couples

Bye, bye babies: How to adjust when the kids finally leave.

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.

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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."

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.

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"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."

And, if I am honest, it wasn’t just my children who were eager to grow and have their own lives. I wanted my own life back too. As they grew more independent, so did I. After 5 years full time parenting I went back to work part-time. I began to travel with my job occasionally (I loved it, I still do). My husband and I took holidays without our kids and remembered what it was to be a couple again.

When my daughters were small I had a fantasy that often used to lull me to sleep. It was about me and the girls living in pre-history. For some reason we needed to hide and I had found a cave with a hidden entrance. Painstakingly I imagined lining its interior with furry skins, and filling its perimeters with stored food, water and firewood. I had weapons to protect us and built a fireplace at the entrance to ward off intruders. I drifted off to sleep as I imagined the girls and I cuddled up together in the cave’s dark, soft and warm safety. It was a back-to-the-womb fantasy, of course.

I don’t have it any more. If I try to conjure up the lovely, cocooned feeling it gave me, I can’t. The girls are grown, they are launched and their lives are their own. This is as it should be. I haven’t lost them. I have just lost the job of them. I will help if I am needed but they are their own responsibility now, not mine. My task now is to enjoy my own regained independence and life so I am not a burden on them.

"My task now is to enjoy my own regained independence and life so I am not a burden on them."

Have your kids left home? How did you feel when they did? 

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