Are par­ents RE­ALLY only happy when their children leave home?

Is it re­ally true that we only ap­pre­ci­ate our children when they’ve left home? Read th­ese par­ents’ wildly dif­fer­ent con­fes­sions and see which side you’re on

Daily Mail - - Front Page -

When they reached 18, I’d had my fill Liz Hodgink­son, writer. AT THIS time of year, many par­ents are pre­par­ing to weep as their children head off to univer­sity. Some say they never get over it.

Not me! If I shed any tears, they were ones of joy and re­lief. I was de­lighted when my two sons left to go to col­lege, two years apart, and I did not miss ei­ther for a minute.

No more ar­gu­ments, picking up wet tow­els, sniff­ing around their bed­rooms for ev­i­dence of weed or wor­ry­ing if they had sneaked in a girlfriend for the night.

No more gi­ant shop­ping trips only to find that overnight, they’d in­vited eight friends round and emp­tied the fridge, not to men­tion the dis­ap­pear­ing bot­tles of wine.

By the time they left aged 18, I’d had my fill. They had been un­der my feet and, in later years, tow­er­ing above my head, for long enough.

An­i­mals push their young out of the nest and don’t wait for them to leave of their own ac­cord. That is the way of na­ture and I don’t be­lieve hu­mans are that dif­fer­ent.

Yet un­like an­i­mals, we can re­tain a strong con­nec­tion with our adult young and my re­ward for not try­ing to cling on to them is that we have had a fan­tas­tic, non- de­pen­dent re­la­tion­ship ever since.

I kind of miss be­ing adored!

Jenni Murray, writer/broad­caster. THERE is a won­der­ful mo­ment in a par­ent’s life when their son (we have two and they’ve both done it) in­vites them to din­ner at a good restau­rant — one of their favourites — and in­sists on pay­ing the bill.

At last you’re through the ag­o­nies of the teenage years — the ex­ams, the con­stant ex­pense of re­plac­ing out­grown clothes and enor­mous shoes, the univer­sity anx­i­eties — and you know that they’re up and off.

They’re work­ing, in­de­pen­dent, happy, know how to do in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion and haven’t for­got­ten who it was who backed them with un­con­di­tional love and sup­port.

But I can’t agree that the best time to be with your children is af­ter they’ve left home. I was never very good with ba­bies who had noth­ing to say for them­selves or tod­dlers with the ter­ri­ble twos.

It was when they were be­tween six and ten that be­ing with them was con­stantly mag­i­cal.

‘ What did you do at school to­day?’ was an­swered with ex­cited de­tail, full of tales about friends, teach­ers, books read, sto­ries writ­ten, pic­tures drawn.

So dif­fer­ent from the teenager’s re­sponse to the same ques­tion: ‘Not much!’

The six to ten-year- old child is in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing: curious and full of ques­tions, con­ver­sa­tion and ea­ger­ness to please.

At night, as I tucked them up in bed, I would read them a story, give them a cud­dle and a big kiss ‘Good­night’ and never heard the word ‘Yuk!’ from ei­ther of them.

Yes, my adult sons are kind and clever, af­fec­tion­ate and lovely, but when they were lit­tle they thought I was the most won­der­ful per­son in the world.

Now they know I’m flawed, just like ev­ery­one else. I kind of miss be­ing adored!

See­ing them now, I know I did right

Bel Mooney, au­thor, jour­nal­ist and Daily Mail ad­vice colum­nist. NAP­PIES, bot­tles, mushy food, toys, food fads, packed lunches, uni­forms, home­work, tantrums, ex­ams, tears . . . Aaaagh, save me from be­ing the mother of ba­bies, young children and teens!

Be­lieve me, I never suf­fered from ‘empty nest’ syn­drome, be­cause I was per­fectly happy to wave my beloved children good­bye. Woo-hoo, now I can do what I want!

Don’t think my mem­o­ries of their child­hood aren’t trea­sured. I look at pho­tos of them as ba­bies and children and go weak at the knees.

I adored my children — and still do, now they are 45 and 39 and par­ents them­selves.

Dan and Kitty were the cen­tre of my life, though I also jug­gled a ca­reer. I loved read­ing to them, fam­ily hol­i­days, our chats as they de­vel­oped their interests, then the late-night danc­ing when I was very good at play­ing the ‘bad’, fun mum to a pair of heavy-par­ty­ing teens.

When my mar­riage ended in 2003, they were the mates I drank wine and smoked cig­a­rettes with, talk­ing till the small hours, shar­ing sup­port. Yet I look back at chil­drea­r­ing and re­mem­ber the stress.

Lord, how tough it can be! How do you know you’re get­ting it right? How do you cope with want­ing to thump the boy who hurt your daugh­ter? How do you con­vince your son that bloody exam re­sults don’t mat­ter?

What about the an­guish of see­ing them make wrong choices, know­ing you can’t pre­vent their mis­takes or pain? No, the best time to be a par­ent is now, when I’m more con­tented than ever in my life.

Both mar­ried some­body I ad­mire and love; they each have two adorable children; I see what ter­rific adults they have be­come, as well as good par­ents — and I know I must have done some­thing right.

My adult son and daugh­ter live nearby and I cel­e­brate ev­ery minute of this present life — each of us free, yet mirac­u­lously con­nected forever.

Gap­ing hole is now a cre­ative space

Celia Dodd, au­thor. Are par­ents re­ally hap­pier af­ter their children leave home? Not if the moth­ers and fa­thers I in­ter­viewed for my book, The empty Nest, are to be be­lieved. When each of my three left I felt as if I’d lost a part of me. I cer­tainly wasn’t happy — in fact I was more mis­er­able in my empty nest than I’ve ever been in my whole life.

I didn’t care that there was more time and less laun­dry, I just yearned to get that cosy era of fam­ily life back. It wasn’t so much the stroppy teenager I missed as the blond-haired tod­dler who used to clasp my hand on the beach.

The re­al­ity of fam­ily life was tetchy rather than cosy, and my mem­o­ries are of sit­ting bored by the swings, or stressed out in A&e ( we were reg­u­lar vis­i­tors) or end­lessly check­ing my phone when a teenager wasn’t home by 3am.

It doesn’t sound very happy. And it’s true there was as much te­dious sock-sort­ing as joy­ful cake-bak­ing. But it was life- en­hanc­ing in so many ways. I loved it all, even the worst bits.

So it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that it’s taken me a few years — my kids are now 34, 32 and 27 — to get a han­dle on the hap­pi­ness promised

in this lat­est piece of re­search. The gap­ing hole they left even­tu­ally turned into a won­der­ful cre­ative space, to use as I choose. I could throw my­self whole­heart­edly into work, or what­ever else I chose.

But per­haps the best thing is that I feel closer to my children now, even though I see them less. When they first left, I was ter­ri­fied that they would only come home out of duty: it was surely no co­in­ci­dence that they all chose uni­ver­si­ties as far from home as pos­si­ble.

But univer­sity is a wean­ing pe­riod, which al­lows par­ents and children to de­velop a new, grownups-to­gether kind of re­la­tion­ship.

Self- suf­fi­cient children make their par­ents happy be­cause they’re good com­pany. I’m free to dance round in my undies Aggie MacKen­zie, TV pre­sen­ter. I’ve had a com­pletely empty nest now for al­most twoand-a-half years, since I moved into my cur­rent home and I’d be ly­ing if I said I don’t rel­ish that. Not havi n g to cook gar­gan­tuan meals or tidy up af­ter two boys is cer­tainly lib­er­at­ing.

But the real treat has been the op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue an ac­tive sex life again!

When I first split from Matthew, the fa­ther of my sons Rory, now 28, and ewan, 24, a decade ago, I thought I’d never have a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship again. I couldn’t see how it could work with two other men liv­ing un­der the same roof.

No one re­ally wants to flaunt their sex­u­al­ity in their children’s faces. Can you imag­ine try­ing to date with grown-up children still liv­ing at home?

So while it was a bit­ter­sweet mo­ment when they left — Rory to live with his girlfriend, ewan, with his fa­ther — it was some­thing of a re­birth for me.

I now have what I call a ‘sort-of boyfriend’, a fi­nancier who works abroad a lot. Now I’m free to dance around in my undies when I’m get­ting ready for a date, and I can come in at any hour I want with­out any dis­ap­prov­ing com­ments.

In­stead, when I do see my sons, usu­ally once a week, we en­joy one an­other’s com­pany, with­out the rows that used to be a fea­ture when they lived at home.

Both boys work as chefs, so they’ll come round on a Sun­day and cook for me. They usu­ally tell me to concentrat­e on pour­ing drinks, and take over the kitchen.

Bet­ter still, they tidy up af­ter them­selves — some­thing they never did when they lived here!

Meet him off the plane? He’s 40!

Ray Con­nolly, writer and au­thor. The hap­pi­est times in this fa­ther’s life were when his children were lit­tle. Yes, it was mur­der­ously busy some­times, but the day-to­day joy they brought never leaves.

I man­aged to keep ours at home un­til they were in their mid to late 20s. When they did go, I pleaded with each to re­con­sider. They were, and still are, my best friends.

Years af­ter our third child, Kieron, had left home, he went to Is­rael on hol­i­day, and was, I knew, due back on a cer­tain flight.

I checked on its ar­rival time, and found to my dis­may it had been de­layed and he would not ar­rive at Lu­ton Air­port un­til about 1.30am.

how would Kieron get to where he lived in North Lon­don at that time of night? he’d prob­a­bly have to wait hours for a bus or a train. There was noth­ing for it but to go and meet him off the plane.

‘You’ve gone mad,’ Plum, my wife said, when I told her where I was go­ing. ‘It’s nearly 50 miles!’

‘I don’t mind the drive. he’ll be pleased to see me.’ ‘he might not. Ray, he’s nearly 40.’ ‘So?’ ‘What if he’s met some­one in Is­rael or on the plane? The last per­son he’ll want to see as he comes through ar­rivals with a new girlfriend is his dad wait­ing to take him home?’

I didn’t go. But in truth, children are al­ways children to a par­ent no mat­ter how old they are.

It was a ham­mer blow to the heart

Linda Kelsey, for­mer ed­i­tor of Cosmopolit­an mag­a­zine. The nest was small — but cosy, and big enough for three. even when the cute chick grew into a tall, gan­gly ado­les­cent who used the spare room for band prac­tice, I don’t think I ex­pe­ri­enced a mo­ment when I looked for­ward to hav­ing my son out of the house.

The day I waved him through depar­tures, aged 18, as he flew off on his gap year to Western Aus­tralia, herd­ing sheep on a quad bike, I felt ut­terly bereft.

Call me a wimp — my hus­band lost pa­tience by the time I’d been cry­ing prac­ti­cally non-stop for 48 hours — but his de­par­ture was a ham­mer-blow to the heart.

I got used to it, and I was pleased for Thomas that he was strik­ing out with a big ad­ven­ture, but con­trary to the sur­vey find­ings, for me the joy of be­ing a mother, and hav­ing my son close to hand, was the big­gest joy of my life.

There was noth­ing lib­er­at­ing for me about his de­par­ture, not even freedom from hav­ing to do his laun­dry could raise a smile.

Over the years as Thomas came ( home for hol­i­days dur­ing univer­sity years) and went (a year work­ing in Spain as part of his course), for me the best times were al­ways when he re-en­tered the nest.

I was busy writ­ing books, had a great so­cial life and was em­bark­ing on a new re­la­tion­ship af­ter the break­down of my mar­riage. But I made it clear to my new part­ner that if Thomas should need, or want, to come back, there would al­ways be a room wait­ing for him.

I missed their lov­able life force

An­gela Neustat­ter, psychologi­st and writer. MY NeWeST grand­daugh­ter, Lay­lah, two, walks on wob­bly legs, arms out­stretched. A few hours in her com­pany is pure de­light. As it is with our other two grand­chil­dren — Nina, eight, and Si, five — who live with their par­ents in the flat below.

I loved be­ing a mother, in the­ory, but the re­al­ity as one who worked and be­lieved in spend­ing a good dol­lop of time with my kids, was too of­ten like liv­ing in a food pro­ces­sor with no pause but­ton.

So I can un­der­stand that some par­ents are hap­pi­est when their children leave home. even so, as ours left home, I missed their lov­able life force.

I had not thought about be­ing a grand­mother, so the de­light, the vi­vac­ity, the swelling love grand­chil­dren have de­liv­ered to us is a won­der­ful and new kind of love.

It is undi­luted by wor­ry­ing about set­ting bound­aries, man­ag­ing con­flict, wor­ry­ing where they are, and whether we equipped them to be de­cent peo­ple.

We en­joyed the freedom and spas­modic vis­its with our boys when they had gone, but life was al­most too undis­turbed. That all changed when my son and his wife moved in to the flat below us, with their new­born.

From tiny bun­dles up­wards, she and brother Si have been con­stant vis­i­tors creat­ing a mess, wrap­ping them­selves into our arms for story time and daz­zling us with their sharp­ness and hu­mour.

It makes me re­alise children mark your younger life with fierce pro­tec­tive, de­mand­ing love — and grand­chil­dren make sense of later life with a new over­whelm­ing love.

THE mile­stones are as mag­i­cal as the ex­haus­tion is un­end­ing. No one ever said that par­ent­ing was easy. But now a study has found that hav­ing children does make you happy — although only af­ter your off­spring have left home. So is it true that a par­ent is hap­pi­est when faced with an empty nest? Our panel of lead­ing writ­ers re­veal the favourite time in their parental lives . . .

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