“Mum!” “Yeah mate?” “My offer was accepted on the apartment!”
Those were the words that signalled the imminent and gentle flight of my oldest chick from the proverbial nest towards the end of 2022. The youngest chick had flown a couple of months earlier with little warning. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was a possibility at some point, but one afternoon he announced that he was going to be living in his father’s granny flat from here out, and I was happy for him! You see both lads had been shuttling between our place and their father’s place ever since we separated, spending alternate weeks with each. But I knew it had to have become onerous living out of suitcases for years as they went back and forth. The timing was a surprise, but I was so pleased he (and his older brother) would finally have privacy and their own spaces finally. It was all a little bittersweet.
Our kids are meant to leave the nest, aren’t they? Our entire role as parents is basically to work ourselves out of a job. We are to grow little starter humans into independent, functioning adult humans and send them out into the world if possible. So, finding yourself with an empty nest is conceivably a time for celebration that the job has been done and the main aim has been achieved. But in popular culture the parents are often portrayed as being somewhat traumatised when their grown children leave the nest; like their reason for being has evaporated. I didn’t feel I’d suffered any trauma at all, though I did feel a bit odd, as one does when there is change in the air.
I was conflicted. What is a normal reaction? Is there such a thing?
On one hand I was missing the lads, but on the other I was enjoying the more relaxed vibe of the home. Not because having them here was stressful, but there’s a level of responsibility to keep a schedule and have meals at normal times, and the somewhat weird felt-need to be “mature adults” around them. Mr Collier and I like to be silly and play loud music and eat dinner when we get hungry even if it’s midnight, or not at all if we are not, we like to invent words and have wandering conversations that veer from blues music to what might happen if cats did indeed rule the world. Now we suddenly had a lot more time to enjoy being together, which was a big change for our marriage. Mr Collier had never lived with young men before that were not his subordinates to order around, and since we were married, the kids had been with us, and that took some adjustment on his part. So suddenly we have a second honeymoon situation! Yay! And because our home is small, the newly vacated bedrooms have been rapidly repurposed into an office for us to work from, and a spare room for guests, and the extra storage space has been a boon! Then again, there were no more nightly goodnight hugs from my sons, or listening to make sure they got home safe, or cheeky pranks for that matter. Overall though we are getting used to cooking less food. Well, Mr Collier is anyway, he does most of the cooking!
There is a different kind of worry now, that seems to be settling down as the boys settle into their new independent lives. They are still my “babies” after all, and worrying is what mums do. Will they set their kitchens on fire? Will they poison themselves eating furry leftovers? Will they lock themselves out? What if they don’t have enough money for food? Will they remember to pay their bills on time? As it turns out, they had been watching me do things for years and picked some things up, and the things they didn’t yet have a clue about … well, this is how they learn the things they need to know. I have to say that I was thoroughly chuffed when the older son asked me to come around and help him build his bedframe. I got lost going there, because of course I did! It was the first time I had been to his new home, and I was so very proud of him that he had found the perfect place that suited him completely. We cracked out the tools and had a blast chatting and building and checking out his new digs.
Both sons are thriving in their own spaces now and we’ve even been invited around for a meal! Mind you, we still see them every couple of weeks or so. We have a tradition of Sunday night roast dinners, so they join us for that when they are free. There is no obligation for them to come, but they choose to when they are free. Probably because there is free food on offer, and sometimes even leftovers for them to take home, though I’d like to think they are coming to see us! (We accidentally-on-purpose make extra…of course!)
For me it feels like I am finally transitioning out of the liminal space between the first half of my life and the door is starting to creak open on the second half. It comes with a lightness and a buoyancy that wells up when you know there’s something fresh and new on the other side of the door after lurking in the hallway for so long. Mr Collier and I are now free to explore our interests more, to grow our relationship, and ourselves in new ways.
We can also welcome the wonderous pleasure that comes when your children become your friends. Because of this, the next thing for me to understand is that it is not good for me to grow dependent on my grown children, nor them relying on me. It’s not at all healthy for our relationship, and it’s not their job to make me happy. My self-worth should not come from them, nor in my role as a parent. This is how we can build healthy relationships with each other in this new world of interdependence.
It is time for me to breathe deeply, content that I have sent them into the world as healthy, functioning adults. I know there will be hiccups along the way, that’s just the way life works sometimes. We and our home will always be a safety net for my sons, and I trust that we will be able to call on them for support from time to time.
It is also time for me to make sure I am looking after myself so that I can be independent as long as possible and not need to rely on them too soon when I get older.
I am so excited for this next chapter of growth for all of us in our own situations. I have always loved adventures, big and small, and this is just the next in a long line.
Nest photo: Photo by Laura Okel on Unsplash
Baby hand photo: Photo by Bady Abbas on Unsplash