I think the most surprising thing about finding the nest is emptying is that I didn’t see it coming. You embark on your journey as a parent with the whole process and excitement of being pregnant. At the time the weeks seem to pass so slowly. By nature I am impatient and couldn’t wait to meet our babies. Then you are catapulted into a world of responsibility and care and things you have no understanding of. The learning curve is massive and there is no handbook. Each baby is different; different children different worries. You entwine your heart with theirs and are the person they look to when they are growing up and trying to make sense of the world. You are their world, their rock, their comfort and their moral compass. Then they start to branch out and at each stage it is different. The first time you leave them with a babysitter, first day at play school, first day at big school, first sleepover and so it goes on. But the worrying and the wanting them to be happy and safe is always the same.
Don’t underestimate how you will feel when they take their first long haul flight without you! You track it, and I would say other than when they were babies, some of my worst nights of sleep or lack of it, were when they were in the air, travelling away from me or on their way home.
Some people track their kids via their phones. I have to say I have never done this as I think I would have found that more stressful, but also think they need to be given their freedom. (There is no right or wrong in this, just my personal opinion). The problem is now that we can get hold of our kids so quickly through one device or another, when they don’t answer us immediately we panic. In our day you were lucky if parents were sent a postcard!
As we lived in London we opted to send our children to boarding school in the countryside. They didn’t go until they were 13 years old, but the wrench when they did was massive. I felt as though there was a big gaping hole at home, and my heart genuinely ached, so probably the warning signs of how I would eventually feel were there all along. But at the time there were still two at home and school holidays were long and seemed to come around quickly. By the time the third went to school, the eldest was on a gap year, so I had one back and we did a renovation project together on a house in London.
So as I write this I have one living in London, one living in Paris and the youngest at the beginning of his gap year. So in theory I have one in the nest, so to speak, which is lovely. He will of course travel in the new year, so I am definitely making the most of having him around, and of course we are off to Paris at the weekend to visit our daughter. We have just had a week in Portugal away from the madness of school holidays, made possible because we have no September rugby matches to watch. So I am learning to adapt.
The other thing that happened around the same time as the youngest went away was I hit 50 years of age and also the dreaded menopause kicked in. I know for some women they manage to sail through it and have no problems or effects at all. However not me. I was tearful all the time and didn’t sleep well. This added to feeling low about the kids growing up, wasn’t a pretty combination. I don’t think I can have been very easy to live with. I was determined to go down the natural remedies route but finally after two years of trying I gave in and slapped on the patches. It was the right thing for me and the best thing I ever did. Added to the fact that it is now no longer a taboo subject, talking and sharing with friends in similar situations has really helped.
What is it with the timing of the peri menopause/ menopause/ change whatever you want to call it? It so often starts to take place at a stage when our nest is emptying. We are left slightly blindsided that we have been made redundant from the role that we have had for many years. Possibly for some, the role that has defined them. It should not be underestimated, as it is a major life experience for a woman. The huge hormonal change that you experience can affect your personality and can challenge the strongest of marriages and even relationships with our children.
So to any of you out there struggling with an empty or emptying nest, you are not alone, and the feeling is I am afraid completely normal. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a form of grief. It will affect each of you in a different way and for some people the thought of it can be worse than the reality. For some it is a joy to gain the space, tidiness and extra time to do things that have been on their wish list for a long time. For others it may be the opportunity to start that business idea that you have been thinking about, or to go back and study. It may just be that you are ready for a bit of ‘you time’, time to get fit, do you hair and nails regularly. Whatever it is, make a list and do things one step at a time.
I set up my online homeware shop Mushroom London around the time I sensed I was going to become a little bit redundant as a Mama. I know the role will always be there, but it changes and gives us an opportunity to branch out too. It was the kids who persuaded me to set up an Instagram account and with their help I did. It has genuinely given me so much pleasure and I have met Instagram friends virtually and in person, and they are some of the kindest people. I started by posting pictures of my products and the account was very interiors related.
It took me a while to realise that when I posted a photo of the gorgeous Minty dog or in fact one of myself, I got more likes and engagement. So over time the account evolved and now I find myself being sent clothing and being asked to post to my followers. In my wildest dreams I never believed I would be doing this. I am grateful for it and the purpose it gives me, and for being given the opportunity to encourage and inspire others. If I can encourage just one person feeling at sea to perhaps join a gym or follow a dream, then I will be very happy.
Mr Foz and my fab three will always be my raison d’etre, and come first but now it is time for me. I think somewhere along the way I forgot that I was a person too. You can lose your identity when you become a Mum but I have got my mojo back. I have even started a hashtag (get me!) #emptynestmojo. Join in and use it if you post, and the activity is related to your life as the nest empties. Let’s get an empty nest community going that can support and entertain each other.
In time you learn to make occasions happen so that you can all be together as a family. We hunt well as our pack of five and enjoy each other’s company, so we facilitate opportunities for us all to be together. This year was a week in Corfu and it was heavenly. We see as much of our children as we can, getting together with our eldest when we are in London. But all the time you have to remember and bear in mind that this is how it is meant to be. We are supposed to give them confidence to be independent and wings to fly. We will always be their parents and we will always worry, but we have to learn to let go. The best analogy I can think of is that the elastic is there and just gets stretched further as they get older. The old fashioned phrase of ‘cutting the apron strings’ springs to mind.
Being in Portugal last week, outside the school holidays, we inevitably saw so many young parents with babies or pre-school children. We both stopped and reminisced about the fact that was us all those years ago, and how did they grow up so fast? In fact was it fast, or does time feel quicker when you look back than when you are living it? The first few years of your child’s life are so physical as a parent, carrying, bathing, and lifting. Then they start to run around and you are chasing after them, and then they are mentally challenging you. Finally they begin to question some of the ways you do things as they start to branch out and develop their own routines and habits.
The other thing was a conversation I had with a friend who is a father of three. He said how sad he is feeling about the fact that his eldest is in his last year of school. So it can affect males and females. I just know that for me the mix of the kids growing up and the menopause was a dreadful cocktail indeed. But my last word is that being a Mama is hands down the best job I have ever done. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to experience it, and thankful for my fab three.