For the past two decades, my husband and I have been working towards this year. It is the one where we have fully prepared our children to fly the nest and enter the big, wide world.
Now that we are here, I find it a surprising mix of emotions. Enormous pride that our children have become confident, young men, keen and capable to pursue careers, almost financially independent and able to forge lives for themselves without our umbilical cord. But painful too. I was not prepared for the feeling of profound loss, redundancy and vulnerability. Where did the years go? What now for me, for us?
For the past 20 years I have been needed. For everything from providing hot meals and clean clothes to guidance and comfort. Now there is no more rushing from school to clubs to matches to play dates. No one else to focus on but my husband and myself. So, once I get over the anxiety of walking past their bedrooms and the stark reality that no one is living in them, I need to work out how I am going to carve out the next chapter in my own life.
From the perspective of my marriage, it is almost back to square one. Essentially back to being a couple again and starting anew. Cooking for two, but actually on reflection, with a rather happy positive – no fussy eaters!
I can hardly remember a time when I put me first
But this is also a chance for me to think about myself for a change – I can hardly remember a time when I put me first. No more pulling on trackies and doing my make up in the car rear vision mirror half an eye at each set of traffic lights. Now can be me time. I might take up a course, learn a new skill, do a crazy physical challenge, finally get my legs waxed – the world can be my oyster.
But of course it is not just me who is going through all this. Men grieve in different ways to women and can often bottle up their feelings. This is the time for my husband and I to communicate more with one another, share our sadness, but also our excitement. We can find new and interesting things to do together as a couple and embrace our new freedom (and increased disposable income!).
For those of you who are experiencing the fledging of your first child, it can really change the whole family dynamic. The empty seat at the dinner table can be a painful symbol. We set up a family group chat which, in a small way, replaced the dinner table chat. It was also a way of gently keeping in touch with our eldest without being too overbearing, and the family banter has been great fun. A surprising by product of him going off to uni was the quality time we got with our youngest. At first I think he might have been a bit freaked out by the total parental focus, but in time he came to rather enjoy his time in the limelight. And for us, it was a time to get to know him better without the distraction of his elder brother.
But now, with both kids off and away, how should I behave and interact with them in this new life chapter? I’ve been told it’s best to let them lead which feels like good advice. Some like regular contact, some don’t. I know I am probably a bit of a needy mum (she blushes) so I need to fill my time, so my children don’t feel the gaping hole their departure has left on us. I was thinking of creating some family traditions which might help glue us together. Maybe making more of our birthdays, or an annual calendar date for us all to go on a weekend break, or quarterly Sunday lunches. It’s about understanding the new demands on their lives and finding creative ways to weave into them so they actually want to see us and spend time with us.
What I have come to realise is that just because they have left home doesn’t mean our role as parents ends, it just becomes different. So here’s to te next chapter. Bring it on!