Written by Sarah Ledger

Lifestyle

Will I cease to exist if they no longer need me?

Sarah Ledger’s birds have fled the nest. Or have they?

empty nestThe kids have gone. The jumble of enormous shoes by the back door has disappeared; the tweezers, corkscrew and remote controls no longer mysteriously vanish and then turn up in someone else’s room; nobody rings at 5am to say Holly’s been sick in the taxi, could you come and pick us all up – oh and the taxi driver says he’ll need cash to clear up the vomit, so can you bring 50 quid too? In short, it’s the day you dreamed of. Why then, are you so sad?

My younger child left home last month; her brother left in 2012: here’s my advice for surviving Empty Nest Syndrome.

They are grown up

When my son left home, I dropped him off in university accommodation that looked like a prison cell inhabited by rehabilitated murderers. I admit it: I cried. However it only took a series of cheery texts asking for a recipe for leek and potato soup and the realisation that, to other mothers, my burly, tattooed, bearded lad probably looked like a murderer too, for me to understand he’s now a competent adult. The clue is in the beard. I might have wiped his arse when he was a baby, but that was 20 years ago. He can wipe his own arse now.

They’ll be back

Despite paying three grand a term, a university year is to a real year what a foot is to a metre: much shorter. Barely two spin cycles of the washing machine after you sobbed all the way home from whichever seat of academia they’re attending, they’ll be back – for weeks.

“Remember what it was like when your mum rang you in the middle of whatever forbidden thing you were doing to ask if you’ve sent a thank-you letter to Auntie Maureen?”

By the time they return, you’ll be used to an alternative equilibrium, so there will be a certain culture shock for both of you. Ensure ground rules are established and that you are now in the role of a kind of senior flatmate.

With luck, your returning offspring will have experienced the frustration of tidying a kitchen only to have it trashed at 2am by all his mates coming home, making a massive chilli, using every utensil in the flat and then fucking off out without washing up. Gently sympathise with these horrid incidents and suggest you too know how that feels and, as those words hang in the air, hand your adult child a tea towel with a meaningful glance towards the sink.

Keep in touch – but keep your distance

There are plenty of ways to keep in touch these days. Kids no longer have to queue outside the pay phone to ring home. But, again, ground rules are a good idea. Remember what it was like when your mum rang you in the middle of whatever forbidden thing you were doing to ask if you’ve sent a thank-you letter to Auntie Maureen? You didn’t want to take that call, did you? And as she launched into a full-blown rundown of your dad’s sciatica and her views on the new shopping centre, you had to find a polite way to say goodbye without slurring your words or the naked person next to you piping up.

Likewise, your kids won’t always want to speak. This doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you and/or are too miserable to conduct a conversation. It’s more likely they’re having too much fun to conduct a conversation. I’ve found you’ll hear all about it if they’re miserable. If you’re permitted to friend or follow them on social media, I’ve discovered that ‘liking’ every post or commenting, “Oh my God – you look like you’re DRUNK” is the swiftest route to being blocked.

Enjoy yourself

Being a parent is draining. Take yourself back to the days when you longed for a moment to yourself. When the idea of being allowed to sleep without a tiny pair of feet jammed into the small of your back, or being able to pee without a little person peering interestedly into the toilet bowl saying, “Mummy, your wee wee is really FOAMY” seemed like an unimaginable luxury. Well, that luxury is here.

“With luck, your returning offspring will have experienced the frustration of tidying a kitchen only to have it trashed at 2am by all his mates coming home, making a massive chilli, using every utensil in the flat and then fucking off out without washing up.”

You’re not shallow for enjoying orderly peace and quiet. You’ve done your bit: you’re free – make the most of it. Cook the food they shunned that you love. Serving a casserole without anyone poking through it accusingly and demanding, “Are there MUSHROOMS in this?” is delightful.

If you’re on your own, accept invitations to social events and leave early if they’re frightful. If you’re with a partner, the cloak of parental invisibility will be lifted and, although it’s possible what lies beneath has turned into your rather irritating father-in-law, remember you may have taken on the less lovable qualities of your own dear mama. Still, crack on and do the things you simply could not do before.

My biggest worry is: will I cease to exist if they no longer need me? After years of being the person on whom they were dependent, being surplus to requirements is terrifying.

What I’ve discovered is that this is just a stage. The moment they leave is not clearly defined. They aren’t birds. They don’t fledge and fly away: instead they take two steps forward and the occasional step back. Meanwhile, this will still be their home and I will still be their mother. Just a different mother from the one that I was.

@sezl

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Written by Sarah Ledger

Champion soup maker; of a surprisingly nervous disposition. @sezl & sezl.wordpress.com