When she first left the nest, I had no idea what I was going to feel or ultimately go through. I knew that I’d miss my daughter but … nothing prepared me for the almost literal hell that consumed me after she left. I never understood women who had postpartum depression because (mostly) what I felt was joy. So I did judge them a bit, wondering if it was really real or just a cop-out to dealing with how fucking hard motherhood is. Fast forward 17 years … and I understand that motherhood can create mental health issues, from the flip side of Empty Nest Syndrome.
I’m not going to rehash all my feelings or the experience, or the years-long process of recovery it took me from 2013 – 2018 to get past it all, I’ve documented that very well in this YouTube video and I also wrote a lot about it on my blog, which I hope will be helpful to anyone who needs a bit of help. Just please know that 1) you are not alone in what you’re feeling and 2) that it will get better.
And it does get better! I promise you that.
The saddest part of the last few years for me has been not seeing my daughter. 2016 was the last year I held down a “normal job” and the last time I saw her until just recently. Changing from a job that paid over USD$150k to freelancing and just barely getting by meant I no longer had disposable income. So I had to decide: fund my daughter’s life and her undergrad and masters education, or go on holidays with her. But that’s behind us now.
In fact, I just spent a month with my daughter. For anyone who needs to hear a positive story about someone who was deeply and honestly traumatised by Empty Nest Syndrome who has come out the other side … keep reading!
My Recent Month With My Daughter
It was bliss! She’s now 24 and working as a medical entomologist in Tanzania, helping to find a cure for malaria. She took time off to come for a visit and we decided to meet up in Bangkok because it had the shortest flight connections from Tanzania.
We adventured around Southeast Asia for the first couple weeks of her month-long visit. That period was insanely fun because she has always been my favourite travel companion. Grossly getting leeches as we traipsed through the mountains in Malaysia walking alongside elephants was a real highlight for us both. Although I think her face lit up more at the sight of finding Mint Milano cookies in Singapore if I’m being honest!
We spent the 2nd half of her visit back at my apartment in Indonesia’s Riau Islands. There, things got lazier and felt more like the old days. We had meaningful conversations and cleared the air about everything. Including me apologising for dumping my empty nest syndrome shit on her (something you should never do FYI, please learn from my mistake).
That Girl Can Still Eat So Much!
One of the most tender and funny moments from her visit took place randomly at home one day around lunchtime. We had honestly just had breakfast so I was teasingly complaining that I didn’t want to cook again so sooooooon! I mean, for such a skinny girl she certainly can pack away a ton of food and I felt like I was a non-stop dishwasher! Well, she didn’t try to justify anything, she just sort of looked and me and said, “Isn’t this your dream come true and what you really want, to take care of me like when I was little?”
Dammit! haha She was johnny-spot-on right! A switch flipped in my brain and I realised that I was doing what I always say I wish I could still be doing: being her Mommy for just a little longer. I mean, I know I’m still her mom. I mean turning back the clock and having her back with me like before she flew the coop.
From that moment on, I soaked it all in and appreciated every moment just a bit more.
Saying Goodbye Gets Easier
I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry when she left. She and I both knew it would be hard to say goodbye. For me, it meant more than I can possibly express to you in words to hear that my daughter would really miss me, too, and that it was going to be hard for her to say goodbye to me this time as well. Finally, it wasn’t just me feeling sad when we separated.
We had several ideas for how to let our last day or two play out. We had to leave my island in Indonesia and ferry over to Singapore because there are no flights to Bangkok from here. Since there was no way in hell I was going to miss having a few more hours with her, I knew I would be accompanying her to Singapore, at least for the ferry ride if nothing more.
She had a late flight so we thought it might be fun to spend the day at Universal Studios. In the end, we opted for shopping! Well, she shopped and I tagged along is more like it. Turns out there aren’t great malls for in Tanzania and one of Singapore’s biggest malls is attached to the ferry terminal. We shopped and ate and had a wonderful time until the exact minute she needed to hop into a taxi and head to the airport.
We were smart enough to know that it would be less painful to do a fast roadside adios than a sad, drawn-out goodbye at Changi Airport. So that’s what we did. But the taxi came so quickly once we ordered it from the app that … a big part of me wishes I had gone with her. Another big part of me knows we did it right.
I hugged her tight, gave her one last kiss on the cheek, and watched my baby … now a beautiful grown woman … head off to her real life.
Shit, tears are streaming down my face right now as I type this…
I tried to hold back the tears outside the mall but I couldn’t. I ended up with one of those ugly-crying faces on a sidewalk in Singapore for about a minute, then I pulled myself together and headed to the BatamFast Ferry office to book myself on the next ferry home. I cried there again in front of the girls behind the counter (Cherille – thanks again for the hug and for being there!). And thank goodness for Duty Free and screw-top wine because I needed a big chug of something to not cry on that ferry ride back home!
We’re Closer Now
As soon as she connected to wifi at Changi, my daughter messaged to say hello. Then in Bangkok and again in Nairobi. We chatted throughout her journey back home and haven’t stopped. We don’t chat daily or even on any kind of schedule but we’re both there for each other now in a way that is new and evolved.
I no longer need “more” from her. Even better, for the first time in years, I no longer feel needy. I suspect it took longer for her and I (well, me!) to push past empty nest syndrome because of our distance … and that trip was likely what I needed more than what she needed. But it must be liberating for my daughter to no longer feel the undue pressure I put on her during that unfortunate phase in our relationship.
If I can impart one message, it is this >> it does get better! If you’re dealing with empty nest syndrome right now, do what I didn’t and get help for it. Trying to wing it and manage a mental health issue on your own is not the way to go. Please trust me on that one. The sooner you start to deal with it in the right way, the sooner you’ll get to the other side of it.