Not following the script for mothers everywhere
Our only child, Oliver, having finished high school, will soon be flying the nest and apparently I amsupposed to feel all sad and empty. I say this because many of our friends keep asking me how I ambearing up. What do they mean? I feel ecstatic.
My adult son is about to embark on a new and exciting chapter in his life and I get to watch it all from the sidelines – with the bonus of no smelly socks. What’s bad or sad about that?
Maybe I should remind these friends he is just moving out of our house, not our lives. We still plan to be there for him, in a responsive, not intrusive way.
In my Iranian culture, it’s not unusual for children, especially boys, to be spoilt by their mothers who can’t let go. Ever. I promised myself long ago that Iwould not be one of those clingy, controlling Iranian mothers who fail to give their boys enough space to mature into men.
Letting go of anything precious is, of course, never easy and I often catch myself failing to keep my own promise. But I’m trying. These days I mostly stand back and allow Oliver to make his own decisions, right or wrong.
It is truly unkind to deprive children of the opportunity to experience failure and disappointment. How else would they learn, as adults, to cope with, and regulate, negative emotions such as frustration and anger?
Of course, for plenty of young adults, living at home is not a choice but an economic necessity. Culture can also be a factor. In Iran, the idea of children moving out of their parental home by the time they turn 18 is not even imagined – and it’s not at all unusual for them to live with their parents until they get married.
For Oliver, the choice seems clear. He is ready to experience some independence in his life and, as his mother, Iwelcome his decision with a happy, not a sad heart. In fact, I look forward to the freedom this change will bring for me, and research shows I’m not the only one.
‘‘Empty nest syndrome’’ has traditionally been used to describe the feeling of grief and loneliness parents feel after their children leave home, but a survey of 1000 families by Lloyds Bank in the UK reportedly showed that, contrary to popular belief, the majority of empty-nesters ‘‘relish their newly found freedom, rather than being upset by the change’’.
Another study of 55,000 people aged 50 and older, from 16 European countries, discovered people with kids are happier than those without kids, as long as the kids have left home. The study reported parents whose children had left the nest felt less depressed and more satisfied with their lives. I can relate to these findings.
People used to tellme to cherish Oliver’s baby years because they would be over before I knew it. ‘‘What is it about these sleepless years of nappies and exhaustion that I amsupposed to cherish?’’ I used to think to myself.
Iwas thrilled when Oliver started school because, for him, school meant fun, and for me, a stay-at-home mother then, it meant a bit of freedom to cook and clean in peace.
If all this makes me sound like a heartless mother, then so be it. I amnot going to follow the universal maternal script, which portrays mothers as inexhaustible and makes their children central to their identity (note the same doesn’t apply to fathers).
Speaking of fathers, Alastair loved the loud, playful, boisterous early years, which he keenly participated in whenever he could, always to Oliver’s delight. He also looked forward to Saturday games with as much enthusiasm as I felt dread (between rugby and cricket, I was either dying of fright or boredom. Thankfully Oliver now plays basketball).
I know when Oliver leaves home, there will be plenty Alastair will miss about him: little things, like the two of them making annoying random noises around the house (still not sure what that’s all about).
As for me, I will miss Oliver’s love of food, his almost theatrical displays of delight and gratitude for my perfectly ordinary home-cooked meals, and his cuddles, of course.
But he is not going far and I imagine we will see him back in our home quite often. Who knows? He might even turn out to be one of those boomerang children who end up returning to the nest.
In the meantime, we have our own interests to cultivate. Alastair has made a great start. He’s built us a veggie garden and his lettuces, herbs and baby tomatoes are growing really well – all without making any strange noises. The future is bright.
I look forward to the freedom this change will bring for me, and research shows I’m not the only one.