Those first weeks of empty nest after the kids left were truly horrible. I finally had the tidy house I’d always wanted and it was killing me. Beware of what you ask for! Here was I, no longer a full time Mum, with time to do my own thing and no idea what that was.
I know now that I can’t lose being Mum and this was just the beginning of a new phase of family, but at the time it felt like the end of the world. I had a business to run, plenty of work to do, a good relationship, but it had all been built around managing exams, food, heartbreak, angst, noise, friends, music, transport………….. Everything had been focused on getting these two beautiful girls ready for the life they had now begun. So we’d done it. We should be pleased, so why did I feel so wretched?
Going out into the unknown was a good start – by accident I have to say. I never expected our Chinese adventure to be so constructive. But then I had to work out what my life was going to look like now the nest was empty.
And of course, we also needed to decide what we wanted our life to look like. For most couples this is the time to rediscover what you loved about each other before bills, nappies and in-laws took over. For us, it was the first time we’d ever been on our own, since I already had my first child when we met. You could hear the air crackling with the hope that we’d both like the person that stood before us in calm and quiet.
The big question is where to start. How to go about breaking the mould in your mind to match the mould that has been broken in reality. In retrospect I can take a cool look at what I actually did:
Drowned my sorrows in work
It was helpful to start with, but I soon had to get some sort of balance in life. I was exhausting myself and leaving no time at all to organise what I wanted to do.
With the time freed up from car runs and homework support, I joined the gym and started to get fit. I can’t say I enjoyed, but I felt virtuous as I walked out the door, so that was something
Started cooking again: When the mood strikes me, I love trying new recipes. When it doesn’t, we eat a lot of salad and baked potatoes. Now we were two, I could try out all the dishes the girls hated. So we had lots of Balti, pulses and beans for a while!
Had a few good rows
We had some serious renegotiating to do together. We’d always shared care of kids and home. Now the pressure of home was less we both focused right in on work, so we had to decide how to accommodate each other and keep the house running well. We were enjoying the ease of arranging time without having to work around so many other demands. What we had to sort out was the ‘us’ time – what we wanted to do together, as well as how we’d share the chores that remained.
Reconnected to friends
There’s nothing like talking with someone else in the same boat. We take that for granted when having babies, knowing that the chance to discuss nappies and hours of sleep is the best support in the world. The same goes for empty nest. Discovering that others were wasting as much food and missing the mess was brilliant. I felt so much better about myself when I realised I wasn’t alone.
Revamped my style
I felt so different inside, I decided to reconsider my style. This was my ‘fake it till I make it’ bit – dress as if I’m an independent, successful middle aged woman with grown up kids and I’ll soon start feeling that way. I did it once before when I went from psychotherapist to management consultant and it worked wonders. So off I went again. I’m good as asking for help, so I went to see my stylist friend and we had a great time experimenting with different looks. I’m not sure how much others noticed, but it perked me right up.
Now I could really go for it, business wise – commit to bigger pieces of work, travel to work in amazing Scandinavian settings, adventure into new areas. So I set off on the conference trail, made new contacts, came up with new ideas, started writing again, delivered a new book……………….. I drank lots of coffee and the occasional champagne, started work with new clients and really began to enjoy myself.
So by the end of the first term, when Miriam returned home for Christmas, I was starting to enjoy my new persona. I loved being back as Mum and it was wonderful to see her again. I even enjoyed the inevitable chaos that followed in her wake. But I also could leave her the space to do her own thing without being needy of her attention, which had been my fear. I was managing well enough on my own.
Not that the adjustment finished there – this was just step one. We’ve all had to keep growing into the people we want to be – kids and parents both – on our own and in relation to each other. But that’s another story.