This has been such a difficult blog to write. I’ve always been better at putting my feelings in writing than trying to vocalise them but even so, this blog has been tough and a long time in the making. I’ve written this for therapeutic reasons and also, because I don’t think society really understands or accepts what is happening to me and, I am sure, lots of other mums (and dads) out there.
At the moment, I’m not on speaking terms with either Mother Nature or Father Time. In fact, I feel I’ve been well and truly screwed by both of them.
What seems to me like a relatively short time ago, my life was busy and full of my family. My hubby and three children were (and always will be) the centre of my world.
As I write this, my middle child is experiencing a very exciting event in her life. She is about to move into her first house with her boyfriend and is brimming over with happiness. My son (our eldest) is about to visit the States on another work visit, having landed himself a fantastic new job. He and his girlfriend had all the house excitement last year when they moved into their first home together. I am honestly so very proud of them both but, and here is the problem, how can I explain that the exact same events that are making me feel so happy and proud are also making me feel so sad and miserable?
Empty Nest Syndrome
It’s called ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ and it stinks. Big time stinks. Along with the approaching menopause (which doesn’t help) Mother Nature and Father Time have really done a number on me with this one. I went through what I can only describe as hell when our eldest left home a few years back. As time passed I began to feel better, but boy is it back with a vengeance now.
When you become pregnant, you get all sorts of advice on how to care for your baby. As a result, when your baby arrives you’re fairly well equipped to deal with everything that faces you as you start this wonderful phase in your life. Friends, family, midwives and health visitors are all there supporting you during this happy time. But what happens when this phase is over? When you’ve lived the past couple of decades caring for your children and now find yourself moving into new territory where this role just isn't needed like it was before? There’s no advice on how to deal with that.
And so, while my middle child is happily packing boxes, planning colour schemes and housewarming parties, I am trying to battle through a storm of emotions. She is a beautiful, kind young lady who is more than ready for her own space, but at the moment, all I see when I look at her is my three-year-old baby girl, climbing sleepily out of her bed at the crack of dawn each morning, stumbling across the landing to our room and climbing into bed with me for a cuddle before the day properly begins. I see the girl who loved Britney Spears and white chocolate, the girl I sat through Jonas Brothers and McFly concerts with, the girl who had a hamster called Baloo and a guinea pig called Sophie. The girl who always asked me for help with her English and Art homework (dad was maths), who loved it when I treated her to Battenberg and macaroni cheese (that still applies). The girl who would play-fight her brother to sit next to me on the sofa. The baby who spent the first week of her life in Special Care and the lifts had broken, so I had to walk in my nightie from the top floor of the maternity block to the basement ICU to feed her after having just spent nearly three days in labour. The toddler who, along with my own mum, I spent one Christmas Day in A&E with when she came down with a raging temperature, the girl who dropped a whole pot of paint on the floor in my new kitchen. I see the young girl who was determined to be a doctor until the age of 8 when she decided she hated the sight of blood; the talented musician, who amazed me with her ability to play any piece of music within a few hours of hearing it. The University student who asked me to proof read her wonderful dissertation which I did, despite not being able to understand half of it. Yes, whilst her head is rightly full of dreams for her future mine, at the moment, is full of memories of the past. They may be mainly happy memories, but at the moment they all make me sad. And I hate it.
As a mum, you have to be happy for them. You’re not supposed to let them know its breaking your heart to see them grow up and away from you. You have to put on a brave face, smile and help them carry their belongings into the place they will start calling ‘home’ whilst all the while a voice inside you keeps objecting that their home is at your house with you. When they’ve gone, you still refer to the room they slept in as ‘their room’. But it's not. You have to accept they have their own bedroom now, in their own house and what you have is just a spare bedroom.
I know I have no real reason to be sad. In fact, most reasonable people would demand to know what the hell it is I’ve got to be miserable about. Thank God, my children are healthy, wonderful human beings. They work hard, keep in touch with the family and the two eldest now have wonderful partners who I love like my own. We are a very close family.
Well - I hereby declare my right and the right of every other mother who may be going through this to be upset. No-one prepared me for this! I know there are other women out there who will understand.
About that ‘Mother/Child Bond’
From the very beginning you have a connection with your baby. You feel them grow inside you, every kick, every hiccup is a miracle. You have the difficult yet amazing experience of childbirth and then you and your partner are handed this tiny, totally dependent human and find yourselves responsible for ensuring he or she has a good life and becomes a good person. Life speeds up – but you remember everything – the first smile, the first taste of solid food, their first Christmas, the first crawl, the first words, the first steps, the first lost tooth, the first haircut, day at school, illness, holiday. It’s endless, all these memories fill up inside a mother’s head and they don’t go anywhere. I know I’m not the only mum who would lie down in front of a train to protect her child, that’s what Mother Nature intended, the mother/child bond is immense. But then, in all too short a time, the child reaches adulthood and is able to stretch their side of that bond and move on, and society expects mums to do the same. However (and this is where my argument with her lies) Mother Nature won’t let you. I know for certain that the connection on my side of the mother/child bond just isn’t as flexible as it is on my children’s side, at least not at the moment. How do I know for sure? Because I have a mum. A lovely lady who I love very much – but as her child I myself once moved on, and I clearly remember the excitement and joy of beginning my own independent adult life, and the ease with which I left my childhood behind. As they say, ‘what goes around comes around’.
So, what now?
I’m waving the white flag. I know I have to get past this. I have to accept that I must now find a way to permanently loosen the bonds of motherhood, that I am no longer always going to be the first point of contact for my eldest children when they need help making a decision, have wonderful news, are upset, hurt or angry. I must accept that my position as once (possibly) the most important person in their lives has changed. I have to accept these things; I’ve heard horror stories of ‘interfering Mothers-in-Law’ and pray to God I will never become one of those. I don’t want to be an embarrassment to my children, I want them to see me as a friend and someone they can be proud of, trust and come to if needed, knowing I will always do my best to help. What then can I do other than graciously step aside, bow in acceptance of Mother Nature and Father Time’s actions, push down the sadness I currently feel and just get on with life?
A long-standing friend of mine told me that we are adaptable creatures and that is true. I will adapt. It will be a long process but I know it will come.
I do still have my beautiful youngest daughter at home, and I am aware that she too will feel the sadness at her big sister moving out, so I also need to be brave for her. I can’t even begin to contemplate how I will feel in a few years when she leaves home, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
My long-suffering hubby looks forward to the time when we can spend some quality time together again, just the two of us. Bless him, I adore him and yes, the freedom of being ‘child free’ again and able to do what we want, when we want is appealing. However, at this point in my life, while that maternal bond is still so powerful and strong, I am finding this gradual transition into the next phase of life difficult.
And so, in a short time from now my ‘nest’ will be emptier. The house won’t be as noisy. On the plus side, I guess the bills will be less. I will try and be strong, because I don’t want tears to tarnish such a massive event in my eldest daughter’s life, but with the delights of pre-menopause symptoms exacerbating my emotions I’m not sure how successful I’ll be.
I am confident that at some point, this newly evolving phase of my life will bring much happiness again in the form of joyful family events and (dare I say it) eventually grandchildren.
I have a wonderful family with three amazing, caring children and I know I am truly blessed. However, I would like to state for the record that it is absolutely possible for a heart to be bursting with love, pride and happiness whilst simultaneously breaking due to a couple of very deep and painful cracks that you just know will never fully heal.
As for Mother Nature and Father Time? Nope…still not talking. Perhaps in a while.
It's been a long one - but thanks for reading.
copyright 2017 Lorraine Jardim @ Ellie J Photography