Empty Nester Kuel Category Expert: Jennie Eriksen
As I sit down to write this blog post it’s the 25th anniversary of my mother passing.
I have to say it’s been a day of reflection and a few tears as I’ve had a little wander down memory lane. As you can imagine, it was pretty devastating losing her, but even more so as I was weeks away from having her first grandchild.
So I got to thinking more than usual today about my mum and how she handled being an empty nester when my brother and I left home. I have to be honest, it definitely shaped the way I dealt with my own children leaving when they flew the nest.
I’ve always chosen to believe my mum’s behaviour was because we had become her reason to get up each day. As kids of parents who “stayed together for the sake of the children” she fought our battles with a father who simply couldn’t relate to us, found fault in everything we did, and couldn’t show a crumb of affection.
My brother and I therefore felt a huge sense of obligation to stay in close proximity so we didn’t leave her alone with him. So…guess who didn’t go away to university; as my mum told me repeatedly over and over that she would miss me so much? When my brother was seriously considering a really great job that would involve moving a couple of hours’ drive, she got very upset that he would be “so far” from home that he turned it down. When I did finally summon up the courage to move three hours away; my mum stood at the front door and wouldn’t look at me or wave goodbye. I sobbed all the way to my new destination.
I did eventually challenge her on this and she told me: “I was holding the cat, so I couldn’t wave”.
It definitely took the shine off my stab at being an independent young woman and I’ve often wondered if she resented that I had the ability to move on.
Ironically, even after we moved out, her reason to “stay for the children” turned into “I can’t leave your father, he’ll never manage without me”. She was 62 when she died and my father lived another 15 years!
As you can imagine, when I had my own children I was determined that I would never put pressure on them to stay nearby and settle for less than they desired.
Having been a super tight family of four, it was always going to be wrench when the first one left. I must admit, at times, I question whether we went too much the other way, as we encouraged our children to be citizens of the world and “embrace every opportunity”. The sentences “Mum I want to study in the US” and “Mum I want to study in Australia” came as no surprise really….
I’ve refused to see my children living overseas as a barrier to keeping in touch with them. Being present and connected is not just about physical proximity – there are plenty of people who have their children physically nearby who don’t see much of them. In days gone by we had to rely on carrier pigeons, letters, telegrams, and payphones to convey our messages. Now we can speak to pretty much anyone in the world, in real time, and actually see the person we are speaking to, as well! How fabulous is that?
Given recent unprecedented circumstances as a pandemic bubbles around the world, that connectivity has never been more important and tech can literally be a life saver. My son has been in quarantine in Dubai for nearly two months all on his own. He hasn’t physically seen anyone. Even though he has a successful career and is almost 25 he is still my boy – the grandchild my mother just missed seeing – and it’s a huge test of anyone’s mental health to be in solitude for so long. Do I wish he was just down the road so I could be nearby, observing the social distance etiquette? Oh for sure! However, he isn’t and rather than waste my energy being sad and depressed, I choose to make those calls and time with him count and enjoy him in the here and now, despite the circumstances.
I wish my mum could have seen her wonderful grandchildren, even just for a moment – I know she’d be as proud of them as I am. I hope somehow, somewhere she is and hopefully proud of me too.
In memory of my mother Dorothy.
About the Author
Jennie Eriksen, when not obsessing over her grown up children, Jake and Pia, spends her time working with awesome midlife women (and sometimes men) who have reached a crossroads and are looking to embrace the next chapter of their lives. As a Midlife Reinvention Coach, who walks her talk, she feels privileged to help midlifers figure out “what’s next” as they embrace lifestyle and business transformations. When she is not doing that you’ll find her talking to herself in a small padded room; as she is also a British voiceover working with global clients who seem to like her dulcet tones.
With two children based overseas, you can probably guess Jennie is an avid traveller. When not visiting her jet-setting kids, she and her husband like to take a “just us” trips. And… if it involves good food; that’s a bonus for the pair of die-hard foodies.
Kuel Life Note: We let Jennie spell the British way; after all, she does live in Norway.