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:
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. ....
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.
Birthday Trip to Salamanca
I’m writing this blog post sitting on the plane next to Betsy, returning home from a trip taken to Salamanca. Mick organised a mini-break for us to visit Annie so we could celebrate her 21st birthday together. Annie has only been in Salamanca for a couple of weeks so I’d been anxious that she wouldn’t have anyone to spend her birthday with. Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong and I spent, at least, some part of the trip transferring my worry as to whether we were, in fact, cramping Annie’s style and wondering if she would have preferred to be in the night clubs that we side-stepped on our way back to the hotel, very much not in the early hours. Annie assured me, (several times) that wasn’t the case and I am cautiously optimistic that I read the weekend vibe correctly in thinking that we had a lovely time.
As part of the 21st celebrations the conversation inevitably steered towards things like ‘advice I’d tell my younger self’ and ‘things I wished I’d known at 21’. The girls were both open minded to guidance I might have had for them, but in truth, sitting in the Plaza Mayor watching them across the table from me as they sipped their sangria - accomplished, funny and together - I didn’t feel I had a great deal of wisdom to share!
The Last Thirty Years
I find it bizarre this it is almost thirty years since I was celebrating my own 21st birthday. I don’t think I went anywhere particularly special, (or if I did I can’t remember), but I do remember returning to my university digs and sitting in the kitchen where Saint Mick produced a magnum of champagne. At the time that seemed to me the absolute height of sophistication, even though it was drunk from plastic cups and chipped mugs!
I think my own girls are much more aware of themselves, their place in the world and how that world might be different for them in thirty years time than I ever was. When I was 21 there are so many things that I failed to anticipate, think about, or couldn’t have known about. Let’s start with the serious stuff!
Things I Didn't Know
TV. I had four channels to choose from when I was 21. It hadn’t been that many years previously when I’d even had to stand up to change the channels rather than reaching for a remote. It was, I think, around this time that I developed a Countdown obsession. The concept of Boxsets, YouTube and Netflix would have seemed beyond belief. The fact that thirty years hence, young people would bypass TV completely and choose to watch a small portable screen on a phone or a tablet, when a vast monster of a screen was available in most western houses, would have blown my mind.
Sticking with TV: how could I have known that Jason Donovan (Scott), the hearthrob from the soap Neighbours, which I skipped lectures to watch, would go bald, mind his baldness a lot, have a successful hair piece and end up making cheap ads for Cadbury’s chocolate? How could I have known that Kylie Minogue (Charlene) would become a respected singer, a sex symbol for men and women alike, and be a role model for encouraging regular breast cancer screening. And definitely how could I know that Mark Little (Joe Mangel), my favourite character, would disappear for thirty years only to reinvent himself as the worst contestant ever to perform on Dancing on Ice and be knocked out in the first round. How could I even know that shows like Dancing on Ice would become a thing? A thing being an outlet to enable the famous for nothing, or once upon a time famous, to re-emerge in the public eye earning lots of money and, it seems, attain oft-desired social media derision in the process!
A Trashed Environment. I think it was around the time I turned 21 that the notion of recycling daily household rubbish first entered my life, (People in the UK might remember the excitement and confusion over the arrival of the extra dustbin for plastic and card.) I’d have been outraged if I had known that the human race was not only actively destroying our planet but, once aware, would be too lazy and selfish to make positive change to prevent this for future generations. The irony that I am on a plane, from a pleasure trip, writing this duly noted. L
Careers. They (I’m not sure who) say that our young people will have ten, fifteen, or even twenty different careers by the time they reach fifty. They also say that many of those careers won’t even have been invented yet. I don’t think when I became a teacher twenty five plus years ago I could even name twenty different career paths and had no idea of the opportunities that would be in our futures.
Feminism and Equality. I was a feminist at 21 but my knowledge was sketchy to say the least. I embraced the teachings of Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Vita Sackville-West, but it seems, looking back, only in a fairly abstract academic way. I feel quite ashamed how passive I was (what did those poor suffragettes fight for?). I guess I couldn’t have known that thirty years on even though girls would exceed boys in their school academic success, they would still hold only a tiny percentage of leadership positions and often be paid less across all industries.
Continued Predatory Behaviour – When I was at university the stereotypical ‘man in a mac’ flashed my friends and I when walking home one evening. It shook us up but our prime reaction was laughter not outrage. I knew that ‘No meant no’ but I also knew of instances amongst friends where no didn’t lead to no and we didn’t act on this. It has taken thirty years for movements such as ‘Me Too’ to find their voice and I suspect cover ups - royal or otherwise - continue all the time. I am hopeful that now our young people do have a much greater sense of what is and isn’t acceptable, though I bet I would have been surprised that it had taken so long.
The Internet. I was already teaching in Tanzania when the ‘online world’ started, yet these days it is completely taken for granted. I couldn’t have known how easy it would make completing academic research where answers to practically everything are seemingly just a few taps or a spoken question away. (Who could have imagined ‘Alexa’ and ‘Hey Google’?) Equally I had no ideas of the dangers that the dark world of the Internet brings with it.
Social Media. When I was 21 I wouldn’t have imagined that thirty years on I’d be able to pick up forgotten or spoiled friendships using social media. Equally, I had no idea about how people’s lives would be paraded (I’m doing it now) for the world to see on various social media forums. I may have behaved far better on some occasions if there had been the chance of my life being online for all to see! For me, and many teenagers, back in the day the telephone was my social life. The concept of not having to sit at the bottom of the stairway to phone my best friend, but instead have her photos, actions and voice and written words at hand 24/7 would have been a dream come true.
Alcohol. Who’d have thought that drinking shots of spirits would become such a thing amongst the young today? I don’t think it existed when I was young, or at least I never participated in it. Neither have I ever drunk pink gin which seems popular these days. However before I saw the error of my ways I definitely embraced the hobby of prosecco drinking. When I was 21 I don’ t think I’d have anticipated that thirty years hence I’d be a crusader for the ‘no-booze brigade’ preaching to anyone who will listen against it and explaining how alcohol does nothing for waistlines and all round well-being!
Politics. Should I even go there? I think I understood politics better thirty years ago and had stronger convictions than I do now, but I couldn’t have known that English politics would become such a complete mess! When I was young I at least knew who was in power and I did feel that politicians actually believed in something beyond self-aggrandisement. Now it all just feels very sad and the politicians come and go so quickly that I can’t keep up with who is in which role. Back in the day I joined Elvis Costello in his derision of Thatcher, followed the miners’ strike and mocked the ‘falsehood’ of Reagan’s acting presidency. (Why do people now remember him in such a good light?) I went to Essex uni so of course was a good lefty, but I do vaguely remember feeling guiltily (very guiltily – still a bit ashamed) cashing in when the gas shares were sold off and I was also a bit of a secret Shirley Williams fan. These days I would shout that admiration from the roof-tops. Back in the day I loved Spitting Image and enjoyed Private Eye, but these days even hardcore political comedians seem to find things almost too bleak to even satirize.
Anyway, I could keep going but I’m concerned that this blog post is becoming much too long and I am supposed to be focusing on the girls and how they are more aware of their place in the world than I ever was. I am not supposed to be preparing for a party political broadcast! In addition, I am genuinely afraid that if I use the term ‘these days’ once more I may be ostracized by all family and friends.
I did broach the question with the girls of how they think the world might have changed in thirty years time or what they might be doing in the future, but whilst they didn’t literally roll their eyes I am not sure I really got an answer. Annie did say that some of her friends had their life mapped out in such detail that they even had spreadsheets of the things that they needed to accomplish by which date and age in order to meet their goals. Talk about being motivated and knowing what you want! I have to say that I was happy with my girls’ more open-minded blank canvas approach to life. They are both go-getters and I am sure that they will take opportunities offered to them and maintain a bit of an eye on the future whilst living fully in the present. The one thing that I really had no idea about when I was 21 but which makes me happy each and every day is that I would have two strong, independent, feminist daughters who are prepared, if need be, to take the world by its goolies and fight for their beliefs. That’s more than good enough for me.
Do you believe in free choice or do you think everything is pre-determined?
I watched and really enjoyed the film Sliding Doors last night starring Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah and co-starring John Lynch. It’s made me terribly confused though as I’ve always been a big believer in free choice and it suggests that everything is pre-determined. I’ve generally been a little dismissive of people’s arguments that 'it was destined to be’. Now I don’t know what to think!
In the film we see two completely different versions of how the life of the main character Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), unfolds. In one version Helen drops her earrings in a lift, thus delaying her and making her miss a train connection. In the other version she doesn’t drop the earring, makes her train connection and arrives home unexpectedly early to discover her boyfriend, Gerry, (John Lynch) cheating. In the first version Helen remains ignorant of her boyfriend’s infidelity for some time, and on a later train connection meets James, who had initially picked up the dropped earring for her (John Hannah). A tight plot ensues, that I won’t spoil, but did enjoy.
The film made me reflect on how one event can massively impact on our lives. For example, back in the day, I didn't get in my first choice of university and ended up in, what the kids call now, their insurance choice. For me that was the University of Essex where I went on to meet the lovely Saint Mick of Thana. I had no idea back then how pleased I would be 30 years on to have not done well in my Economics A Level! This question about how free we are to make choices, in turn, brought to mind Robert Frost’s poem 'The Road Not Taken'. This happens to be one of my all time favourites so I’ll include it in full. (As an aside The Poetry Foundation have lovely audio versions of their poems, well worth a visit if that is your kind of thing.)
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
On a first read the poem can seem a bit didactic, but I prefer to read it positively and take from it a helpful reminder that it is important to make active choices (rather than live passively) and to keep in mind that going for the easy option isn’t always the best thing to do.
I think I’ve always felt pretty in control and together about the choices I’ve made and I’ve certainly thought that I’ve had free choice to make them. My stance tends to be that if a choice is hurting myself or hurting anyone else and if it is going to prevent me achieving my long term goals and aims then it is a BAD choice and has to go! If a choice has short term disadvantages but long term benefits and if it can be tenable with support then it is a good short term choice. Finally, if a choice is for the long haul and is going to be in line with my moral code and impact positively on friendship and family relationships then it is a good choice.
It is pretty straightforward really isn’t it, except back to the film… at the end the two different storylines come together and suggest that what will be will be, regardless of individual choice. The film has an interesting and clever structure which is intended to show how events outside of our control can completely change our destiny. Therefore our ‘free choice’ is not very free at all!
Oh blimey I’m getting flummoxed, but I don’t think I buy that. Although we can’t dictate and predict life circumstances and there is lots that we can’t control, we do have free will to form our thoughts, create our moral compass and act according to our beliefs. The fact that ‘chance’ or ‘coincidence’ can affect outcomes doesn’t negate free will and therefore it cannot be used as an excuse for not making good choices. The poem reminds us that the choices we make are signficant and we should choose carefully. It is surely then supporing free choice. Having said that though, what was it that made the speaker go down the ‘one that wanted wear’?
My head hurts with all this thinking so there is only one thing for it. I’m going to use my free will to go find a nice healthy snack in the fridge, I know that is a good choice that I can make of my own free-will. If though a chocolate bar should inadvertently fall into my hand then … Ok, I know I don’t have to eat it!