. We want them to have a life better than we had – in whatever way, whether we had ‘enough’ or not, we always want our kids to have better.

Congratulate yourself on raising a child who’s Going For It.

So, they embark on their journey into the world without us.  They go out to discover a new kind of freedom and responsibility.

We experience a loss…

It’s very real. A form of bereavement. And yes, you may experience a type of mourning.

It is not an illness. You still must go to work. You still must function. There may be other people who still need you…. Or maybe not…. But You still need You. And whilst friends and colleagues recognise the discomfort you feel, they will soon be ready to talk about something else.

It’s not wrong to miss your child. Or, bizarrely, the clothes left in a tangle on their bedroom floor. Or having to remind them to bring their plates down to the kitchen. It’s not wrong to miss any of that. Or to be aware of how much quieter the stairs have become.

You may even feel like a teen again yourself as you try to work out if it’s cool to call or whether the social media you’ve avoided for so long is the best way to stay in touch. You rather abruptly enter an emotional state that is uncomfortable at best.

How to let go

When you left home you probably didn’t want your mum checking that you’d eaten breakfast. 

Allow your fledgling some space to work out how best to store their belongings, whether they prefer the desk lamp on the left or the right and what they want to do about breakfast.  Let them know that you’re excited to learn about how they organise their new world, about all the fun stuff and the challenges.  Tell them that you are there if there are moments of doubt.  And that you love them and you’ll miss them because they’re great to have around…

Agree the first phone call.  Later the same day?  The next morning?  This is for you.  So that you’ll be able to get a good nights sleep.  They’ll be fine.  You equipped them well for this adventure – remember? 

Enjoy an exchange of Daily Headlines using your kids’ favourite App. Simple, slightly jovial one liners that give you both an opportunity to expand into detail if wanted. Create a habit. Include pictures when you can because this is what their world is about and you will want to be a part of that. When you do speak properly there’s something ready to lead with.  Your daily walk in the park with your new four-legged member of the family will be a more welcome conversation opener than the question about what’s in the fridge.

Your relationship with your fledgling will survive. Have confidence in that. If you got on well before, there’s no reason to expect that to change. But if your relationship was strained, now’s your chance to turn it around.

What about you?

Just be kind to yourself. Take good care.

It’s great if you have a plan – if you’ve scheduled things on your calendar for the first 3 or 4 weeks it will help. It won’t stop you missing your kids, but it will help. If they’ve just left and you don’t have a plan, well, put something in place now!

What you’re feeling is very real. Acknowledge it. That feeling of being just a little bit lost and just a teency bit on edge is being experienced by parents all over the world.

Allow yourself to curl up in your PJs with Hotel Chocolat and watch a boxset.

Then take stock.  You’re going to have some extra time.  There’ll be less shopping, cleaning and laundry to do.  Less dropping off and picking up.  What would you like to do with that extra time?  The things that fell below the family priorities can become possible for you now. 

Life is going to be different.  Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

For now, just look at it as a new start for all of you.

Your child will be fine. And so will you.

Sending hugs out there to you all.

.. Annie ..