Life after the kids leave

“Where is it? Where did you put the spray bottle? Please go and find it NOW because I couldn’t iron my clothes for work today.” Spoken through gritted teeth. Temper lost completely; shouting, swearing, knowing that what I was doing was out of line but not able to help myself and hating my self even as I’m doing it. Who was this woman screaming at this beautiful, vulnerable young woman standing there looking utterly shocked and shaking. There was also a part of me that felt vindicated! Triumphant, enjoying her pain and bewilderment. But how could it have got to this?

Standing there in her room after coming home from work that evening. Me standing in her private space that I swore would always be her domain. Unable to stop the tirade. She ran from the room crying, ringing her dad saying “Mum’s gone crazy. What should I do Dad. Help me.” Shouldn’t it have been the other way around. After all, he was never around to help or support us financially or emotionally. He only turned up for the good bits over her 19 years; the good reports, the prizes, the times when she was awarded a merit certificate; not there for the many times when she was sick, or when things weren’t going right for her and the meltdowns happened. No! I had been the one there for all that!

So, after all these years of careful nurturing, had it come to this? All the years of nappies, sleepless nights, vomiting and messes, sudden high temperatures and 48 hour bugs. What was going on? How could my normally calm and loving self have turned into this shrew?

Let’s go back a couple of years when it all began, including the fear began and premonition that things were changing and not how I might want them to change. How?

“Mum, I have something to tell you and you won’t like it but I’m going to do it.” “What is it darling?” (I wasn’t too worried because my daughter had just finished high school with excellent grades and was planning to go to university in the new year. She was a happy girl, full of life and vibrant energy. What could this be?

“Mum. me and Anita are going to live in Sydney.” “When are you planning on going?” I said calmly, thinking this to be a stupid idea, speaking calmly but inwardly frozen in trepidation. “In a couple of weeks.” It went back and forth; no plan for work, just an idea and lots of enthusiasm. Panic stations set in for me. How would she survive, where would she live, what would she eat? The long and the short of that was that it didn’t happen. Reality must have set in as they went about planning the venture. I helped the planning (not) by finding out about rentals and other basic things such as food and work. She was just 18.

Moving on a year. A year into university and she looked to be finally settled and doing what most 19 year olds were doing; partying, working casual, part-time jobs to keep afloat, keeping ridiculous hours and using the home like I was the maid and it was a hotel. Me, torn between love and wanting to mother her like when she was small or at school and now being told in no uncertain terms that everything I stood for was not wanted anymore. How could my love and attention not be wanted? How could I show her that I loved her and wanted to still be her mum? How was I to be her mum now that she was slipping like an eel through all of my plans and hopes for her. Simultaneously, I felt more and more obsolete, resentful and angry. No amount of reasoning or putting my viewpoint forward made a scrap of difference. I felt hurt and wounded to the core. What had happened to the close, loving relationship we had shared for sucn a long time? Where had that gone?

On the outside, everything looked normal, but on the inside, nothing felt normal any more. I felt like a bit of flotsam or jetsam floating on a mysterious sea going to who knows where. What was wrong? No matter what I did, it was wrong. Mostly when she and I talked, she replied in monosyllables. Where had the long talks that we used to have, gone? Where had my lovely daughter gone. Who was this new, unknown person who now inhabited my home? To be sure, she still was lovely, but only to her friends; she was wonderfully caring of them, and polite; just not to me. I made food that I was sure that she would like, but she would stand at the door, thinking. “I’ll be back in a few minutes Mum,” she would say and disappear, only to reappear through the door some short time later with a packet of instant noodles. I watched! The little packets (oh how I grew to hate those little packets left on the stove and surrounds and the mess as well).

So it went. We passed more and more like ships in the night.

The anger and resentment grew. What didn’t help were the physical problems that I was having to deal with. That little thing that creeps up on you when you aren’t expecting it. Just as they are blossoming into beautiful young womanhood, you are coming to the end; the bottom starts going south, the middle has expanded, the mood swings are there in full force. right when you didn"t expect it. My work contracts were lousy at that time, I had a lot of fear (another story), mortgage rates were climbing, money was scarce. They were my issues while she was out having a carefree time. I was the least of her concerns.

“Can you turn the lights off please! You are not paying the electricity bill "(when every light in the house had been left on). “Could you turn the water off please?” (the showers could take half an hour and I’m paying for the water and we’re supposed to be conserving water). Her usual reply! "Can’t talk about it now Mum, I’ve got to do, go be …. " none of it related to the present concern of mine.

It wasn’t the big things really, just lots of little things. They kept happening over a period of a year or more. Finally we come to the night where I snapped. Looking back, I wish that I had seen what might have really been going on and suggested that she find another place to live before I finally lost my temper. However, ‘good mothers’ try to do the best that they can for their children, don’t they? The books don’t talk about how it really is. Believe me, I looked in every self-help section in the library, in bookshops. I tried talking to other mothers. There is a dearth of honesty out there. I’m sure that lots of women either aren’t going through this, have gone through it and come out on the other side, or are just maintaining a facade. More stealthily still, I have a suspiciion that this is why many people are having additions to their homes. to accommodate their nearly grown or grown children so they won’t have to face the pain of the children leaving for good. Then the women will have to face those bogies such as ’Who am I, who am I without my children, what is my role as a woman and a mother now. It goes on and on. Lots of questions with no easy answers. Sure, they complain, but better that than face the loss of a wonderful part of life that they are reluctant to relinquish and to move onto the next wonderful phase.

Finally, my daughter said quite bluntly, “I don’t have to put up with this,” as my tirade went on. She took a few things from her room and threw them in her car. My final words to her were, ’Don’t go. It doesn’t have to be like this." ’I love you Mum," she said, looking at me sadly, so sadly, as she threw her belongings into the car, climbed in and all I saw were the red tail lights disappearing around the corner. Would I ever see her again? Had I done irreparable damage? It was a moment that changed our lives irrevocably.

Moving on and some months later, I still felt like a mystery to myself. Raw, irrational moments and days of pain, recriminations, blaming myself. Torn fiercely between wanting her home and not wanting her home. Inner arguments and incessant conversations with myself. Pain like I never believed could exist coursing through my body. It was relentless; not quite a black pit but close at time to being one. I was a mother, now who was I? Life became tasteless and nothing appealed. I didn’t want to have a hobby; I had a very full life before she left and my life was just as full now, but I felt empty and useless. Then when I was on my own, the pain would come flooding in like a deluge.

It’s been over 2 years now since that dark time. What has changed? She has and I have. We are not the same people that we were any more. Who are we now? Her adult life is emerging. I actually think that in some unconscious way, she set up the way that she left because it really was time to leave and go her own way and have the life experiences that she would need for herself. She is doing well. I think that she is doing well because when I was raising her, she was given a lot of the nurturing that has made it possible for a 19 year old to leave home and manage life successfully. So in a sense, I did myself out of a job. Bummer!

Me! Well, I’ve gone on from strength to strength. I am beginning to discover that I still feel the same way that I did when I was 18 and beginning to take on the world, but now I am doing it all with the consciousness I did not have at 18. I am seeing life in new, fresh ways and relishing the small moments that do not have the restlessness there at 18. Life has taken on a new light and the world is opening up again after it being so dark for that couple of years. I am finally coming to terms with the fact that although motherhood is intense and a mother is very involved in her children’s lives when they are growing up, the kids eventually do grow up and have to take their own place in the world as separate people. This process is messy, painful on both sides, and as a mother, I need to get to know who this young woman really is. She is still in the process of figuring that out and I am sure it will still take some time.

The good part from my point of view is that there are no more arguments about dishes, mess, lights left on and lengthy showers. The food bill has gone down dramatically. I can come and go and do what I want when I want. Now at work I have permanent status, so my work is now secure and the fear and the financial pressure has diminished.

For fun, I am exploring lots of new things. I am finding out what I really like to do and am exploring lots of new ventures. I have taken up cycling and get up early each morning at 5:00 a.m. and cycle 21 kms. I have become very fit. I am also learning more about photography and doing my drawing, writing and painting again. I have also been changing my home around so that it suits me.

After all, having children is just a part of your life. It is an intense and lengthy part, but all the same, just a part of a whole life. When you have a baby, it is difficult, as the kids are growing, they bring new challenges and those challenges are difficult. When the children leave, that is another big challenge. Life goes on and it can go on even more richly than before if you allow it.

Now grandparenthood! I suppose that will be another adventure down the track a bit. We’ll see. Tomorrow is another day!

Life after the kids leave


Perth, Australia

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Artist's Description

It wasn’t meant to be like this, was it? Young adults leaving home.

Artwork Comments

  • Wildflower7777
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