Empty Nest Syndrome
Out out Empty Nest Syndrome and IN with a holiday to Bali.

When the kids fly the nest, what do you plan to do?

Go on holiday without having to please everyone, sleep in late, chuck out all the iron-on name tags, never pack a lunch ever again, find time to spend in the garden, and indulge in some exotic Thai cooking (with extra chillis of course)? Maybe concentrate on writing?

Yes, these were just some of the things that I had planned when my second ‘baby’ flew away from the nest and went off to university.

Empty Nest Syndrome strikes

But the very moment I was left on my own, I cried. It felt as if I was looking into a big black hole where nothing had any real form or excitement, and certainly there were no feel-good Mummy factors.

In short, the overall anticipation I had was of walking through my day to day routine feeling as if I was minus a limb.

Are you looking forward to welcoming in an exciting new phase of your life when your children leave home or are you looking at the change with about as much welcome as a root canal treatment?

Murphy’s Law of Child Rearing

Murphy’s law of parenting states that just as our kids become decent, interesting, thoughtful human beings, then the time comes for them to fly from the nest. We look back on the endless cycles of nappies, tears, tantrums, sleepless nights, school runs, mealtimes and homework and wonder where it all went, and personally I wonder if I was paying enough attention, because the years fled by so fast.

And as much as I loved my brood with a passion I sometimes feel a small guilty twinge because if I’m honest a small part of me was always planning little escapes from my maternal duties, if only for a few minutes. I cringe when I think back to that now, because those days seem to me like precious gems.

Then the first of my babies left home and I was bereft. He actually didn’t need me anymore for anything more than the occasional injection of cash (if he was lucky).

Like a thief, Empty Nest Syndrome creeps up on you.

Hey Ho. Life marches on. Because not long after, the day came when my babiest baby set off for university, and the house was empty except for me and He Himself and I felt completely at a loss, wandering around the house looking for reminders of her, and pulling the discarded clothes hanging in her cupboard close to my nose just to remember her sweet smell.

Did I ever look searchingly down the telescope and envisage this day would come? Was there ever a game plan at the ready for D-Day, the big black day of looming Departure? Did I relish the thought of more time to myself, or perhaps a new job?

Not in the least. I hardly saw it coming until the final year of her being at home, when suddenly I realized that there would be no more: “This time next year we’ll get school books organised earlier,” No more: “Well, you can do dancing as an extra mural next year.” Suddenly there was a big empty void where my maternal organising and planning duties once resided.

Trying to be Helpful

Gazing into the void translated into a veritable virus of Wanting To Be Helpful. After all my subconscious reasoned, if I held the helpful card and proved that I was always needed then surely she wouldn’t go?

Questions which would previously have fitted into the Do not Spoil The Child section of parenting suddenly gushed forth from my lips and I became über helpful.

I would ask, yes actually ask, if she wanted picking up from parties, and no it didn’t matter if it was after 12 pm. What would she like for dinner I wondered as I planned our meals. Would she like to come on a shopping jaunt with me, did she need anything else for school and what magazine would she like if I popped one into the trolley at the supermarket.

Suddenly the Wicked Witch of the North and the Brash Fish Wife of the South had become all syrupy solicitation in a metamorphosis that even she was hardly prepared to accept.

Expat friends were seriously deluded … or so I thought

Twenty years ago, when we were living as expats in Butha Buthe remotely tucked away in the mountains of Lesotho in Africa, a friend of mine would tell me how she would make her daughter a cooked breakfast in bed just so that she could sit on the bed and spend time with her before she went back to university in England.

I thought what a silly delusional old bat she was because I for one, at the time up to my ears in terry towelling nappies and semi delusional from lack of sleep, could think if nothing more silly than trying to hang onto moments of their childhood when you’d done the hard yards, brought them up successfully and sent them on their way to independence as you should.

Another friend said how much she missed family holidays. This came at a time when, for me, I was in the midst of barely successful family holidays when one or all of us would fall out over something trivial, and so right then a holiday without family dynamics, tears or tantrums seemed like just the ticket to me.

Tables have turned. Out out Empty Nest Syndrome!

How the tables have turned.

Nowadays although it’s lovely indeed for He Himself and Me Myself to play the Darby and Joan role, a little set in our ways as we’ve become, doing what we love best with no other personalities or clashes of consideration to worry about, I’m also finding it lonesome. And (cough) I wish the children were with us to share the memories we are now creating without them, the ones that they’ll not relate to when we pull out the photo albums in the future.

So much so, that this year, we are splurging and all going on holiday together to Bali.

I haven’t told anyone, but secretly I am so happy.  I hope this will be one family holiday that we will remember for a very long time.

I really hope that everyone is well behaved, finishes the food on their plates and doesn’t whinge too much on the plane flight. I really hope that they don’t argue about what they all want to do.

Silly woman! What am I thinking. They are independent adults and I must remember that I let out the clutch for the car to helter shelter full speed in its own direction quite a few years ago now.

The best I can hope for is that as consenting adults, we don’t fall out and that I manage to hold onto the Helpful Card as the car pelts along in its own evolutional direction at full speed.

All I can do is hold on and enjoy the ride.

Can’t wait!

This post first appeared as a slightly revised edition on Mama Mia but I’d love to hear ZigaZagers comments here on ZigaZag. Are you an empty nester? How do you feel? Or are you younger – have you just left home to spread your wings – how was it for you actually leaving your folks and how did they react?

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  1. I can relate to everything in this post, it gets better right? A fair bit of adjustment after the first left, two whole weeks ago now. We had a nice talk on the phone and will be seeing her and that boy that stole her heart later in the week. Now the other one’s work is going to be forcing her group to be fly in and fly out, 8 days on 6 days of, go figure. Someones got it in for me haven’t they. xxx

  2. Ahh Rae, I feel for you 🙂 And yes, it does get better. In time you find your own space and routine, and although you look forward to their returns on high days or holidays you know by then that life has moved on, and if they are enjoying their lives and their new found freedoms, and they are healthy, then that’s all that really counts.

  3. It’s so funny the way the years of child rearing feel as though they’re going on forever… (in the nicest possible way!). And while you’re plodding away with the never-ending workload you can’t imagine there could ever be a life after they finally leave home –

    Yet when you look at it numerically, if you have children at 25 and they leave home 20 years later when you’re 45 you’ve got (potentially) another whole life of 45 years ahead of you as just you!

  4. Ha Ha, that’s so true Linda! And hopefully our generation will be the all singing, all dancing 90 year olds who’ve had a fantastic rollercoaster ride during the 45 previous years!

  5. Hi Jo ,
    That’s a very thought provoking post.Something that most parents are faced with.Very soon.Because time is a jet plane and kids grow up in the blink of an eye.
    My daughter is only 10 now ,but i am amazed at how a decade has flown past.In a jiffy .
    Another decade,or less,and i would be re reading your post with doubled conviction.
    Well we humans tend to cling on to our offspring lifelong,unlike the rest of the animal kingdom.
    The ancient Hindus (more than 5000 years ago) had a novel discipline in place to handle the inevitable meandering changes of human life:-
    1.Baal Ashram (Infancy)
    2.Bhramacharya (student life)
    3.Grhast Ashram(married worldly life)
    4.Vanprasth & Sanyas Asharm(older years for prayer,contemplation, meditation & self realisation)
    So during the fourth stage(Vanprasth & Sanyas Asharm) the goledn years of life were dedicated to the most interesting task of life ;self realisation.That was the goal of human life,instead on incessant gazing back upon the glory of the past.For this ,older folks retired to the forests and ashrams to meditate and pray,and meet the Higher Self within each human being.
    Take care

  6. … or you could always try my solution… just as my two older children were on the threshold of moving out, number three surprised us with his appearance! Mind you, he is growing up way too fast and will also be ‘all growed up’ in just a few short years. Still, I’m lucky that my big son lives near by and lets me play with his little girl… plus I’d like to be like my Mum, such a central part of everyone’s lives (in a good and positive way) that nobody wants to go too far for too long…

  7. You sound as if you’ve got it sussed, Cate! I’m glad that you have one of your brood close-by, and yes, your Mum’s strategy is definitely a keeper 🙂 Thanks for commenting 🙂

  8. Mona, that is so interesting and what a revelation … if only Western society had a similar structure. I keep re-reading your comment and nodding my head in agreement. So wise. And how much more contented we would all be. Thanks for taking the time to share this with ZigaZag readers.

  9. I know this is an old article, but I am getting ready to go thru it and having a hard time of it. Please tell me it gets better. We get stronger.

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