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!