When children were home, we had many things to do. It now seems there’s nothing to do
When children are born, we imagine what they’ll be like when they grow up. What we do not imagine is what we’d be like when they do. As our twenty-something son flies over his (Cuckoo’s) nest, we’re suddenly woken up to the stark realisation of being ‘Empty Nesters’.
I understand that it requires equipping children with the necessary skills to get on with their lives effectively and competently, and if possible, even let them fly the coop on their own. But then at times, I get to the question, ‘Was it right to have allowed our children to fly away?’ When children irrevocably move to a place like the USA, the pain of separation is simply overpowering.
‘Empty-Nesters’ are growing in number at a geometric progression. You may find them everywhere. For this wretched lot, the feelings of being able to be with children on a regular basis are suddenly things of the past….irretrievable, to boot. The goodbye of the children is as if your “new life” felt much like when you were newlyweds without children. Leaving home and heading into the unknown… Did I prepare him for the world? Will he be successful in life? A terrible feeling of impending doom lingers and tugs at the heartstrings of the ‘Empty Nester’.
The house is a story of one’s life. The pictures hanging on the walls tell you of the years spent under one roof together. The pictures bring a smile to your face and give you an opportunity to relive those happy moments. You walk down the room to where your child spent the last twenty/thirty-some years. When children were home, we had many things to do. It now seems there’s nothing to do. Without any purpose of life now, beautiful memories of childbirth, the sounds of the pitter-patter of the little feet running against the hardcore floors, hoo-ha caused during celebrations of Eid and birthdays, recitals of songs and school lessons, reprimands, rebuttals, refusals, defiance, cries and shrieks, couch potatoes and gluing to cell phones and social networks flash through the mind.
All you can see in your mind are haunting images of your child at various stages in his/her life…precious memories that only you and you alone possess. Unless you’re a social isolate or an Alexithymiac, tears well up and you feel like sobbing. You walk into the room and pick up that old raggedy teddy bear and hold it so close to your heart that it’s as though you’re holding that beautiful baby once again. You miss your children badly when you fail to operate your mobile, laptop, or some other electronic gizmo. Reality sets in. One of the most wonderful and fulfilling stages of your life has come to end. The proud builder that once-upon-a-time swaggered around the hustle and bustle of the nest, is now left spent, shocked, and shattered.
In the life of a bird, the ‘fleeing-from-the-nest’ comes sooner than the mother would probably care for, but it does happen. The mother either nudges its younglings or they get curious and go it alone on their first flight. Soon, the nest is empty and it’s now her lonely home. Baby birds spend such little time in their nests being nurtured compared to human babies. We humans that watch children spreading wings and flying away someday–likening it to birds– perceive it as a sort of cutting the ‘umbilical cord’ a second time, only instead of coming into our world, they’re leaving it, and taking a substantial piece of our hearts with them. Unborn and in the womb, an ‘umbilical cord’ is what sustains our children—-gives them nourishment. It’s what keeps them alive. The first cutting brings overwhelming joy, and the second, heart-wrenching sorrow.
The constancy of social ties in old age has declined or disappeared. Under our own custom of neo-local residence, bride and groom don’t live near either the groom’s parents or the bride‘s parents, but instead go off to establish a new separate residence of their own. With increased life expectancy and having only a child or two, the parents survive to experience an empty nest for years together, often for many decades. Old parents left to themselves in the empty nest are unlikely to find themselves still living near life-long friends. The change of residence by the child may lead to their being cut off from their friends, kind of a proverbial ‘having-been-thrown-away’.
Traditionally, oldies spent their final years living with the same group in the same settlement or even in the same house, in which they’d spent their adult lives or even their whole lives. There they maintained the social ties that had supported them throughout their lives, including ties with the surviving lifelong friends and with at least some of their children. They generally had their sons and daughters or both living nearby. As the upwardly mobile youth began moving out in droves to the green pastures, the traditional simplicities buckled under the swagger of Yuburbia. In its wake were born the ‘Latch-Key-Kids’ and the ‘Empty-Nesters’.