I recently read an article in The Daily Mail, written by Maddy Paxman, that summed up her feelings about the empty nest. Her experience is a bit different from mine, but I thought I would share it because others may feel as she does. Below is a portion of her piece, please click on the link to read the full article:
Empty nest? More like an empty heart. Forget the cliches – here a mother describes the sheer, raw agony of knowing her son’s about to leave home
Last week, my son and I were waiting to cross a busy road. Instinctively, I put out my arm to stop him darting into traffic. ‘Mum!’ he hissed angrily, side-stepping away from me. He is 18, bearded and almost 6ft tall, and has been crossing the road by himself for many years. But I’ll probably still be doing the same thing when he’s 40. Once a mother, always a mother, it seems to me. You never stop feeling it’s your responsibility to keep your child safe and happy. And it’s largely a one-way deal – you will always love your child more than they love you and think about them more than they think of you… and that’s the way it should be. As someone once said: men love women, women love children and children love hamsters.
We all know that our children’s job is to grow up and leave, and our job is to let them. We know it from the moment they are born, but it doesn’t make it any easier when the time comes.Mothering is a long process of letting go, gradually paying out the thread between your heart and your child’s until it is gossamer thin. But I don’t believe it ever breaks completely.
At this time of year, many teenagers have left school and are on the brink of going to college, or travelling somewhere on a gap year. They are launching out into the world for the first time, taking with them all the love and advice we have filled them with over the years, but, worryingly, none of our wisdom or experience.Like me, many parents are preparing, with trepidation, for the ‘empty nest’, when all their children have flown. We have just one last summer to spend with our children. But it turns out that they don’t see it that way. I remember when the summer holidays were a long stretch of time that I had to fill with fun activities. Now, what with travelling, music festivals, courses, summer jobs, hanging out with friends, I’ll be lucky if I see much of my son at all this summer. Perhaps this period of coming and going is a trial run for the real thing. They flit in and out, giving us a taste of them not being around, appearing to survive perfectly well without us, before the final definitive flight in the autumn.
I managed to persuade my son to go on one last ‘family’ holiday with me, staying with a friend in Sweden in her cottage near the sea last month. It was an unexpected success, given his reluctance to come. Thanks to wi-fi, he was in constant contact with his girlfriend, who was Interrailing in Europe. And, as we sat on the porch drinking wine together the first evening, I had a glimpse of a more sophisticated mother-son relationship, one between two adults. But, while this does give me hope, my overwhelming feeling at his growing up and moving away from me is sadness.
I don’t much like the term ‘empty nest’. It conjures up a picture of a silly mother bird flapping around and squawking, with a worm dangling out of her beak and no chicks to feed it to. It’s too glib, and seems to become a subject of humour, mainly at the expense of women. Because moving on from motherhood is no laughing matter.Especially if this is your last – or, as in my case, only child – the transition brings with it a huge sense of loss and grief, largely unacknowledged in our society.
We celebrate birth with flowers and presents, but the ending of hands-on motherhood is borne mostly in silent distress. The feelings of emptiness and loss are there even before children physically leave, because throughout their teenage years they are relentlessly moving on from us emotionally, focusing outward into the world and away from the ties and security of family. Our role as parents is to fade graciously into the background, which can feel painful and difficult.
By Maddy Paxman