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Empty Nests and Full Lives

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Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

Programming note: the newsletter is taking July and August off to spend more time with its family. Regular updates will resume when school does.


Last week, my partner and I got a taste of the empty nest. Both young people had their residential trips simultaneously, and for a few days, it was just the two of us, like in the olden days.

I thought a lot about how much I want to share here. The young people I’m responsible for read this blog occasionally, and I worry about saying things that might hurt their feelings. I also worry about what others would think about my parenting skills. But then I remind myself that all I can do is be honest, and yes, that might make some people feel uncomfortable. For the young people in the household, I’ll talk to them offline, and we’ll sort it out. And for the people that might judge me, well, I can deal with that if and when.

So, here goes. I felt empty while the young people were away. I also felt free while they were away. You know that sequence in Tangled where she leaves the tower, and she’s elated one minute and devastated the next? That was my week, although I wasn’t overwhelmed by my emotions. I think because I now have quite a few tools in my toolbox. And maybe because I knew they were coming back at the end of the week.

It felt weird. It’s been a while since I had a work week without kids, and the need to distract myself was more present than usual. I took the opportunity to visit an exhibit at Tate Modern, but I do that occasionally, even when the kids are home. I just allowed myself to slow down and look at the exhibit at my pace, and I got home a little later than usual. And my partner and I went out a couple of nights—one was planned, something we’ve wanted to do for a while, and it was an excellent opportunity.

But the other night, my partner and I went out for dinner at the local pub without planning. We watched a movie, and when we finished, we ambled down, had our dinner and returned home. It was spontaneous in a way you can’t really be when you are responsible for other, smaller human beings. This is what I mean when I say I felt free. It’s not that I would have had a different life without kids, but not having to plan for a sitter, for an evening without after-school clubs, for leaving food in the fridge—that felt free.

Of course, I missed them. And I worried about them. And do you know what we did while we waited for our food at the local pub? That’s right, we scrolled through pictures the school sent from the trip, all 400 of them, desperately looking for a familiar face. When we found it, we spent long minutes scrutinising it to assess whether the person owning the face was having a good time.

It’s ok for parents to have lives outside of their roles as parents. When you phrase it like that, I’m sure even sensitive young people can say, yes, I understand that. It’s just that it’s challenging to balance these lives with the role of being a parent. And it’s difficult to hear, for sure, because it sounds like “I wish I had more time for myself” or even “I regret having children”. But that is not at all what it means.

It’s mind-boggling to think about your parents as people. And that’s natural. But they are.


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