Discovering the bliss of an empty nest

 

THAT'S MEN:Stress is more likely with a crowded house, writes PADRAIG O'MORAIN

‘I WAKE up each morning to silence and I still can’t believe it. No alarm clocks ringing. No one running up and down the stairs. No screams of ‘Where did I leave my keys?’ In the kitchen everything is just as I left it.”

That’s the start of Ann Ingle’s post “The children are gone” in her After Retirement blog.

What comes next are two little words that stopped me in my tracks: “What bliss.”

Oh. Where are the nostalgic memories of making sandwiches for the little mites, of sticking plasters on their knees and all that sort of thing?

Isn’t that what is supposed to go with Empty Nest syndrome? Sentimentality, tears, what am I going to do now?

Ingle’s version of Empty Nest syndrome is listening to her jazz records all day if she feels like it, having her dinner whenever she wants, eating whatever she likes and even going to the pictures with her friend – in the afternoon if you don’t mind – and having tea in the Gresham.

Actually, Ingle is not some strange, Medusa-like figure just because she enjoys the fact that the children have moved out. Researchers have found that most parents find the empty nest experience quite liberating.

Their level of happiness in the marriage will have dropped when the first child was born and rises again when the last child leaves. That’s also backed up by research.

We don’t have children to be happy but to fulfil some deeper need.

Stress is more likely to come, not from the empty nest but from the crowded nest. In other words, the children have grown up, but they have not left home.

And these kippers (Kids In Parents’ Pockets), as they are called in Britain, are more likely to be men than women.

There’s lots of them about. EU figures would suggest that almost 60 per cent of males and more than 40 per cent of females aged 18-34 live with their parents.

You might argue that going to university lengthens the time spent living in the family home, but note that the age range goes all the way up to 34. What are they doing, PhDs?

How to get rid of them? With luck, love steps in. People involved in a “consensual union”, as Eurostat elegantly calls it, rarely live at home, even in Ireland.

I wonder if the role of matchmaker, á la John B Keane, could be revived in a modern setting to get stay-at-home guys fixed up with someone who will take them out from under their parents’ feet? I’m sure many a parent would be happy to pay the fees.

It’s the guys who will have to be fixed up because, as I mentioned, the women are more likely to leave the nest.

By the way, according to a European quality of life survey in 2006, about 12 per cent of women aged 18-34 describe themselves as living as lone parents compared to 1 per cent of men.

What all this says to me is that young women are growing up an awful lot faster than young men when it comes to engaging with the challenges of adult life.

In Britain, about a third of kippers say they stay with their parents because of the cost of renting or buying property. But some others stay for free food, laundry services, accommodation, television, internet – yes, it’s a long, long list.

Matchmakers aside, what’s to be done? What if kippers were expected to pay their way if they were in employment, in other words, contribute to all those invisible costs they never think about? And what if they were expected to get out the Shake ’n’ Vac and clean the house on a regular basis?

Would that help? Probably. Is it too much to ask? Probably.

Meanwhile, if you’re a crowded-nester, read Ann Ingle’s blog at afterretirement.wordpress.com/ and eat your heart out.

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@ireland.com) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas.

His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email.