The Parent Bird Also Flies the Nest

The empty nest isn't a new thing for me. My daughter's departure from my home was complete six years ago. To be honest, at the time I didn't really suffer it. I was distracted, enjoying the financial advantages of downsizing into a new apartment. Our relationship was enriched by my capacity to go out shopping, to eat at cafes, and even go out dancing. My grown-up daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the joys of the world together, as adults. I revelled in our relationship, proud when people made a fuss that these two dancing queens were mother and daughter. It seemed like we had found our new normal, and I loved it.

Me & her at Xmas

Then COVID arrived and we Melbournians were locked up in our homes, unable to travel more than 5kms. This placed a prolonged physical divide between me and my daughter that felt like a hemisphere. To make matters worse, we had been processing some normal mother/daughter conflicts at the time. Conflicts which sank behind the walls of our restrictions and grew mouldy. Conflicts that would have melted away had we been able to catch up for a coffee. But we weren't allowed.

Suddenly I began feeling my empty nest acutely. I couldn't watch mothers and daughters on TV. I didn't want to hear anything about anyone else's daughter—unless they were being a pain in the arse! Anxiety kicked in. My head started going over every parenting mistake I might have ever made. I was looking for reasons why I might deserve to be divided from my daughter. I was wearing what I call my 'shit-coloured glasses.' They're just like the proverbial rose-coloured glasses, which look for the best. Except the shit-coloured lenses look for the worst. 

So, like many adopted sufferers of post-traumatic stress, I acted out. The scab had been kicked off my abandonment wound. I began sending a series of disgruntled messenger messages which only served to aggravate matters. Eventually I had to stop the habit of unloading onto messenger and withdraw from the situation. Lockdown was turning my apartment into a pressure-cooker of sudden empty nest syndrome. I plunged into depression, vowing to never write another word, anywhere. Then, a miracle!

First, we had a long telephone call. This resolved many of my fears. Then, I accidentally misplaced my keys and had to ask my daughter to bring over the spare set. I have various rituals to ensure I don't make mistakes with keys, but one thing led to another and I had dropped them in the bin. The silver lining was that I got to experience some face to face time with my daughter. Our conflicts dissolved. We were able to process our differences in an empathic way, which I find lacking in Messenger. 

'What hobbies went on the back-burner when you became a parent?'

I bounced back pretty fast because the truth is: I'm well adapted to my empty nest. As a mother I always enjoyed my own interests, so the transition to grown-up Mum has simply meant expanding on those interests. And to finally write my books. My advice to anyone struggling with the empty nest is to ask yourself: What activities did you have to say 'no' to when you had small children? What weekend activities did you avoid because you had to drive kids around? What hobbies went on the back burner when you became a parent? This is your time, now.

When we become grown-up parents, our kids don't need us so much any more. This frees up more time and energy to devote to our own needs. Some people get so caught up in the caring role that they may have lost touch with their own needs. The empty nest is the time to re-learn how to fulfil our own needs. To fill our own cup. To become an individual again.

Anyone who knows me on Facebook, knows I have some struggles with my new apartment. But I also feel like a teenager starting over again; except I'm a teenager with her own place and a balanced budget. There's a freedom in my life I haven't experienced since, well, ever!

So rather than my life becoming more empty without the presence of my daughter, it has become fulfilled in a different way. My attention has turned from the fruit of my womb, to the fruit of my hands. My writing ambition has been irrepressible all my life, but I never learned to focus on it when someone was in the house. These days my life is centred around making the space for daily writing and reading. 

Illness has affected my working capacity for a long time, but last year I got a part-time job. I started feeling like a normal contributing member of society instead of a sick person. But the job vanished when lockdown was announced. So now that I'm a full-time writer again, I'm writing more than ever. My creative output was affected by the new job, as well as the family conflict. So the silver-lining of this difficult year for me, is the time I' have to finish my third book. I belong to a memoir-club. We send our work to each other each fortnight. This deadline is pulling me forward into my writing like a lasso. 

Being a self-published author is an involved job that goes far beyond the writing. There's this blog, the various social networks, the YouTube channel, the domains, distribution channels, bookshop liaison, presentations and more. The learning curve has been steep and I doubt I could have managed it all when I was parenting a young child, doing school runs, and keeping a large house running smoothly. 

Energy is never destroyed, only transformed. So the empty nest is an opportunity to transform some of the care for our children, redirecting it toward new pursuits and new passions. As strong middle-aged people, empty nesters still have the energy to start over. We still have enough power to activate the artist or academic within, or re-train in a new career or hobby. You might divert the extra funds into some travel or some nights out dancing. 

Remember how you felt when you got free of your parents? Well that's what your kids are feeling too. You may as well turn your empty nest into a house of fun, or a cave of creation, or a funky new apartment, or a mobile home. The opportunities are endless. You're finally free. The parent birds also fly the nest. 

Leanne Margaret ©️ 2020

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