• The writer and her son Joel in Santorini. (Rosalind Reines)
One of the drawbacks of having children later in life means that when they finally leave home their parents are dealing with their own issues.
By
Rosalind Reines

1 Jun 2017 - 2:48 PM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2017 - 10:15 AM

After my 22-year-old son informed me he was leaving home, my life fell apart. It wasn’t just because it felt too soon to become an empty nester but because I was also dealing with a set of circumstances common to many other baby boomers at this stage of life: I’d ‘left’ my high profile job after 18 years, my mother passed away and I’d lost some of those I considered to be close friends - perhaps because I was no longer useful to them. It was the perfect emotional storm.

Nearly a year after living apart from my son, I’m still grieving not only for my mother (we lost my father 16 years ago) but also for my old life. I have withdrawal symptoms from the frenzy of single parenthood - the endless cycle of working, cooking, cleaning, organising, chauffeuring and well, active mothering.  (No seriously, I do.) Once that ceased, I found myself questioning my existence and feeling as displaced as if I’d somehow wound up at the wrong destination. What had just happened?

I found myself questioning my existence and feeling as displaced as if I’d somehow wound up at the wrong destination. What had just happened?

Admittedly the arrangements I made with my uni student son about living separately are unconventional: I was the one who moved out and he found himself a flatmate, mainly because with no partner, I didn’t want to live in our old place on my own. So I bought myself a cute one bedroom apartment in the next suburb.

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At first, it was fun setting up two homes. There was also a seemingly endless procession through the door as my son interviewed various potential flatmates. Many had trouble written all over their faces including the giggling Brazilian backpackers hoping to establish party central, the NRL footy player who was looking for a partner in crime, a woman who was almost as old as me but was strangely insistent on moving in, a grumpy chef.

The last time I’d lived alone was in my late 30s when I kept my fridge stocked with various alcoholic beverages and snacks to have with them when my party loving friends came around.

It looked quite grim for a while there until a really lovely girl the same age as my son turned up with a Labrador dog and despite the fact that we only have a small garden, six days later they’d both moved in. (My rule that the dog had to sleep outside didn’t even last for one night but that’s fine because he’s extremely lovable.)

Meanwhile, when it came to my own place, I discovered a flair for decorating that I didn’t know I had. I scoured auction rooms for furniture and art work, indulging my need to have a purely feminine space.

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The last time I’d lived alone was in my late 30s when I kept my fridge stocked with various alcoholic beverages and snacks to have with them when my party loving friends came around.

Perhaps I must have imagined that I was still in my 30s when I set up my shiny, new fridge in exactly the same way - despite the fact that I don’t even drink anymore and I can’t think of anything worse than having a party at my place. As a result nearly a year later most of the original alcohol is still there but at least the crisper is filled with fresh vegetables. After 23 years of having to cook, I mainly eat salads now or walk to the local sushi restaurants.

There have are been some immediate benefits. I’ve lost weight and I’m fitter from all the walking. I’m also more productive, finishing a novel in a year and I’m turning off the TV and internet to read more books. I’m grateful to have such a privileged life.

Before I moved out, I was worried that he’d be too distracted in his new life to keep up with his Law degree but he’s actually doing much better than he did when I was there.

Of course I miss my son but we share many of the same interests and see each other most days. Before I moved out, I was worried that he’d be too distracted in his new life to keep up with his Law degree but he’s actually doing much better than he did when I was there. He’s flourishing and it’s filled me with pride.

The permanence of my new situation hit home when his flatmate recently went away on holidays and I was ready to install myself in his kitchen preparing some of his favourite meals. That lasted for just one night before he politely but firmly showed me the door. I secretly applauded that fact that he’s so independent and capable and saw this as an indication that my work is done.

After all, I can hardly complain when I left home myself at 18 and by the time I was 21, I was living on the other side of the world. Phone calls were rare, the internet hadn’t been invented and we mostly kept in touch via the mail. At least for now he’s only living in the next suburb.

I secretly applauded that fact that he’s so independent and capable and saw this as an indication that my work is done.

As for me, well very slowly I’ve been picking up the strands of my social life, making new friends who are less superficial and more thoughtful but still revelling in the quiet times, being alone with my own thoughts, making peace with the silence.

I realise now that it took my son’s decision to ‘leave home’ for me to understand what’s important to me and to ensure that I live a rich and authentic life.

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