It is a special feeling to be needed by your child for everything from a hug to brushing their teeth to helping them put on their clothes. But what happens when children stop needing their mums for little things and big? When they grow up and move away from home to start their lives as independent adults? How does a mother cope with the physical separation? Of not being needed all the time by her kids? This Mother’s Day Kamalini Natesan writes on the empty nest syndrome.

My husband of twenty years repeatedly told me to stop worrying when our older child was leaving for college. Me being me, I couldn’t get her out of my heart and head, and it took me over a year to ‘get over’ her departure, and be able to Skype with her, without collapsing in a heap of tears.

What’s wrong with me? Did other women go through such a phase too? It wasn’t as if our daughter had left me with an empty nest- I had another child, who needed more than her share of attention. It wasn’t as if my job was only that of a caretaker or homemaker. I was in a job that had me driving out of home, to an institution where I had other children to teach. It would take a toll on my physical being, and thereafter our younger child demanded my attention without fail. I was living many lives. The older one had moved from Delhi to Mumbai, that’s it, not nearly as far as so many other students go, so why was I distraught?

We lived in the era of Skype, and what-have-you; no Whatsapp yet, but enough avenues of communication. So what was happening? The psychology of it I suppose, the idea that my child was physically separating from me, that she was about to need me less, that a vacuum was impending, had already made its ungainly appearance, creating a gaping hole in my psyche. I was devastated. However, nothing lasts and thank goodness for that!

What’s wrong with me? Did other women go through such a phase too? It wasn’t as if our daughter had left me with an empty nest- I had another child, who needed more than her share of attention.

Today our older kid has been away six years, and we are quite used to her absence. She’s an adult whose needs have transformed. That our parental voice soothes her on a bad day is what she yearns for. We’ve given her what we had to, at the right time. She continues to be missed, but minus the searing ache which accompanied her departure. Today we, in turn, value her advice, and her wisdom. I’m not yet an empty nester; our second one is taking longer in flying off, than we might have anticipated, and it’s something I’m dearly looking forward to. To help our kids arrive at a destination where they are their own persons is what a parent must dream of, and we continue to.

Kamalini Natesan
Kamalini Natesan with her family

The Maternal Instinct

Can one be a mother without having given birth? Maternal care above all, combines qualities that are ever-present in a person and often perceived in a more giving and caring father than a mother. So the answer is yes, one can.

Caring for plants, for pets, for elderly folk- all of that highlights the maternal instincts in us. And yet, it is an undeniable fact that when you have a child, there is an enormous tug one feels, that special something which is indefinable. There is something to carrying a fetus for the length of time we do, that ties us indelibly to our offspring- and yet I’ve known mothers who do not possess that special tie, be it from the very beginning, or later. Once the kid grows up- the emotional ties do not, automatically, stay as strongly embedded in a relationship such as this. Personalities come into play, egos do too. While one may wish to believe it’s for life, it isn’t always. Not every woman is a mother naturally. It’s learning on the go too.

To help our kids arrive at a destination where they are their own persons is what a parent must dream of, and we continue to.

As the fulcrum of the family, a mom can’t let up, she has to be strong, have answers, and be fun, all at once. I’ve tried, and I still try. I am acutely aware that my children are always with me. I am unable to leave them behind,  I carry their lives in my back pocket, and their well-being in my heart. A mother’s heart is unable to shed its role, predominantly maternal, and don another for any length of time. That’s how it should be, that’s what they call normal in our world. Yet, there are late bloomers in this sphere too.

It has been ingrained in my psyche, that I must protect and shield my child from all harm, be it emotional or physical, and that is possibly why I jump to their defense immediately, much to the annoyance of their father. And more so, to protect the weaker of the two kids as well, much to the chagrin of the stronger child.

While I share a great companionship with the father of my children, when asked, why the kids are so much more important, my response has been: as long as I am needed, I will cater to their wishes first, always. So I slip into mother mode with my partner as well, and tend to his needs just the way I would my children’s. When my tone is admonishing, it is not appreciated. The reason he has accepted second position, or even third, is because he has observed that I have not ignored my own growth, and inner nourishment. We’ve partnered parenting, and we’ve encouraged each other to not get consumed by my strong maternal instincts. Yet, there are days, and there are days.

It has been ingrained in my psyche, that I must protect and shield my child from all harm, be it emotional or physical, and that is possibly why I jump to their defense immediately, much to the annoyance of their father

I am many people yet complete in myself

Children, their education, their nutrition, their sporting activities, their entire living conditions do consume most of us women, and then as the time to let go approaches, we are consumed by dread. How will we survive, what will life be without the focal point of our existence? Questions that plague, unbeknownst to us. Why oh why do we tend to erase what we were before the arrival of our offspring, and forget to live fully as ourselves? Why do they swallow us whole while we nurture them, and clearly forget to nurture ourselves? Is it years of conditioning, that mothers must give it all up and dedicate their lifetime to their children’s well being, or is it instinct that kicks in when we birth our kids? Maybe it’s a combination of both. In their nurturing and their well-being, we believe ourselves to be complete, to have found our true calling. Are women, who don’t become mothers, incomplete? No. I don’t believe that to be true. Society dictates that a woman must birth, that she is only half of herself if she has been denied, or denies herself the mantle of motherhood. And I’m afraid, the truth is that it’s not just in age-old traditions like ours, it’s a worldwide phenomenon and a strongly held belief.

Why do they swallow us whole while we nurture them, and clearly forget to nurture ourselves? Is it years of conditioning, that mothers must give it all up and dedicate their lifetime to their children’s well being, or is it instinct that kicks in when we birth our kids?

I pray and hope women understand a very basic truth- only when we are complete in ourselves, can we complete anyone else, including the lives of our kids. We are the first adults they come in contact with, and when we present only part of ourselves to these beings, that is what they will receive. It is not okay to erase oneself, and snuff out parts of us, till we are ‘free’ again. Nah, that’s not going to happen- it’s in our wholeness that our motherhood is fully present, and while I’m a mother at all times, I’m also this person who hurts, who sings, who loves to have a night out with her friends, reminding herself that she’s as much fun as she always was, and a writer who is awaiting the appearance of her debut novel. I would like my kids to be proud of me- whole, not just love and cuddle the mother in me. I’m waiting, and while I wait it out, I continue to be as many people as I am, in all my roles, and yet above all a mother- to my kids, to my husband, to my aging mother and to my nieces. It’s absolutely possible to combine all roles and yet be full and complete. Procreation, it is said, is absolutely essential to maintain the human race but to maintain the health of the human race, the nurturing instinct is essential, an almost sacred thing.

Picture Credit: Kamalini Natesan

Kamalini Natesan is a teacher of French and Spanish. She is a trained singer and has been blogging since 2013. The views expressed are author’s own.

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