Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

September 30, 2012

don't do their laundry!

So many children create an empty nest then return to it when their mother has often pulled it to pieces, or put it up for sale, that Coral, 54 and long divorced, has trouble defining herself as a true empty nester - a mom whose children have left home permanently.

"I'm in a revolving door situation right now," explains Coral, "so my place never feels like an empty nest for long. The kids are always coming back, or their laundry is!"

"Being an empty nester is an interim defining term in any case," explains Coral. "It’s not something I’m taking on forever."

"When the children have left home permanently I’ll once again return to being an independent woman - which is something I’ve been since I was a little girl," explains Coral, "and because of the type of woman I am I long for the day when my motherly duties are over."

"I was the last of six children, and I had to become independent very fast otherwise I’d have starved to death, gone unwashed or generally got trampled upon!"

"Becoming an empty nester - accepting that your children have left home permanently - is a gradual process and can be a painful one," she says. "And, like death is to life, the empty nest is the natural end to mothering in the domestic service sense - or it should be."

"A child leaves home to become independent, and the natural separation process cannot be achieved if the adult child continues to treat you like a domestic servant - such as bringing home laundry every weekend."

"When my kids tried this trick on me I just did their laundry once, telling them to take it to a laundromat next time," laughs Coral, "and they respected my wishes. But I know lots of women who continue to do washing, and other domestic duties, for years after their adult children have left home. It's not right."

"It all seems such a long way into the future that most mothers never prepare for the empty nest," says Coral, "and this is a mistake because we should always remember that our children’s time with us is only temporary."

"As mothers," explains Coral, "we nourish a growing baby in our womb and create a nest for the little one when he or she is born. Sometimes the nest changes when we move from one place to another, but the most important factor in the nest is us - the mothers - and basically wherever we are, the nest is, too. This, of course, applies only to young, dependent children."

Coral believes that the empty nest is a state of mind that eventually dissipates in importance even if we choose to remain living in the home we once nested in with our children.

"It would be a rare mother who did not experience some sort of grief when her children left home," confides Coral, "but the empty nest syndrome is really not such a big deal as it is often portrayed as being. In that respect it's a lot like menopause. Some women have a bad time, some don't and some are just thrilled to pieces to get rid of a part of their life that they never much liked."

"I was the last of six children to leave home," explains Coral, "and all of my mother’s grief centered on me. I thought she was crazy because she never had time for me when I was young! When my kids left home, I felt a bit sad, too. It’s natural."

"I would imagine that stay-at-home moms that had never worked in their lives and had devoted themselves to their children feel the most loss in the early phase of the empty nest syndrome," muses Coral, "but they soon focus their attention on their husbands or start clucking about grandchildren. It’s the single mothers, I feel, who suffer longest - especially if it’s their only child that has left."

Coral definitely feels that a mother who works and has plenty of interests apart from her children has an easier time being an empty nester than one who has devoted her whole life to her children.

"And, believe it or not," she says, "but a single mom has a far better long-term outcome than a married mom because she is free to make a completely new life for herself."

Coral believes that empty nesters who are consumed with grief - especially those who cannot resist the temptation to entice their children back to the nest with tears and threats and bribes of continuing domestic service - need to seek counseling. This sort of behavior is neither healthy for them, nor their children.

"It's really important," says Coral, "to embrace being defined as an empty nester with accepting grace."

The very term ‘empty’ conveys negativity but Coral accepts with grace that nothing in nature remains empty for long.

"Nature abhors a vacuum," laughs Coral. "I am aware that I may have to go through the revolving door syndrome for a few more years before I can call myself a true empty nester - and the process is disruptive and emotionally draining, nobody can deny that - yet I choose to view it as a positive experience, a growing experience, for both myself and my children."

When the time comes to create an exclusive nest, for herself and nobody else, Coral will cherish it.

"For too many years my home has reflected my children's presence rather than mine," explains Coral. "And this, I feel, is typical of most homes and is perfectly natural. It’s a rare mother who will impose her presence over and above that of her children's; but it’s a rarer child who will contain his or her belongings in just one room of the house - the bedroom they sleep in!"

"Always remember that our job, as mothers, is to raise our children to adulthood," reiterates Coral. "If they're able to leave home and live independently then they're able to do their own laundry!"

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