parent opinion

'My loud family of 7 has dwindled to just 3. The quiet I so craved has come, and I hate it.'

I am 52. I live in a big six-bedroom home. My husband and I built it close to a decade ago for our five kids. As of January this year four of those rooms are empty. They creep me out. When I stand in them I can feel the stillness in the chambers of my heart. An empty place where noise used to be. My loud, arguing, challenging family of seven has dwindled to just three. The quiet I so craved has arrived, and I hate it.

My husband and I are in one room and our 11-year-old daughter sulking about her surprise fate as an ‘only’ child is in another. We might as well live in a caravan. In a house that once pumped with activity, the inertia is overwhelming. It’s a sad cloak I wear.

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My babies are now adults – their cocoons are empty. I close the doors to the rooms that once held their story. A chapter that ended there and began afresh elsewhere. Some days I can’t even go in there. It’s a reminder I am no longer the main character in the narrative of their adult life. That’s how it should be, but wow, it throbs like a swollen thumb.

After a recent family gathering that bundled us together, my little Ivy collapsed sobbing, “you don’t know what it’s like! It’s just me now!!! With you and Dad! It’s so lonely.” The funny thing is I knew exactly what she meant. I sobbed too.

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Mandy Nolan and her youngest child, Ivy. Image: Supplied.

Why does no one tell you about this? The prolonged grief of your children leaving home to create their own lives. How suddenly they were there – with wet towels thrown on the floor, hair irons left plugged in and on, the milk bottle returned to the fridge dry, and suddenly they were gone, order returning to the chaos. I miss the chaos.

I realise now how happy I was in the turmoil. When I could smell them on their clothes. The evil stench of a boy’s bedroom, the soft hug. When I would think about cooking each week as a juggle of favourite meals and bizarre dietary requests.

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I have had four of my children move out and their absence is like a missing tooth. No one else can see it, but my tongue quietly returns to where the tooth once was and I am acutely aware of the absence. I remember being that flustered mum in a supermarket with a kid on the floor throwing a tantrum, another one darting off to the chocolate aisle and the baby screaming for tit and me thinking, how will I survive this?

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Mandy Nolan and her family of five kids. Image: Supplied.

Many times an older woman would calmly cruise by and mutter those infuriating words "enjoy it while it lasts in no time at all they’ll be gone!" It seemed impossible. It was like a curse. This torment was endless. But now they are gone and I’d give anything to be that mother again. That mother with thousands of nights to kiss the soft foreheads of her sleeping babes.

I can’t remember when it happened. I got busy. Life took hold. The march towards independence and adulthood ordered me to step aside, and that's what I did. I surrendered my seat on the front bench of their lives to their new partners, their partner’s families, their friends.

I made space for them to become the people they need to be. It feels strange to feel my body without another one of theirs touching me somewhere. The tug of a hand at my shirt. A shivering leg pressed against mine at a winter café. The sweaty head of a sick child on my lap. My body was their country, and now it belongs only to me. I miss that constant touch.

My identity is more than being a mother, but so much of who I am today has been forged by that journey. The heartbreak, the powerlessness, the letting go. The pain of my body stretching to create them, to bear them, and then, many years on, the final dilation, when my heart expands 10,000 million centimetres to release them into the world.

At 52 I live with this sense of wonder and elation about these human beings that came from my body but also a sadness that my body’s most exquisite work is done.

Feature image: Mandy Nolan/Supplied. 

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