Liz Stockbridge, 47 – Empty Nest Syndrome and The Next Phase Of Parenthood

Liz Stockbridge, 47, is a special needs teacher and she shares her stories about her journey to the next phase of motherhood as her sons left for University.

Last year my stepson, Jack Senior, went to Kingston University to study Computer Science. I was extremely proud of his achievements, especially as he had sworn off education a few years earlier and had taken a somewhat tricky journey to get where he is now. I missed him. I missed his laughter, his craziness, his cups of tea, his love, how sweet he is to his Nonna (my mother) and his general kindness. When he had been home nearly a week for his summer break, I walked into the house after a hard day teaching at my Special Needs School. As I turned the corner he appeared and the shock of seeing him made me burst into tears with joy. For a moment, I thought he was still in Kingston and not home! It made me realise how much I miss him and how much I was going to struggle when both Jacks went to university.

A month later in May, my mother (who is a counsellor and lives with us) noticed that I was blocked off and not myself. I was becoming angry and depressed. I could not put my finger on what it was that was causing me to protect myself but it was hard to shift. It took a few days of soul searching until I started sobbing and my heart felt like it was breaking. I was missing my son Jack Junior before he had even left for university or got his results or even taken his ‘A’ levels!! I cried for at least a week every day and felt like a fool. He had not even left yet and I was feeling the full weight of “empty nest syndrome”! My Mum talked to Junior about giving me loads of hugs and to be fair they did help lots and he never made me feel like a needy or embarrassing mother. Thank goodness.

On Thursday 17th August, I was filled with pride when two years of hard worked paid off and Junior got A*s in Maths and Further Maths and A’s in Chemistry and Physics. The joy of him being accepted into his first choice, Warwick University, was wonderful but tinged with a deep sense of dread and despair. My baby was leaving. It did not matter how many times I talked to myself and rationalised how I should be feeling, I just felt immense sadness and emptiness. I was also aware that I could not ruin Junior’s exciting new adventure so was trying to hide everything from him. Thank goodness for my mother. She talked to me and continued to help me deal with my feelings.

The day we took him to Warwick was actually not as bad as I dreaded. Maybe it was the shortstop at Ikea to get his induction saucepans, crockery and glasses – Ikea always cheers me up. Perhaps it was that I had a job to do: settle my baby, unpack his stuff, make sure he was safe, get food sorted, etc. Walking around campus I understood why it was top of his list, the place suited him. All the painstaking research he carried out on the various universities, courses, reviews, etc. made sense as I saw it had a lovely, friendly, ‘family’ atmosphere. Upon unpacking though it became apparent that although my son was exceptionally sensible, geeky and organised he felt he could survive on 4 pairs of socks!

We left Jack making friends with hall mates in his kitchen. It had started raining and as we got to the now empty car, I felt sad again. Ian, my husband, said that he was very impressed with how I coped and we chatted about our two boys on the way back home. When we got home I was okay, sad but okay. I did not fall apart so it was all good!

Even though I thought I was coping well, the following day I saw the boys’ rooms empty and burst into tears again! Does the feeling of being pathetic ever go? Ian comforted me. I messaged Junior to see how he was getting on and he told us how he had to borrow someone’s saucepan to make his pasta as the saucepans from Ikea were not induction ones and did not work! It is a steep learning curve for us all!

We are now a family of projects, trying to keep ourselves busy and getting used to the feeling of our house without the chatter and laughter of two strapping lads. Ian is doing his degree (at long last), I have had a promotion at school which means a lot more work and Mum is hoping to do more creative projects if I can finally give her some time!

By Liz Stockbridge

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