Dear Ms Peirano,
I have the following "problem" with my two adult daughters. The girls are 20 and 23 years old, both still in training and still living at home.
My husband and I have been together for 30 years but are now considering a divorce. At the moment we are still living together in our house, but that will change soon. We discussed everything with our children. Of course, they are not enthusiastic about the situation, but they accept it. I've had a part-time job since last October, before that I was there for the children or worked from home.
Both my husband and I have new partners again. The "original family" in that sense no longer exists. I still cook from time to time, go shopping and am at home more often than my husband. And that's what our kids are complaining about now. It would just be a haunted house, everyone does what they want and so on. So actually it's Empty Nest Syndrome, just the other way around.
And I have a bad conscience, see myself as a bad mother. However, I would now also like to enjoy my new life with my partner and I often find myself in conflict. Is it really so heartless of me to allow myself this new life? Do you see anything I should or need to change?
Dear Sybille G,
Your question is not that easy to answer, because there are two different (and completely legitimate) points of view.
Your position is very understandable: you have adult children whom you have cared for intensively for years. The relationship with your husband has ended and I just assume that there have been problems and friction for a long time that have been exhausting and frustrating for both of them. Now you and your husband both have new partners and I can sympathize with you wanting a fresh start. According to the motto: The children are finally grown up, now it's my turn again.
And maybe grown-up girls (or better: young women) don't necessarily belong in the same apartment where you and your new partner want to have an unencumbered space and carefree time for yourself. The new relationship will then certainly have more chances if it is not immediately affected by arguments with grown-up daughters and the ex-husband.
As far as my advice would be for you alone: Yes, you have fulfilled your task and can now take care of yourself. And if that includes living alone or making a new home with your new partner, then that's totally fine.
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Now to the other side: Your two girls have certainly noticed a lot in recent years, which has thrown their stability out of joint. After being sheltered for a long time, their parents have now separated and also found new partners (mostly with injuries and a lot of excitement). This is not easy for young adults, because it is precisely when they detach themselves that they need the support of their parents. Just like you climb better when someone is at the bottom and belaying you.
In addition, there was (and still is) a two-year pandemic that deprived young people in particular of many opportunities to live a carefree life (e.g. travel, go out, meet friends) - and which led to a lot of stress, anxiety and isolation. Let's put it this way: For many, life was not fun at the time. As a result, many young people have not progressed as far in their development as would normally have happened in two years - and they have become more dependent on their parents.
How about your daughters? How far does each stand well and stably on its own two feet? How is it financially, how well can each take care of themselves, do they both have friends or a partner? How would it be for the daughters (and each one for themselves, please) if they were pushed out of the nest, which is no longer a nest? Do they get along well?
I would advise you not to look at the situation in black and white. Black is: I throw out the daughters and live my own life. What is white is: I clench my teeth and let her live with me against my wishes.
How about a family conference with your husband and two daughters to explore the gray nuances. You might ask what each of the family of origin holds dear and should not be given up. It could be something like four of us celebrating Christmas Eve, or having a meal together once a week/month/a mother-daughter or mother-daughter get-together at the gym/cafe, at the dog-run, which is obligatory.
What would the daughters miss and what scares them when they think about moving out? What do you need help with? (e.g. financial support, practical tips about household/finances, the promise that they are welcome to visit their parents' home/regular contact via telephone/chat/joint rituals).
When would be a good time to move out? And is it possible to live together more like in a shared flat before moving out? That would mean that you, as a mother, would no longer take care of things, but that the daughters would also cook/shopping/wash. The daughters would then also take on more of the adult role and they would be rid of the sometimes tiresome duties of being a mother.
I think it's important for the daughters to know that they still have a place in their parents' lives, even if they no longer live with them. It would be important to convey the reasons for the possible move out to them with sensitivity. For example, you might state that raising children is a big task and that you would like some more peace and time for your own life now.
Hopefully you can all take it easy to talk about each need and what is important to each. Such a separation feels milder if you discuss it together and can also have a say in the details.