BECOMING AN EMPTY NESTER IS A NEW BEGINNING
Far from sobbing at the sight of their empty bedrooms, Fiona’s having a few mini-adventures now the kids have gone.
Although the thought of my kids leaving home didn’t fill me with panic, I did wonder if life would feel weird. I was used to hordes of people coming and going – not just our twin sons and daughter but their friends too. Then our boys left for uni, followed by our daughter – and suddenly, my husband Jimmy and I were all alone. What would happen now?
At first, we just got on with our lives, noticing a slightly reduced domestic workload but hardly having acres of spare time. After all, teenagers don’t ‘take up your time’ in the way that younger kids do. Plus, we both work (pretty long hours sometimes) so we weren’t exactly idle. Yet something had changed for me personally. Gradually, it started to dawn on me that my twenty-one years as the hands-on guardian of my children had come to an end.
“It’s kind of liberating to have that physical distance from their comings and goings, and it feels right.”
I’m still their mum, of course – but I am no longer required in a supervisory role. These days, they could go out every night and tumble home at 4.30 a.m. for all we know. I hope they don’t – but what could I do about it anyway? It’s kind of liberating to have that physical distance from their comings and goings, and it feels right. At twenty-one, I lived 400 miles away from my parents and would have been appalled if they had quizzed me on how much I was drinking, or whether I was getting enough sleep.
Likewise, I am no longer the broccoli police, the pusher of salads and enforcer of nutritionally-balanced meals. I hope they eat healthily but, you know, I am not about to argue that it’s about time they started liking tomatoes.
I’m not mentioning any of this in a ‘don’t-care’ sort of way. I do care – but the fact is, as long as they appear to be happy and functioning pretty well, their daily habits and lifestyle choices are none of my business anymore. And with that comes a lifting of all that worry and concern we were plagued with throughout their teens. I think we only realise how utterly exhausting the supervision of our teenagers was when it’s over. When we’re in the thick of it, we just knuckle down, grit our teeth and get on with it.
And now? Well, although life is still full and work must be done, money earned, our home kept on top of and our dog walked – thank God he still needs us! – there is a sense of having the mental space now to please myself more. I can have
adventures. I’m not talking hiking up Kilimanjaro (I’m not good with heights) but the smaller kind which are, in their own way, just as life-changing.
“I can have adventures. I’m not talking hiking up Kilimanjaro but the smaller kind which are, in their own way, just as life-changing.”
For instance, fitness. Whereas my morning routine was once dictated by the school run, it’s now the time when I actually run – perhaps only for 20 minutes, but it’s enough to make me feel differently about my body. I ran my first marathon last year, in Edinburgh – not terribly successfully but I did finish (sobbing and vowing I’d never do it again). In April 2019 I’ll be taking part in the London Marathon. I could never have contemplated the time-gobbling training when our children were all at home. Now I have the time and mental space to do it.
Other adventures? Camping might not sound terribly brave – and I used to think I despised it. In fact, I only despised it when all five of us used to go away together, and erecting the tent would involve a load of shouting and tears, and no one slept a wink. But Jimmy and I camped on our own in southern Brittany last summer, and I loved waking up feeling as if I was outside in nature. I feel silly saying that, as if I am the last person to discover how brilliant it is. But, yes, camping. Bring it on!
Last summer, we also happened to wander past the School of Painting in St Ives, and noticed there were spaces on a course called ‘Abstract from Landscape.’ Jimmy and I signed up and have drawn or painted almost every day since. I had two paintings selected for an exhibition recently and it was the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in ages.
So, those are the kind of adventures I’m talking about – not huge, but life enhancing all the same. They are possible because there is now the mental space for them to happen. The way I look at it, your kids leaving home isn’t the end of something. It’s a brand new start.
Fiona’s latest book, Living With Teens, is a parenting memoir (ebook only) available on Amazon now