The joy of raising children

When I went into the kids' bathroom last week and saw 18-year-old Sam's undies in their usual spot on the floor, I sat on the edge of the bath and cried. Empty nest syndrome was something I had read about with only passing interest but it had finally come home to roost.

When my five children were young I’d look at those photos in the House and Garden magazine of living rooms with white couches, glass coffee tables bearing fresh flowers, dining rooms resembling a display floor and think, “One day when the beasts depart, I’ll have that”. Well, the last beast flew out from our house leaving an assortment of his undies, dirty socks, coins, lolly wrappers and high school notebooks scattered on the floors. But when I picked them up, the room didn’t seem that great. Not so warm anymore; not so inviting; not so Sam.

I’m ashamed to admit when I saw the undies I thought, “Shall I leave them here as a kind of shrine to remember my baby?” I’ve seen those shows on television where a teenager dies and the poor parents leave the bedroom untouched in their memory. This is crazy, I thought, as I grabbed the undies and threw them on the washing machine.

And as for the tidy house I once coveted, it’s overrated. I actually bought a white couch 10 years ago and banned the kids from sitting on it. Besides, they had their own couch in the family room with enough food droppings under the cushions to feed a hungry family.

I looked at the living room and resented it; same for the kitchen counter free of dishes and clean and the laundry basket, which is usually overflowing, but now just has a couple of shirts. Once resembling a battlefield aftermath from Lord of the Rings, my house has quickly become THAT house from the magazines. After years of salivating for it, I’ve lost my appetite. It’s clean and tidy — and dull!

I’m indulging my misery but in a week’s time I’ll have upped my volunteering and forgotten I even have kids. At least that’s the plan. So, what lesson do I draw from this?

One thought is that in this sophisticated age where kids are sometimes a post career afterthought … they truly are the greatest joy of marriage. Even the parent who wanted only one child would readily admit he/she would not trade that child for a million dollars. With all their rowdiness, neediness, germs, fevers, crying and dropped underwear, they bring us endless joy and entertainment, smiles and laughter. And for the tired and toiling mum, they fill her arms and heart as nothing in life can.

My other thought was how lucky I was to have my last two babies in my forties. While many pity a woman pregnant in her old age, I have been blessed to not have an empty house till now, at the ripe old age of 62. My house rang with laughter even a week ago when Sam had his mates over. I’ve been privileged to be texting him at midnight, “Back door open, be sure and make curfew” and to receive the response from somewhere out in the black night, “I’ll be home on time. Love you, mum”.

Sam always ends his texts with “Love you”.  My big, handsome, green-eyed son has a gentle heart. Though virtually untrainable in the ways of housekeeping, he’s a good kid. We raised them for just this — to leave the nest and live good lives. So, we rejoice!

Tonight, my husband and I will toast them with a glass of wine and thank God for the enormous joy of raising them.                

This article by Mary Arnold first appeared in The Majellan Oct-Dec 2015 issue. Today (June 1) we celebrate Global Day of Parents                                                            

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