His ‘care package’ contains a Bluetooth speaker, Green & Black’s dark chocolate and two small, plastic tubs of Ras El Hanout, a spice mix from North Africa. “Honestly, Ras El Hanout?” I text him. “Are you serious?” My eldest son has moved to NYC and this is what he wants.
I am now an empty nester. It’s a moment every parent knows is coming, some with trepidation and others with excitement. I was definitely in the latter camp for most of my years as a parent. It was a running joke in our house that while other parents we knew seemed more than happy to have their offspring at home until they had reached middle-age, I couldn’t wait for mine to leave. ‘My room is a bit small,’ my youngest, then nineteen, said when I moved into a new flat three years ago. ‘That’s because it’s not your room,’ I told him. ‘It’s a guest room where you can come and stay from time to time.’ After twenty-two years of being a parent, I thought I was ready to be alone, free of parenting responsibilities and for the chance to do exactly what I wanted 100% of the time. Then I hired my eldest son to work for me. Two years later he was still living at home and my attitude changed.
In the process, we’d become best friends, a fact commonly acknowledged by his mates. We spent more time together building a business than I’d spent with anyone else in my life, partners and parents included. We worked together, ate together and sometimes even bunked off work at 6pm to go to the movies at our local cinema. I’d watched him go from being a spoilt kid with the usual millennial entitlement issues to a confident and responsible man, emotionally mature and self-assured. When he left home I spent the first few weeks bereft, feeling the loss of his presence. His younger brother having made it quite clear to me that he had no intention of moving back home, I was well and truly alone.
Nothing can prepare you for being an ‘empty nester,’ specially if you happen to be a single parent. You can think about it, prepare for it, wonder what it’s going to be like to suddenly be free but until it happens, you don’t know how you’re going to deal with it.
Many books have been written about becoming a parent but virtually nothing can be found in the bookstores about what happens when, suddenly, you are on your own. Parenting never really ends but it changes. Just because you’re no longer buying their clothes or worried about whether they’re going to pass an exam or find friends at their new school, doesn’t mean you’re no longer a parent. It’s just, well, different. Instead of knowing the day to day of your child’s life because their life is entwined with your own, there is now a physical distance between you.
While before you may have caught up with the day’s events over supper, you now find yourself on Skype being shown their new flat or discussing their new job on Whatsapp. Thank heavens for modern technology for helping to bridge the gap.
I have friends my own age with teenagers now moaning about their difficult behavior. I have others whose kids moved out years ago and have been empty nesters for a while. At each stage of parenting there are challenges and adjustments to be made. The meals I used to make every night for my son and myself now last me two days. I just don’t seem to be able to cook for one. I can’t find or remember the music that he chose every day while we were working together. Having always had someone around, I’m now getting used to ‘me’ time being all the time.
In my case, I’ve found my calendar is much fuller than it was when my kids were around. Friends whom I saw maybe twice a year, I’m now seeing weekly. I’m working harder, with less distraction. I’m watching more TV. I’m thinking more about my life, what I want and how I’m going to get there. It’s an exciting time, a new chapter in my life that feels full of possibility.
I’ve rediscovered sex. Within weeks of my son moving out, I hooked up with someone who lives nearby. He may not have long-term potential for a variety of reasons but he lives close by, is handsome and kind. More importantly, his kisses make me feel wanted and as a recent empty nester, that’s very important to me.
There is no manual for being an empty nester. Nobody can equip you for it. It was my father who told me, at least ten years ago, to cherish and nurture the relationships with my partner and friends. ‘There’s no point,’ he said, ‘of making your kids the centre of your world because one day they’ll grow up and move out and forget about you.’ His words are not in keeping with modern day parenting attitudes but, now, on my own, they make perfect sense. It’s a new, exciting beginning for me.