Currently my parenting duties mainly consist of:
1) Sending student food parcels
2) Saving post that will never be opened
3) Sending motivational WhatsApp messages but not too many that I seem crazy
4) Lifts up and down the M1 and the annual Ikea trip
5) Medical Appointment and Birthday reminders
Basically my life slowly became less dominated by child activities until at the grand age of 35 I became an empty nester.
It’s not been an easy transition – when my son first left for uni I sulked at home for weeks looking for sympathy. It wasn’t forthcoming. I went on strike and stopped doing stuff round my house, so my boyfriend decided to do them instead – Jeeze, why didn’t I try this years ago! The only change for him was he lost his x-box buddy, so he stopped playing the x-box. He actually grew up while I was rapidly regressing into a sulky teen.
I googled empty nest syndrome; “you may still have 20 years of your life left,” said the grey haired empty nester from her rocking chair – well I do bloody hope so!
At 38 I’m in my 4th year of being an empty nester. I should be a pro by now! – but I soon found that basically having an empty nest means you can do lots of naughty things without feeling guilty, I can sleep in till mid day, I can wear my pyjamas all day. I can eat beans on toast for lunch and dinner, I can binge watch big brother, I can use all the swear words. Having been a mother since age 17 it’s a lifestyle I’ve not had the privilege to revel in since my teens. Which actually wasn’t allowed then either.
I have significantly more in common now with with my childless friends than those with children who are dealing with baby showers, maternity leave, NCT mummies, baby yoga, world book day, and cbeebies. They may as well be speaking a different language, partly because things have changed a lot in 20 years and party because being a teen mum is a kinda different experience to being a mum in your 30s it appears.
We’ve started having holidays with childless couples, without an itinerary, because just lying on a beach in the day and drunk dancing at night for a whole week is apparently a perfectly valid plan – Who knew? Last year was the first year I didn’t go on holiday with my son, after the traumatic experience of us both ending up in the same club in Ibiza the previous year.
Around six months after my son left for uni I started working in London, y’know, like others do in their twenties (as my boyfriend keeps telling me) – I don’t have to feel guilty staying at work late, or going out after work 3 times in a row – like I should be somewhere else – So basically most evenings I’m in the pub or the office, just like some dads!
After a year I was promoted at work – fancy that – I’d worked for nearly 20 years and had never been promoted in my life!
As well as being a workaholic and alcoholic, an empty nest allows me to be that person who others can rely on, not just to have a clean PE kit each week and dinner money every day (which quiet frankly is enough of a responsibility). I can dedicate time to worthy causes. I can be veggie again (which I last tried age 14). If I wanted to, I could go to the gym every day, except I really don’t want to.
Since I’m no longer at home much, my boyfriend got a dog to keep him company. I’ve always hated dogs but hadn’t anticipated how much having a puppy was like having a baby. My motherly instincts went into overdrive. Suddenly this little ball of cuteness in my house needed me and I needed that! She has her ‘own’ Instagram account where she refers to me as mummy. I reassure my son that it’s fine, everyone does it. He says grown men pretend to be My Little Ponies online too but it doesn’t make it ok.
I love it when my son is home for holidays and the occasional weekend but I stress myself out trying to create the appearance of order being just as it were before he left home – my boyfriend is constantly confused by the whole thing.
I pretend I don’t really drink the lemonade out the bottle, I hide the air bnb instructions in his bedroom and I have to remember not to run naked between the bedroom to bathroom (I mean, I have to be careful of this when we have Airbnb guests too).
Sometime I don’t have time to stock up the fridge before my son comes home for a visit (why would you step foot in Asda if you don’t need to?!) and he is horrified that the only food in the house is avocado, bionic butter and strawberry shoelaces.
I know some parents are more chilled out and can be like cool friends to their kids, going to gigs together and hanging out, but, despite my advantage of age, or maybe because of it, I have always been strictly in the ‘embarrassing parent’ box! There are clear expectations that I will behave like a parent, and not a friend! Or sometimes an acquaintance, and on occasions a stranger! I’ve been unfriended on Facebook for crossing this line. I do get it – I’ve tried bringing my dad to the pub with my friends and it’s just weird ok. There are boundaries and my drunken antics probably don’t need to be shared with my dad or my son.
But I still I have visions of other teens coming home from uni to home baked cakes and gardening projects and knitting patterns and all the things my parents seemed to get up when I left home. I’ve tried to find these empty nesters so I can befriend them and work out if I’m doing this phase right – They are pretty hard to find in my social circles but I’ve identified a few and yep, they are lovely but it’s like trying to make polite small talk with your parents’ friends. I feel even more like a scatty teenager around them and their settled lives as they approach a well deserved retirement. I didn’t think there could be a group I had less in common with but here they are; cardigans and sensible shoes and those broad motherly hips and everything I’m not.
It always concerned me just how surprised people were to find out I was a mum. I tried to put it down to my age but there must be something else about me that says ‘not a mumsy person’ because even in my 30s people were still shocked I could be responsible for child of any age – And now I don’t even have the evidence of a child at home to prove my parental status!! Not being able to tick the box ‘parent to an under 18 year old’ on forms was the ultimate kick in the teeth, no one cares if you’re a parent of an over 18!!
I guess the guilt of not being a good enough parent never goes away, so I can either recount all the mistakes or just appreciate that my son turned out pretty good, I didn’t lose or break him, he seems to cope fine on his own and I’ve not been disowned completely yet. And if it looks as if a ‘cool granny phase’ won’t be on the cards then there is a very small part of me aware of the biological fact that at 38 I do still have time to give it another shot! If only the thought of giving up those weekend lie ins now didn’t feel as appealing as being repeatedly hit by a bus!
Empty Nest Online Survival Kit: