The empty nest issue is possibly one of the most emotive subjects there has ever been when it comes to being a mother.
At 60, I still have a little knot of pain that lives in the deepest part of my soul behind a door I try to keep tightly shut.
Does every mother with an empty nest have this knot of pain?
My comical, lovely little boys who were such brilliant company before the empty nest struck.
I have no idea because when I talk to my many empty-nester friends, I laugh along with them and make jokes about the fantastic freedom we have. And it is fantastic – make no mistake about that.
So what is this knot of empty nest pain all about?
And why did mine burst through that door this morning and make me cry when my empty nest has been empty now for almost as long as it was full?
It was all down to a woman I have never met but she crept up on me and clobbered me with some words that made me swallow hard.
Something was rattling that door in my soul as I read what she had to say about the end of the school holidays.
As a blogger, one of the most important things I do is read other people’s work.
It isn’t easy keeping up with reading and commenting when you have a busy life of your own.
So I set aside a couple of mornings a week when I don’t get up at the crack of dawn to start work on my own stuff, I stay in bed with my iPad and go through the hundreds of emails to catch up on other bloggers’ articles.
Today, I read one called ‘I Don’t Want Them To Go Back To School’ by Darla Halyk, who can see an empty nest on the horizon.
It sounded innocent enough – nothing likely to cause a major melt-down before my feet had even touched the floor of my empty nest.
But before I was finished reading, the words were swimming before me as the abandoned mummy living behind that tightly closed door began to cry.
How did she escape to wreak the emotional havoc that the 60 year old me spends a huge amount of energy on suppressing?
Well Darla is a very switched on mum who knows what is coming.
She is making sure she mines every last drop of childhood gold from those precious years she knows can never be lived again.
She has the foresight that I did not have, the lack of which makes me live in a state of permanent regret, longing to go back and enjoy my little boys more while worrying less.
But I haven’t been able to allow myself to go there long enough to figure it all out for fear of losing my mind to grief.
When the painful thoughts leak through – I banish them back to their place behind that door and close it a little tighter.
Yes, I am very lucky to have two fine young men as sons, now aged 33 and 36.
Some mothers don’t get to see their children mature – I know that and of course, I feel guilty for having grief when I should be happy and thankful and grateful etc etc etc.
And I am all those things. I am grateful for the three beautiful grandsons I now have and life is wonderful. I don’t grieve for my adult sons – of course I don’t.
So what is it I secretly grieve for in my empty nest?
I have never really known what it is, until this morning, when Darla’s words prised open the door that part of me hides behind, and showed me exactly what it is I grieve for.
It’s for all the time I thought I had. It’s for the time I did not use wisely.
The important decisions I made too quickly. The issues I did not consider deeply enough.
It’s for all the school holidays when my sons had to go to holiday clubs because I was busy chasing money to pay the mortgage.
It’s for all the weekends when I had to cover news and social events that are now long forgotten.
The many weekends when I had no choice but to drag my unwilling sons along to places they didn’t want to go because I had to get pictures of the grand winner at some stupid flower show no one remembers.
It’s for my failure to be fully present in making an effort to understand my sons’ complicated feelings when their estranged dad passed away in the worst circumstances.
My own guilt should not have overwhelmed me – I was the grown-up.
There surely must have been a more balanced way to live that would have placed me centre stage in their lives instead of somewhere on the edge feeling tired and stressed from working.
When they were born, I was so glad I’d had boys because the prospect of teenage girls scared me.
I was confident being a mum of babies and toddlers and even growing boys up to about the age of 10 – then it started getting complicated.
It was then I realised that all teenagers are challenging regardless of gender.
How was I to know what boys need? How was I to know that when they kick against us and seem as if they don’t need mum any more, that is when they need us the most?
I had no idea that just being there is all that they need. Just being a rock for them really matters, regardless of what they say and do.
They still need us close by, right through the teen years even if they seem as if they don’t.
I grieve for the things I did not know and they ways I probably let them down.
I wish I had been at home more and done less working and socialising in their teen years.
I wish I’d had Darla’s insight.
That is what made me cry.
Her ability to see the empty nest looming on the horizon made me realise how blind I had been when I should have had my eyes wide open.
Darla’s children are very lucky to have such a switched on mum who gets life.
If you have young children, read her post and be like her. Just do it.
You can find the post by clicking here.
The years truly do fly past and suddenly, one day you will wake up to find an empty nest.
If you don’t see it coming, it really smarts.
In the past, it didn’t matter so much because adult children often stayed in their hometown.
But if they are like my sons who went away for uni and work and never came back to live, you may find the distance between you is too great to see each other every week or even every month.
When I do see my sons I feel proud of what they have both achieved. They are both successful in their fields and have gone after what they want in life with confidence.
So is it time to face the regrets and miseries that are still churning under the calm surface of my life and let them go?
Who knows? Some people might even say that in working so hard to pay my way in life, I gave them a good work ethic and made them independant.
Now that the tightly closed door in my soul has been opened by another writer on the brink of an empty nest, it needs to stay open.
I need to spend some time thinking of all the good things I did for my sons and understand that no mother is perfect.
And my goodness, if I feel like this despite having been a ‘stay at home mum’ until my sons went to school, what on earth are the mums of today going to feel like after putting their babies into daycare before they can even talk?
Thank you Darla Halyk – your writing made me face up to something today.
I wish you all the joy in the world as you pave your way towards an empty nest with the abundant, happy memories of a mum who was there for her children.
Am I alone in having these thoughts? Please share your long-term empty nest feelings with me in the comments below.