I have the best of both worlds. I spend the week in my empty nest and my 21-year-old daughter comes home from university nearly every weekend. She has the attraction of a boyfriend who lives down the road from me but I don’t care why she comes – I just care that she comes.
In the week, I love the fact that I have the house to myself. I enjoy waking up to complete silence in the mornings. After my shower, I walk around draped in a towel and take leisurely sips of my first cup of tea as I get dressed. Later, as I sit working at my computer, the only noise I hear is the sound of the birds in the trees outside the window. When I take a mid-morning break for tea, I have a choice of a whole array of cups neatly lined up on the shelf. In the evening, I can eat breakfast cereal and watch The Bachelor if I feel like it. In the week, the dishes do not pile up in the sink, my hairdryer stays exactly where I left it and I don’t find half my wardrobe lying on the bed.
By the time Friday comes, the silence suddenly becomes oppressive. I am tired of my own company and I start to anticipate my daughter’s arrival. I hear her car pull up outside. She rings the bell and waits for me to come out and help her carry her load of washing into the house. She dumps her laptop, books and keys on the table and heads straight for the kitchen. “Mom, there’s nothing in the fridge” she says. She’s right – there’s nothing she likes to eat in the fridge. I now have the pleasure of choosing what I want to eat on a daily basis – even if that means opening a can of tuna or living on toast and tea. I feel like a bad mother and know I will soon be on my way down to the shops.
I treasure the time when she unpacks and tells me about her week. This week the news all seems to be bad. She says she and her friends are in shock because a girl was raped outside one of the residences. They are concerned about their safety. I want to know if she has been carrying her mace with her and she reassures me that she has. I don’t want to reveal too much concern and plant more fear in her mind. She is smart and I know she won’t take any unnecessary chances. She tells me that staff members protesting about low wages set a car alight and burned down part of one of the administration buildings on campus. She was in one of the adjoining buildings and watched as it went up in flames. She does not realize that my stomach is lurching at the idea of her being in such close proximity to danger.
Her supervisor has told her that her proposal for her thesis needs work. She is in her fourth year of studying and this is the first time she has received negative criticism. I can’t believe that my confident daughter has become so insecure overnight. I want to give her a little lecture about how to deal with the situation but I realize that she does not want my well-intentioned advice. She is emotionally drained and all she wants to do is watch a movie and eat comfort food.
We decide to watch Room. It’s not long before we are both shedding tears and reaching for tissues. We agree at the end that Brie Larson deserved her Oscar for her emotionally raw performance. This little slice of time watching a good movie, crying a little, and discussing it afterwards instantaneously draws us as close as though we have never been apart. However, my daughter is an adult now and our relationship has been going through some shifts. It’s not hard for me to treat her like an adult. She is a brave, compassionate human being whose point of view I respect. However, every now and then I slip back into ‘mother/child’ mode and she very quickly puts me in my place.
When she is at home I find myself arranging my life around her. She lives life at high velocity and with great intensity. This used to exhaust me. Now, I enjoy every minute I spend with her because I know I will have more than enough time to myself again once she leaves. She decides she will leave on Monday morning at 6am and on Sunday evening I help her fold her washing and pack. Once her car roars off early the next morning, I take stock and realize that I will have to spend some time cleaning up. The TV room is littered with crumbs, crisp packets, water glasses and that’s just the beginning. However, once I have cleaned up, I know my empty nest will stay clean for the week without much further effort.
I feel elated as the silence settles around me once more. I look forward to being able to write without any distractions. She calls me several times during the week and I listen attentively. If she has a problem or is unhappy, I feel miserable too and do everything I can to ease her pain. However, my world no longer revolves entirely around her – and that’s a good thing. I know the days of her coming home for the weekend will soon be over too. It probably won’t be too long before she has her own children – my future grandchildren.
It has been a process for me to adjust to the empty nest phase. My daughter left home and I went through a divorce at the same time. My world as I knew it came to an end and I didn’t know how I was going to cope. I discovered that adversity can either crush you or create a determination in you to survive and even thrive. I am fortunate that I still see my daughter on a regular basis. I know many parents face not seeing their children for long periods of time. I am content with my current phase in life where I am able to make the most of the times when I do see my daughter and enjoy my solitary life when she’s not around. I know all too well that no phase in life is permanent, so I intend to enjoy this one while it lasts.
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Erica Briedenhann lives in the Western Cape in South Africa. She is a copywriter and the mother of two adult children. As an ex-teacher, sub-editor and business owner, she enjoys sharing her life experiences and information relevant to empty nesters on her website.