Coping with Empty Nesting Anxiety
I posted last week about viewing the whole experience of being an Empty Nester in a positive light using Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for my examples.. I joked about trying to not over parent and leave the munchkins to spread their wings in peace. Like many things it is much easier to say something than actually follow through and this week I’ve come remarkably close to overstepping the mark several times! I can only thank my kids for their levels of tolerance of my constant urge to over-parent.
I’ve noticed that whilst things are going super well with the girls, I can ‘play it cool’ and stay reasonably detached, but when there is even the teeniest glimmer of any problem (however small) I am suddenly there, offering unsolicited advice, suggesting ways of fixing things, judging and generally being an all round pain in the neck!
To be serious, any desire to over parent at this time does stem from real worry about whether the kids are doing ok as it is quite likely that they will feel at least a little bit homesick and have their own ‘stuff’ going on. The irony is that in trying to help it is easy to exacerbate this. A worry (another!) is that I don’t want the girls to ‘not tell me’ things about their life because of how I respond. I’m also concerned that they have both inherited, to some extent at least, the ‘Flint worry gene’ and that this creates problems for them in their own life! This is definitely not good! If only I could go back in time and learn earlier about role-modelling. Of course I can’t, but it is never too late to try to improve. I am therefore determined to put proper strategies in place to cope with Empty Nesting anxiety. This is what I have come up with:
Strategies to avoid over-worry leading into over-parenting!
Distractions and Treats
Acknowledge the Problem
Be Practical and Realistic
It’s Just Mum being Mum
I'm not sure that is great advice to myself really, but I am completely aware of the negatives that over-parenting can bring. It’s a bit like knowing smoking is harmful but still not giving up. I’m also aware that my anxiety may be linked to other things going on in life so I’m mindful of not transferring this onto the kids. I’m not successful but I’m mindful!
I had a funny text exchange last night. Betsy told me she had made rice and egg for dinner. I asked how it was and the response was 5 out of 10. I immediately offered to buy her a rice cooker to get the score higher. Her response is in the image below!
I did find it quite funny, but I guess it also shows how annoying I can be. In our family the girls share what I am like with each other (I think!) and I suspect I am the butt of a few jokes. That’s fine and I’m hopeful it serves to lessen the irritation that my over-parenting brings with it. I think behind the scenes Mick also probably smooths things over when I’m ‘too much’ and reminds the girls that any over-protectiveness only stems from loving them so much.
Despite all of the above I still can't help thinking that ultimately it is quite likely that mum does know best after all and that the girls really shoud seek my wise counsel and obviously follow everything I suggest! Right back to the drawing board. I need to re-read this post and try again!
Empty Nesters – Do you take a Mr or Mrs Bennett Approach?
Sleep Deprived Empty Nesters
I’m lying here in bed at 3.35 a.m. listening to the rain outside wondering whether Annie got home ok from her night out yesterday. I’m not too worried as I know she was travelling with her friend Alfie, but I question whether it is raining over in Spain too and if not whether it is cold. I hope that she has remembered to wear a proper coat. I know she won’t have put gloves on or even taken any to Salamanca with her. I check my phone to see if she has messaged but I am not expecting anything. It is her third year at university and I have slowly weaned myself off from asking her check in every ten minutes. I often manage up to an hour now! (Only half joking!)
Mick is in Bangkok and will probably be just getting up, I bet the dog is barking for attention. Betsy is in York and has messaged earlier to say that she is safely home from her evening out. There is no one to disturb if I switch on my very loud coffee machine so I get up and make myself a drink. It’s ok, but I know that Mick would scorn the inferior ‘bargain basement’ coffee beans. Only two weeks until half term when I see him. This makes me smile. I breathe out. For the first time this week my anxiety levels are within acceptable levels. Relax
I pick up Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home which I’m about half way through. I adore Jane Austen, (particularly Pride and Prejudice) and admire Lucy Worsley but I’m soon sleepy. I lay the book aside. I have planned to blog in the morning about ‘Empty Nesters’ and I drift off wondering what type of empty nesters Mr and Mrs Bennet were. ....
Empty Nesters – Are you a Mr Bennet or a Mrs Bennet?
Signs that you are a Mr Bennet
• Mr Bennet sat alone in his study bereft at the idea of losing Elizabeth to that cold hearted Mr Darcy. Little did he know! You sit alone on your kid’s bed cuddling their childhood teddies resenting the cold hearted university institution which has stolen your child away from you!
• Mr Bennet knew that marrying Mr Darcy gave Elizabeth a sound start in her adult life, but still didn’t think he was quite good enough for her. This was despite his excellent principles and immense wealth. You think that your child’s university is extremely lucky to have them.
• Mr Bennet reluctantly accepts that Elizabeth has to leave home and gives his permission to go on the understanding that she is happy. His goodbye is understated. You let your child go, she has worked hard to pass those exams and is excited to get on with her life, but the departure is very bitter-sweet and is amidst many jokes that she can always come home if she doesn’t settle.
• Mr Bennet has not carefully managed his finances and feels somewhat ashamed about this. He feels a sense of regret, but this is nothing in comparison to the sense of loss he feels about losing Elizabeth and Jane. You also wish you’d started planning financially for university earlier but it isn’t money that your heart is aching about.
• Mr Bennet knows that Elizabeth will frequently invite him to Pemberley so stoically gets on with his life. You do the same, but it is a slow process and your kids are constantly in your thoughts.
Signs that you are a Mrs Bennet.
• Mrs Bennet shows how she feels in a demonstrative, loud and melodramatic manner. When she feels warmly towards Darcy and Bingley she prepares lavishly for their visits. You are the same about university. You have bought every kitchen appliance invented for your child to take (though they won’t touch half of them), know more about freshers fair than they do and have had to be warned off from making a parent ‘facebook’ group and meeting her flatmates’ parents for coffee.
• Mrs Bennet is fickle and when she feels disdain for Bingley and Darcy she shows it. She doesn’t bother to search out the truth and jumps to conclusions. You know implicitly that any teething problems your son or daughter has settling into university are not of their making but must be the fault of the university!
• Mrs Bennet ‘takes to her bed’ when upset, yet recovers quickly if a ball or other social event is in the offing. You cry loudly and lengthily when your daughter leaves, insisting on leaving everything in their room untouched for their return. By the end of Term 1, however, you’ve turned yourself around, got a whole new social life, started new hobbies and have moved to a smaller house without telling your kids (ok, maybe not the last part!)
• Although an acquired taste Mrs Bennet is impulsive and fun. She encourages her kids to enjoy themselves and take every opportunity offered to be social and extract gossip from the neighbouring community. This turns out to be very detrimental to Lydia’s well being but ‘c’est la vie’. You are the same - spending lavishly and wildly on your daughter’s fresher’s events and living surreptitiously through your child’s partying. After all it’s important to belong.
• I imagine Mrs Bennet frequently visiting Jane and Elizabeth. She will overstay her welcome and drive the family to distraction, though Jane and Bingley, will be especially patient with her. You will turn up and surprise your child unexpectedly, embarrass them in front of their friends, share inappropriate childhood stories whilst constantly reassuring yourself that you’re being a great parent and it is for their good that you are refusing to leave town.
Obviously I’m being a bit flippant but being an empty nester isn’t easy. I was expecting to come down far more heavily as a Mr Bennet type than a Mrs Bennet type, though I think I’m actually a bit of both. Nostalgic and melancholic one minute, then excited for the girls the next. I’m definitely not above a touch of ‘wow I’m free to do what I like now’ feeling!
Austen, having turned down marriage proposals herself, continually shows in her writing how restricted and limited opportunities for women to live independently were in her time. I think she would wholeheartedly approve of the circumstances in today’s society leading to mums and dads sadness about being empty nesters. She’d probably tell us to ‘suck it up’ and be thankful for such great opportunities for our kids. I can almost hear her advising the girls about their futures. 'Don’t settle for what you don’t want and if you do go to university choose a Darcy not a Wickham'. She’s right of course (especially about choosing a Darcy!). It would be so easy to describe this transitional ‘empty-nesting’ time as one of ‘loss’ and ‘sadness’ and I do feel those things a bit, but I’ve decided it is far more productive to describe this as a time of ‘opportunity’, ‘growth’ and ‘adventure’ for the whole family.
Empty nesters, the world awaits us! That’s not to say you won’t find me sitting in the girls bedrooms occasionally with a soft toy or item of clothing in my arms .. just having a quiet moment!
How Ordinary Moments Matter
Gratitude and Ordinary Moments
I’ve blogged before about how completing my ‘grateful list’ each day, even when I don’t feel like doing it, is important to me. I really do think that actively and consciously expressing gratitude creates positive emotions and increases personal well-being. I suppose it’s a kind of ‘you reap what you sew’ scenario in which, even if you don’t feel like reaping, you should ‘fake it to make it’! – I’m not sure I’m expressing myself very well, but hopefully you get the idea. Weirdly since I first wrote this blog the other day I have come across the idea of celebrating ordinary 'parenting moments' as a group on a superb website I've come across. It's kind of what I was getting at but much better! It is a feature called 'Ordinary Moments' on a website by Donna Wishart called What the Redhead Said. Definitely have a look at it.
Seemingly Ordinary Moments
Anyhow, this morning I really did not want to swim. It was flipping freezing outside (well compared to Bangkok anyway) and I was tucked up in bed, snug as a bug in a rug; having not having had a great deal of sleep I was desirous of more. (Sleep deprivation being the price an over anxious mum pays when she knows that her baby girl, Betsy, is out night-clubbing in York until 3.00 am.) When my alarm went at 6.00 a.m. I was very tempted to ignore it, but a motivational text, sent by my good friend Rach, pinged in which chivvied me into getting up, facing the dark morning and joining the other early swimmers at Ancholme Leisure Centre. As Rach had rightly predicted I felt really good after swimming and was grateful for her text. Although it was just a ‘moment’ it was one that I will remember positively.
I think that whilst there’s no doubt that big life changing events, such as holding your little newborn for the first time and stuff like that, are massive it is also often small life ‘moments’ from which we make our memories and significantly from which our sense of self-worth comes. For some reason driving home from swimming this morning loads of these random and seemingly insignifcant precious moments arrived fast and furious. The speed probably linked to my being in the Boxter-don’t forget the ‘S’. (I thought I might as well say that before Mick does when he reads and corrects this post!) Mick might not be able to account for the random nature of the ‘moments’ swimming into my mind though. I think it was perhaps because whilst swimming I had been listening to Audrey Niffeneger's 'The Time Traveller’s Wife' so my brain was primed for thinking about the past and jumping through time.
Here are just a few completely random insignificant significant moments:
Signficant Moment Sharing
I could keep going on and on, but my point isn’t to bore everyone to tears, though I can’t seem to stop the memories flooding in. Perhaps I’ll have to devote one of the ‘five a day items’ on my grateful list to a memory. There’s no doubt that re-visiting seemingly unimportant moments are good for the soul!
Of course, I couldn’t have known that these seemingly insignificant events would become precious memories, helping to form who I am, influencing how I react to my own family and friends, and even being instrumental in determining my self-esteem and level of well being. I’m smiling ironically to myself as I write this post; even to myself I’m sounding a bit hippy dippy. Everyone will wonder if I’ve had a bump to the head. Would it be a step too far into the realms of ‘born again upbeat-ness’ to suggest that we have a feel good fest of facebook ‘significant insignificant moments’ sharing? Perhaps it would, so instead maybe just a quiet reflection would suffice … having said that if you feel the urge to share your ‘precious moments' I’d love to hear them!
I've now just come across this blog post too from Blog Lovin' website. It seems I'm not very original at all and I'm jealous of all these great blogs! !
The Testaments - Worth the Wait?
I blogged earlier in the week about reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in preparation of Atwood's The Testaments. I wanted to thoroughly prepare for the new release and make sure that I could remember who was who, why they mattered and so on.. Was it the right thing to do? Yes. If you haven't read either book, then definitely read The Handmaid's Tale first. Was it worth the wait? Yes. It was a superb sequel. Having said that it is definitely possible to enjoy The Testaments with no prior knowledge of Gilead and the characters in it. Atwood is a clever old stick!
The Testaments Review
Exquisitely plotted, The Testaments was a fabulous read that I really didn't want to put down. (That's not ideal when you are visiting your husband for a very short time only and shouldn't be spending all your time reading!). However, with more twists and turns than a meandering country lane (approached in the Boxster S of course), this sequel had a great storyline that held together meticulously well. I think with the passing of so much time and the nature of the dystopian society set up in Handmaid, the plot really did have to hold together superbly, so thank goodness that it did. The structure was fantastic with not a flaw and the characters overall were very well drawn too. Very little not to like with Aunt Lydia's testament being particularly strong.. Incidentally, I also loved her backstory. The ambience of Gilead was created, probably, or at least possibly, even more effectively than in Handmaid and most of the questions that I had were answered. I had blogged that I didn't want the book to waste too much time on what happened in Offred's 'love life', but I've let myself down as I would have liked to have one or two loose ends tied up that weren't, but I can hardly complain. There have been few books I've anticipated more excitedly than this one, and I am glad to say it didn't let me down.
The Testaments and The Handmaid's Tale - Questions Raised
As I read these were the main things that I ended up thinking about:
Althoug these two titles were intricately linked the writing style of the Testaments didn't tightly imitate Handmaid. In addtiion, the structure was completely different. Rather than a single narrator, Offred in Handmaid, we are shown the inside and outside of Gilead from three different narrators' perspectives as they recount their part of the story, roughly in turn. I don't think this matters but what do you think?
The Testaments has a greater variety of age and lifestyle of narrator and thus enables the reader to have far more breadth of understanding of Gilead and what happened. I got to thinking whether the book would have been as effective if we had continued with only one narrator?
Atwood places The Testaments in a more 'real' setting often referring to parts of neighbouring Canada. I wondered if this made the threat of this dystopia more or less frightening? I think Atwood says that she has only written about what she has known has happened in different places in our current world. I didn't hear the whole interview but I'm really curious about what she referred to. I need a class of kids to really get a good chat going about links to our current world.
Finally, sisterhood in all sense of the word, completely dominates the text. It is particularly poignant at the end. Sisterhood is a big term. I noticed in the Fortunately podcast the presenters use it in reference to each other. Not sure how I feel about that (!) and I need to reflect on what sisterhood really means to me.
Reading back these would only need a little bit of adapting to become book club questions. Hmmm... I wonder if that's the way to go in my blogging? In the meantime though I think it is time to read a new book. Mick has just finished Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls I haven't read any of her books for years so maybe that's the way to go, unless anyone has any other suggestions?
I do enjoy a good book!
Frasier as Prologue
There’s an episode of Frasier which explores his need for tranquility and solitude after Martin, his father, moves in with him. This is illustrated by an elaborate display of him plumping the cushions, pouring himself a glass of sherry and playing gentle classical music as he prepares to read his book alone. However, Frasier’s enjoyment is stymied by interruptions from Eddie the dog, the doorbell, the phone, and so on… if I’m not mistaken the same episode, or a further one on the same theme, concludes with Frasier throwing his father’s chair out a high window into the street below in a Freudian accident! It’s very funny if you haven’t seen it - one of the great Frasier farces. However, this isn’t a post about Frasier, but I did feel something akin to his frustration whilst trying to prepare to read Margaret Atwood’s highly acclaimed and much anticipated The Testaments by first re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale. How hard can it be to simply read a book?!
Frustrations only a Lover of Reading will Understand
There were many obstructions to reading The Handmaid’s Tale. Firstly, I had to dice with death to reach it from my bookshelf in preparation for my reading it on my plane journey to Bangkok. Alphabetized of course so ‘A’ for Atwood was at the very top! Secondly, my reading was prevented by irritating and irritated passengers on the plane. These included a nobby-know-it-all man who was sure I was in the wrong seat (I wasn’t); a very posh lady who, with her XXL sized makeup bag and abundance of Gucci hand luggage, considerably over-spilled into my area, (the irony being that she had been moved after complaining about her own oversized and overspilling neighbour); and an intemperate non-English speaking man across the aisle whose gesticulations and rants clearly demonstrated that my reading by my iphone torch light (oh, the overhead lighting had been too bright for the aforementioned (now in need of beauty sleep) passengers) was disturbing him. In the end I gave up trying to read The Handmaid’s Tale on the plane and instead satisfied myself by watching a couple of episodes of the eight Prime Time Emmy Awards winning series adapted by Hulu. (This, by the way, was excellent, but all good scholars know that the reading must precede the viewing whenever possible!)
Determined to be philosophical and patient (even though The Testaments was burning a holy hole in my very core and I had a whole further book to get through first) I decided I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale on the way to Hua Hin instead. My marvellous Saint Mick of Thana (honestly, not to gush, but he is the best husband ever) had booked us into the Hilton for the long weekend. Things continued to go wrong delaying my reading. After a completely rubbish day at school and after being on the (what felt to me very late) late shift at a school event (I haven’t seen him for six weeks after all) Mick broke down on his way home. He had to leave the car under a dubious looking electricity transformer and an even more dubious Thai buzzing electric spaghetti of wiring on a flooded road in the middle of a thunderstorm and hope to not hear any fire-engines. Eventually the car was towed and once fixed the next morning we finally departed. However, after all the drama and having not seen Mick for six weeks, I felt the least I could do was actually chat with the old fella on the journey, so the reading was once again delayed.
Hua Hin, as always, doesn’t disappoint and the book at last – eureka - is read!
The Handmaid’s Tale – Nostalgia
As far as I know, Margaret Atwood is a pretty ‘out there’ author, offering inspiration and online writing advice. This would be great for IB students to tap into. I even think I read or heard on a radio interview somewhere that Atwood has a scheme where she ‘pair writes’ with a new author and acts as their mentor. If I haven't got that wrong (which I possibly have, how incredibly cool. She is one of those people that I’d invite to my dream dinner party, I’d probably be so star struck that I would just gawk in awe and say nothing whilst our elderly and incontinent dog Wizz, did her trick of wanton weeing beside the guests!
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was about 18 or 19. I loved it then, but I love it even more now. If there was ever a book (and even better, a sequel) for a nostalgic 50 year old to revisit and reflect upon this is it. It is brilliant. I’d give almost anything to (just one last time) sit down with a group of students and study it together. Faces of students I’d taught jumped into my mind continually as I read – Elyse, Vic, Petra, Hanoi, Leonardo, Michael. We’d have an absolute ball soaking up the text and debating the themes within. Honestly, there is just so much to dissect and chat about, it’s absolutely a first-rate read which I’d highly recommend. If anything it feels even more relevant now than it did thirty years ago. It’s made me determined to revisit all of Atwood’s other books too and check out what I missed. Oryx and Crake, as well as being a love story, is of course such a great text for exploring environmental issues with. As a teacher, fiction can keep topics intensely personal whilst completely de-personalizing them and thus avoiding conflict in the classroom (does that even make sense?) As a Harry Potter fan it seems like Atwood is constantly ahead of her time - a much more relaible version of J.K Rowling’s Professor Trelawney, with the added extra of talent beyond belief thrown in for good measure.
Margaret Atwood’s Brilliance
Atwood keeps the ‘I’ at the centre of all her writing. It is through the minutae of the representation and portrayal of individual life that we are able to so successfully explore the global central themes of societal oppression, religious indoctrination and environmental concern. A real beauty of her writing is an unspoken acknowledgement by her characters, usually the protagonists, that this is the case. She demonstrates that rarely, probably never can a utilitarian society reflected in whatever type of dystopia portrayed, (or rebellion against the dystopia) suppress individual and personal want. For example, Offred guilitily rushes through her account of her affair with Nick.
I think what re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale reminded me of the most is how marvellous a tool fiction is to explore world issues and also how fiction (for me anyway), more than anything, else gets to the crux of exploring the human condition (whatever that means!) Her references to the misuse of Islam on which to blame all world problems; the dangers that having a little power brings; and the skills repressors have of using the oppressed to oppress further, gave me plenty of food for thought. I guess historians and sociologists would do the same by studying real-life societal issues (Brexit perhaps!), but for me it is only by escaping society that I can start to understand it. Let’s face it, it is also good to escape, though having said that reading Atwood is not a passive activity.
The paradox of the utter insignificance of the individual juxtaposed against the absolute significance of that same individual is never far from the surface of her books. This leaves the reader with their mind blown, their energy levels in overdrive and their desire to make every moment count; resolute, as for all of us life is transient and short. With this in mind, I was very saddened to see yesterday that Atwood’s long term partner died whilst Atwood had been in the UK promoting her new book The Testaments. Sad news indeed.
Anticipation of Atwood’s The Testaments
Back to the sun, sea and sand in Hua Hin. I am recovered from my journey, full from a very large breakfast and admiring the view. I am replete and ready to reverently open the pages of The Testaments. I hope that I don’t get my lovely new hardcopy spoiled by reading it on the beach, but if I do such is life! I have avoided all reviews and sincerely wish for the following: that I do in fact get to find out what happened to the central characters in The Handmaid’s Tale; that I learn how the utop/dsystop-ia fell (I know from the epilogue to Handmaid that it did indeed fail); and that the book doesn’t fall into anything as banal as an exploration of whether Offred chooses Luke (if he is alive) over Nick. That would be very disappointing. However… I shall see. I won’t be blogging again until I’ve read it.