Life’s Little Things

Coping with an empty nest

Our family have survived our last 'first day of school' while at the other end of the spectrum some families are teaching teenagers how to fit duvets into covers, how to change a fuse and what exactly goes into a pasta bake.

The first term of college is fast approaching. Perhaps this explains the recent upsurge in the number of television adverts focusing on children leaving home. Parents joyfully celebrating as they close the door behind their departing child, crying parents waving teary-eyed as their offspring load tiny cars with everything they possess and pull off down the driveway.

Whether it is parents bestowing new cars on delighted children or conspiring to make the living arrangements as unpleasant as possible to give a reluctant child a helpful push towards independence I have unbounded sympathy for parents who find themselves housing adult children.

Until recently my auntís three adult children lived at home, I donít know how she didnít go insane colliding with so many adults in hallways, arguing over hot water and doing laundry eight hours a day. Another friendís 25-year-old son returned home as the cost of funding university digs became untenable and she found herself taxiing and cooking and worrying all over again.

There are some cultures in the world where multi-generational families living together are the norm and leaving home only arises when children emigrate or marry, whereas for others children leaving home for college, work or adventure are major milestones in family life.

When the planning and excitement wears off it can herald a time of huge loss for parents. I try to remember this when my children are driving me bonkers and I am longing for some peace and quiet at home. 

A Canadian friend once told me when he was young a favourite pastime of his was to jump from his kitchen through the back door and onto the back porch of his house, over and over again, back and forth over the threshold with the screen door squealing in protest each time. One particularly sunny day after some considerable time playing this delightful game, his father, losing patience barked from behind his newspaper "IN OR OUT?" His son paused for a split second, catapulted himself out through the door and vaulted over the patio furniture yelling "OUT!"

I like to think of this when I think of children launching themselves into the world. A process not quite as gentle as launching a small boat onto a lake but more a violent and tumultuous smashing of glass on the hull of a lumbering vessel and a teeth-numbing, grinding of metal on metal and an inexorable skidding down the slipway towards the waiting high tide.

Perhaps it is more like baby turtles flapping their tiny flippers as they giddily flip-flop their way to the waiting ocean, blithely naive as it gobbles them whole. Some will make it back to these shores but with a reasonable 75 years gap, as nature intended.

I am told by those whose children have left home that I will never be happy to see my children fly the nest and I am reassured that for now when I close my door at night, my children are all tucked up in bed upstairs. It may be hopelessly naive but I am looking forward to whatever the teenage and early adult years will bring but I am supremely confident that when the time comes I will be happy to give them a gentle push down the slipway and will wave teary-eyed but resolute as they launch themselves into their lives. Only eight more years to go.