Dear Aunty Em
Is ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’ real? What does one do after they have spent the past 20 years of their life living for their children? At only 38, I find myself with no children at home anymore (which my husband loves, and I hate), I have bought another dog, taken up extra study, joined a gym and started a new fitness regime … but nothing can fill the void of my beautiful children … telling jokes, smiling, hugging me, and just needing me … so I ask, what am I suppose to do with the rest of my life?
– Big Bird
Dear Big Bird,
Wow, I cannot relate to this. My mum kicked me and my sister out.
On the flipside, whenever my partner’s kids go home, we promptly drink wine and have sex on the couch.
But let’s talk about you.
What I am hearing is a loss of the chaos, unpredictability and ‘neededness’ of having children around. They needed you and as infuriating, exhausting and thankless as that may have been, it’s also engrossing. There’s so much drama involved in children, whether it’s unjust teachers, bullying friends, break-ups or the sheer logistics of getting them to softball/Big W/a party and then back to school on Monday in a clean uniform, raising kids is an all-encompassing task.
In the same way that you can stretch elastic only so far until it won’t snap back when you remove the strain, having your kids leave has turned you into a slack-waisted pair of tracksuit pants. You’re never going to be the same. You expanded yourself to fit their lives in and, now they have left, you’re falling down.
There are three things you can do.
The first is what you’re doing now; fill those pants with something else. What I think you’re finding is that nothing is quite the same shape and size. The pants still don’t fit.
The second thing you can do is *punch holes in your kids’ condoms because there’s nothing like combating the exit of your children with the arrival of grandchildren. *No legal liability will be taken for the provision of this advice.
The third thing you can do is sit back and think about what kind of pants you would like to be wearing, versus the kind of pants you’re used to. There is a huge opportunity to spring clean your wardrobe here. Being a mother comes with many joys but also a lot of constraints because kids (and mothers) have a fixed idea about what mothers are, do, look like, and so forth.
Because you are so young, there’s a chance that you didn’t get to do certain things because you had kids at quite a young age.
Is there anything you wished you’d done? Is there anything you feel like you missed out on? Now is a perfect time to do those things, if only to rule them out.
Furthermore, you are still a mother. Nothing will ever change that. Have you considered becoming a foster mother or providing support to kids through community groups or schools? Maybe you could coach a sporting team or teach reading to kids who weren’t lucky enough to have a kick ass mum like you?
You will feel the loss which is normal and human. But like stretch marks – the kind you got from having your kids – you will heal and change shape and grow in new directions which is normal and human too.