Empty nest syndrome

The empty nest syndrome

By Liz Lockhart

The time had come to sever myself from my youngest child and I was dreading it. Not because she was the most special one or in any way more loved but just because of the change it was going to bring in my life.

I had my first child very young and there was nearly a twelve year gap before I had my second.  This had meant that my period of caring for my children was very protracted.  I had at least one child living with me from the age of twenty until the age of fifty something.  My first marriage had hit the rocks very early on so I had brought up my first child alone and my second marriage which gave me my second daughter ended when she was around a year old so I found myself a lone parent again.  In this role I was carer, provider and both Mum and Dad.  I worked my socks off so that my children did not go without materially and I loved them so much.  Oh how I loved them.  I had not realized that this was my whole purpose in life.  For the biggest part of my life I just got my head down and everything that I did was for the children.  Yes I had a glimmer of a social life and of course I had my working life but everything was for the purpose of my children.  Everything I did revolved around my prime role – that of Mum.  Yes, sometimes I got tired and grumpy and wished that my life had worked out differently but never for long and the joy of watching my little chicks grow into beautiful swans was all I needed and was reward in itself for the hard work and for my needs being put to one side for that period in my life.

Then the day arrived – my ‘baby’ was getting married.  She married the most wonderful man.  If a parent could chose the partner for her child it would be him.  I could never have dreamed that my child would find her angel on earth but she did.  Even with this in mind letting her go was traumatic.  I had never thought myself to be a clingy parent.  I had subconsciously, for a long while, thought that I could have my life back again one day and thought I was looking forward to it.  But then it hit me.

I was facing life alone, my purpose for being was being taken away and I hadn’t got a clue who I was if I wasn’t to be a hands-on mum anymore.  What did I want from life for me?  I can remember crying to my daughter that ‘I wont have anyone to say goodnight to before I go to bed’.  A simple daily action symbolized so much.  ‘Don’t worry Mum’ she replied ‘I’ll phone you every night to say goodnight’.  Sweet as this gesture would have been that was not what either of us really needed but I was reassured by her thoughtfulness.

So there I found myself, all alone and facing life for me at last.  Perhaps I had used my role of mum as a shield and perhaps it meant that I had never had to look at myself as an individual or to consider my needs but the prospect of finding ‘myself’ seemed enormous.

Well I have to say it didn’t take very long to find my new wings.  I still felt pangs of guilt when I bought new things for myself but the new school shoes didn’t come first anymore.  I was earning reasonable money and for the first time since my teens I had disposable cash.  I had been living in a large four bedroom house when the family was at home but I didn’t need that space now.  I bought a little two bedroom house with a great little garden (still keeping enough space for my vegetables) and I loved it.  I didn’t make any mess so the housework was minimal.  When I went out I hadn’t got to get back for babysitters or because I didn’t know how the teenagers would use my house in my absence.  I bought new furniture and clothes because I could.  I felt guilty at first but that soon faded.  I had new clothes and a new me and I actually felt good.  Being able to go to bed at night when I felt like it was a luxury, I could take a drink to bed anytime I wanted and cuddle up with a book or the t.v. and not get interrupted or disturbed.  Oh, this was nice, peaceful and self-indulgent and I liked it. 

I now have 5 grandsons and a step-granddaughter to add to my wealth of love and their visits have enhanced my life and I long for their arrival although I am equally happy when they go and the toys and washing up is all put away and my tidy, sparkly order is restored and my peace returns.  I am still a mum but I am needed in a completely different way now and that difference has given me the space to find myself, my needs and my own personal happiness.  I was lucky enough to find new love in my life a few years ago and now find myself cleaning up for a big male member of the species. I do this because I love him and not because I needed to fill a gap in my life.  I actually feel grateful for that time alone – the ‘my time’.

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