Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

March 17, 2010

mom, can I come home?

Lucy was a single working mother of 39 when her son, Peter, left home aged 19. He had been away plenty of times by himself before, sometimes without any notice, but this time it was different.

"He announced, quite out of the blue, that he was moving in with friends the very next day," explains Lucy, "and I watched in stunned silence as he started moving out the belongings he wanted to take with him to his new home."

At first it was gloriously freeing having the place to herself, and then as the days passed and night after night Lucy came home to what seemed to be four empty walls and the "Mom can I come home?" call never came - as friends predicted it would - it dawned on her that she was experiencing the empty nest syndrome. But she did not feel grief. She experienced anger.

At first her anger was directed at the fact that Peter had moved out in such an indecent hurry and had left his room in a terrible mess. He had assured her that he wanted nothing that he had left behind - that she could throw away everything - but as Lucy went through his discarded belongings she became stunned not only by the mammoth clean-up task he had dumped upon her, but also by the emotional impact of it all.

Imagine how Lucy felt discarding 19 years worth of memories!

As she put into bundles the things that could be given to charity and the things that needed to be thrown away, she silently cursed him.

Lucy then remembered that only two weeks prior to his sudden departure she had gone to the trouble of having a second telephone line put in for his convenience. The realization that she would be getting a hefty bill for a double telephone line increased her anger.

When Peter's room was bare, and Goodwill had taken away the sixteen bags full of clothes, toys and books that some other child might appreciate, Lucy's anger dissipated.

Noticing that his bedroom was far brighter and roomier than hers, she then busied herself redecorating it and subsequently moved into it, claiming it as her own, turning her old bedroom into a study.

"I painstakingly removed all the tacks, tape and glue that Peter had used for fixing posters to the walls, re-plastered and sanded all the gaping holes that Peter had made doing target practice, and then I re-painted the patchy blue walls a pale cream to match my new bedspread, " says Lucy. "The curtains had to remain - they were too expensive to replace - but a few frills here and there soon transformed Peter’s old bedroom into something decidedly feminine. I loved it!"

And then, when there was nothing much left to remind her of Peter, an awful emptiness engulfed her.

Often there is just one thread that holds a whole lot of things together which, once broken, causes everything else to fall by the wayside and when the anger phase passes the empty nester often goes through a grief stage where she loses interest in her work, socializing with friends, taking care of her appearance and generally enjoying life.

"I would come home at night to a place that lacked the familiar noise, smell and sight of someone I had nurtured for 19 years and it was gutwrenching," explains Lucy. "When I realized that I had a problem I sat down and analyzed my feelings."

"Why should it bother me that Peter had gone? It was annoying that he gave me no notice of his departure, yet the past two years had been ‘notice’ enough in that Peter had spent increasingly longer periods away from home, the longest being a recent two-month trip overseas with a girlfriend."

"It was inevitable that when the time was right for him to go that he would just go - and that was exactly what he had done!" laughs Lucy, "and instead of feeling angry I should have been proud of him for wanting to be independent."

"I left home when I was far younger than Peter," explains Lucy, "but there was a huge difference between the two events in that I was not an only child and my mother was glad to see the back of me."

Lucy reassured herself over and over again that an adult child leaving home is perfectly natural, something she had prepared Peter for, and herself, and yet nothing quite prepared her for when it happened.

"The empty nest syndrome was like a death experience," explains Lucy, "but there was no wake, no service, no funeral, and no final goodbyes. It was yet another nail in my own coffin."

Lucy's feelings had a lot to do with growing old and becoming useless.

"People who've never have kids can stay young in their minds forever," says Lucy, "but parents are inevitably faced with constant reminders of their decrepitude."

When a child leaves home a woman essentially grieves for her lost youth.

"Part and parcel of the empty nest syndrome experience for me," explains Lucy "was the awareness that at 39 I was getting old, becoming useless, and the next chapter in my life was going to be a lonely path to death. It sounds silly now, but at the time that's how I felt."

And then, in the depths of her misery - and as out of the blue as Peter's decision to leave had been - the call her friends had initially predicted would come sooner or later, actually came: "Mom, can I come home?"

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