A rather dramatic photo of me holding hands with my daughter and her good friend hours before they left on Boxing Day.
When my daughter (in green pyjama bottoms in the photo above) was little, Christmas was a magical experience, as in many other homes, and these festive experiences seemed eternal, as if they would always be that way. I never stopped to think that one day the magic would be a diminishing return.
Christmas has, these days, become a bittersweet time. My daughter left home in February 2021 and three Christmases have gone by and been spent with me being an empty nester.
It’s hard enough when they leave home permanently but there is a certain nostalgia associated with the festive break. Christmas holds a special expectation. Happy memories are rekindled of Christmases past in the weeks leading up to Christmas day. The expectation builds in the lead up to their, my daughter, in my case, arrival. Even though she comes home on average once a month on weekend visits there is something different about her coming for Christmas.
She arrives and it heralds the start of a happy week. We throw ourselves into the festivities – too much eating, some drinking, too many calories consumed through sugary desserts and the games come out. We squabble over which TV programme to watch and which game to play.
Her friends come around and there is much revelry as they greet each other noisily, sing carols in loud exaggerated voices and turn the TV volume up (not simultaneously, of course). It was quite a happy day but there was an end time in sight. When kids are young the Christmas mood stretches over the week into New Year’s Day. They play with their games and carry on making lots of noise. The end in sight for me was Boxing Day.
On Boxing Day I woke up with trepidation. Daughter was due to leave later that day. As a double whammy, her childhood friend who lives next door is leaving the neighbourhood shortly. These Christmas Days when this particular friend would visit frequently is to be a thing of the past. I am a rather sentimental and nostalgic kind of person who finds it hard to move on instantly but I did cope when my daughter left in the evening.
I didn’t cry, as I thought I would. Quite proud of myself, really, for being stronger than I thought I could be.
With the echoes of holiday festivities still fresh in my mind, three days later, I find myself reflecting on the journey of motherhood. This reflective process allows me to appreciate the beautiful moments spent raising my daughter and to acknowledge the strong woman that she has become. No doubt I have many more years of feeling unsettled after the big holidays of Easter and Christmas but, hopefully, the sting will wane.
As the holiday season comes to an end and the last traces of tinsel are to be packed away, many mums find themselves facing a bittersweet reality. The cheerful chaos of Christmas and the joyous laughter of children echoing through the halls have been replaced by a quiet. But this can feel, both, liberating and lonely.
But what does this mean in practice?
While the house may feel quieter and I feel unsettled, I am learning to find solace and support in pursuing my own passions. Writing is a passion. I love putting my feelings down and this blog is an outlet. I am catching up on reading. I have discovered Patti Smith’s books. In a nutshell, I am embracing self-care.
The post-holiday period serves as a reminder for empty nest moms to prioritize self-care all year round and not just after the unsettling time which descends after children leave. It is as if each separation offers mums like me a new opportunity of self-discovery. I also realise that the journey of being an empty nester is a long one. First, there is the coping with the every day which then transitions into coping with, as this blog post points out, post holiday empty nest blues. Take time at each stage to acknowledge your progress.
What to Remember:
Life after the children leave is a canvas waiting to be filled with new and exciting adventures.
Happy New Year