Empty nest syndrome - coping when children leave home

Judith Holder

Dealing with the emotional - and practical - sides of empty nest syndrome

The thing about being a mother is that on paper it's the worst job in the world, because children - let's face it - ruin your pelvic floor, run you ragged for 18 years and then bog off to university as cool as you like.

Suddenly at 50 you're made redundant, your nest is empty, the bedrooms are spookily tidy and you have more time on your hands than you can handle.

All those years of selfless slavery (anyone who has taken a child, for instance, to Tumble Tots will know what I mean) and in a jiffy they are off - living their own lives with their own coffee mugs and duvet covers and in their own student flats.

History repeats itself

History has a habit of repeating itself, recently our eldest went off to university, car loaded with saucepans, desk lamps and hair straighteners and I sobbed my heart out all the way home.

Spookily, my daughter was as oblivious to my sadness as I was to my own mother's on the day I left home. I remember my own mother standing on the doorstep waving goodbye when I went off to university, sobbing her heart out, and me thinking 'what's it with her? Pull yourself together woman' - I couldn't begin to understand why she was so upset, and now of course I SO know why she was upset. It's as if we don't truly appreciate our mothers until we start to turn into them.

I do things now that I swore I would never do because I saw my mother doing them - she would hoover on a Saturday morning and I would come downstairs and look at her pityingly, thinking 'doesn't she have anything more interesting to do than that, how sad is she?'

Now guess what? I have bought myself a little carpet cleaner, a push-along hoover thing and there I am on a Saturday morning, pottering about downstairs before anyone else is awake, getting "straight" as my mother would say, getting "in front" and getting everything ship shape.

I have even - I am prepared to admit here, among friends - got my little carpet hoover thing out on Christmas morning. Just like she used to. I am her. I am her twin.

And now I appreciate her so much more than I ever did - I realise that she was usually right when she said I needed to put a coat on, she was right when she said my patent red platform shoes made me look common, and she was right when she told me there is nothing quite like motherly love.

God doesn't make it easy - a teenage daughter going through the hormonal hell of puberty and a mother going through hormonal hell at the other end - both living under one roof - no wonder door slamming and hand-on-hip slanging matches ensue.

The benefits of an empty nest

There are good things about the empty nest - you don't have to set an example any more, you can run round the landing naked, should the mood take you, you are free, free as a bird, to do all sorts of exciting things - like make tray bakes for the bring-and-buy sale, run the WI charity shop or join the National Trust. You can buy a bird table, open all the windows you like and gush on about how marvellous it is to feel the fresh air, and tell everyone you meet that you've just seen your first daffodil this spring. Just like your own mother did.

Judith Holder is the author of The Secret Diary of A Grumpy Old Woman and Mum in a Million.

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