On Monday, my youngest daughter and her boyfriend fly off to the UK – indefinitely. My eldest daughter is married and she and her husband live in a small semi with a mortgage that’d make your eyes water. My husband and I – and our two cats (bought to forestall the youngest’s desire for a dog ten years ago) – will be rollicking around our 4 bedroom family home alone.
Am I a weepy mess about this? Do I feel discarded, rejected and irrelevant? Does the fact that my daughter’s have both flown the nest make me feel old and redundant?
No it does not.
To be honest, the major feeling I am experiencing is relief; not least relief that my house will go back to being my own again. We experienced the bliss of this for a year while my youngest lived in a share house in Newtown, then she and her boyfriend moved back to save money for their great adventure. It’s been lovely having them but, gee, they accumulate a lot of shit. It’s great to see it getting packed away. But mostly I feel relief because my empty nest reveals that I have done my job of mothering more or less successfully.
From the moment your child leaves your womb mothering becomes a process of letting go. And you never let go of any stage without a twinge. Relieved as I was to no longer be pregnant, I remember the odd feeling of loneliness that accompanied the sudden loss of the fluttering, kicking and wriggling of the baby within my womb. I felt - quite literally - empty. But was I sad? Not really, I was thrilled to be getting to know my baby and watch her begin to explore the world. What I felt was the beginning of the constant ambivalence that is mothering – every gain is accompanied by a loss.
I remember saying to a friend as we struggled with this exhausting but exhilarating new job that the degree of difficulty in mothering never changed, it was just what was difficult that did. Getting them eating solids, out of nappies and into a bed marked a milestone. Pre-school and then big school marked others. First sleep over at Grandmas, first word, first step, first ‘NO’! I longed for each of them in advance (well, maybe not that ‘NO!”) but I also recognized that each milestone was a step away from me into their own, separate life.