To feel sorry for SIL re empty nest, but to think she brought it on herself?

(83 Posts)
Summerbreezing Mon 07-Jul-14 11:57:39

Mu SIL's youngest child is leaving for University in September. So it will be just her and BIL for the first time in 25 years. I can understand this is a big life change for her and the empty nest can be hard to come to grips with.
However, SIL is incredibly down about it and acting as if her life is practically over and will no longer have any meaning. I feel very sorry for her but I also think she really never thought ahead to this time while her children were growing and becoming gradually more independent.
She gradually dropped all of her college and work friends as soon as she had children and just replaced them with 'mummy friends' from school and toddler groups, most of whom drifted away as soon as the children got older and no longer wanted to play together. She ignored all suggestions from her husband that she go back to work part time or do some kind of a course to get her out of the house. I asked her a few times if she'd like to come along to an evening class with me or join a gym but she wasn't interested. She basically just invested all of her time and energy in her children, to the exclusion of everything else, and is now totally bereft.
AIBU to think this is a very short sighted thing to do and it's important to remember that your children won't be at home with you forever and you need to retain or rediscover some interests and activities of your own for when that day comes? I hate seeing SIL like this, it's almost as if someone belonging to her has died.

Upwiththelark Mon 07-Jul-14 12:00:29

YANBU. When the kids are very small it's easy to become totally absorbed in them and in their world.
But once they start doing full days at school and having activities of their own you really do need to start clawing back some time for yourself and your own interests. It's healthier for the children as well to have a mum with a life that doesn't revolve totally around them.

Her life. Being kind to her might be more appreciated than being snotty "should've known better" about it. Tbh just give her a bit of space to adjust. Why should she not be allowed a little time to 'grieve' then find her feet again?

AbbieHoffmansAfro Mon 07-Jul-14 12:03:36

I'm light years off empty nest-still firmly in the poo crisis years, so I've no personal experience to offer.

I do agree about having other things in one's life, but we are all heavily indoctrinated into full-time, self-effacing motherhood it's not surprising so many women subsume themselves into the role.

Your SIL may not have got quite the right balance in later years and I think the question is really, why? What's her marriage like? How was she as a mother? If she was a bit smothering, why was she like that? It may be SIL some deep-seated reasons why she acted as she did that would help you understand more, if you knew them.

In any case, all you can do is offer support and extend invitations.

Daisymasie Mon 07-Jul-14 12:04:35

My friend's mum was like that and it put a huge burden of guilt on my friend and her siblings when they wanted to leave home as they almost felt like they were deserting her.
Also, when her husband died she had no friends or interests of her own and was very lonely, which again put an enormous burden on her children.
It's very foolish to put all of your eggs in one basket. Your time with young children goes very fast so enjoy it, but don't let it blind you to the fact that you need a life of your own as well.

Daisymasie Mon 07-Jul-14 12:06:10

Minnie the OP has tried to be kind and invited her SIL to join various things. There's nothing snotty in voicing the opinion that it's short sighted to drop all your friends and interests when you have children.

weatherall Mon 07-Jul-14 12:06:41

Try not to be judgy.

She sounds depressed.

Who don't you invite her to a class or social event you go to.

Maybe she will just stagnate, waiting for DGC.

Daisymasie Mon 07-Jul-14 12:07:36

As long as she's not saying it to SIL's face of course, which I don't think she is.

MrsMaturin Mon 07-Jul-14 12:07:57

YANBU and clearly care about your sil. She has made some foolish choices and yes she is now facing 'bereavement'. She's losing her status as a full time mum. Very sad.

Has she ever thought about fostering? Do you think that would be something she could do?

AlpacaLypse Mon 07-Jul-14 12:08:42

I do feel for her, but as you say, she doesn't seem to have set any sort of structure up ready for a day she knew was coming, despite being offered lots of ideas and support.

Our twins are 15 and I hope will be safely at good universities doing courses they want to do in three or four years. DP and I have already started thinking about what we're going to do without them underfoot and have lots of plans smile

Summerbreezing Mon 07-Jul-14 12:10:51

weatherall I have invited her to classes and stuff over the years, as I knew BIL was anxious that she broaden her horizons. But she always made an excuse.

I'm not sure if fostering would help the problem or just mask it Mrsmaturin. I'd prefer to see her get out and about a bit first and start to establish some friendships and activities of her own.

ChickenFajitasAndNachos Mon 07-Jul-14 12:11:33

It sounds she's lost her confidence a bit and is worried she would find joining new things hard.

StanleyLambchop Mon 07-Jul-14 12:14:22

I think you are being a little harsh on her. From your title I thought you meant she was a terrible mother and they all left home at 16 just to get away from her! I also think that 'empty nest' is something that can hit any parent, no matter if they have made plans to do plenty of other stuff or not. It is a feeling of sadness that that part of your life is now over, not just something that happens to parents who build their lives around their DC. I would be supportive if I were you- you never know you may well need that support in a few years time when your DC leave home- despite you having lots of plans!

Upwiththelark Mon 07-Jul-14 12:15:18

I work with someone whose sole topic of conversation is her children; who refuses to come to any social events because she wants to go home to her children; and who never ever mentions any friends or outings without her children.
A male colleague remarked recently that she was going to be very lonely in a few years when her children were grown up and gone.

claraschu Mon 07-Jul-14 12:15:55

People can fall into this even with their eyes open. I agree that judging or saying they should have known and thought ahead is unhelpful (not saying the OP is doing this). I also think it is unhelpful to assume that she is a smothering, guilt-inducing mother; until fairly recently lots of mums did this, and they were not all overbearing people.

Maybe SIL would enjoy something like being a Homestart volunteer?

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Mon 07-Jul-14 12:17:30

Surely this is a good time for SIL to rediscover old friendships and make new ones? Be kind and supportive and suggest activities she could do / you could do together. She may even decide she would like to work or do some study now.

Floisme Mon 07-Jul-14 12:17:59

It's nothing to do with making 'foolish choices'. And it doesn't matter how well prepared you are or how busy your life is or how much you know it's right and natural. It's still a loss.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Mon 07-Jul-14 12:18:57

How old is your SIL by the way?

Deux Mon 07-Jul-14 12:19:12

I have a friend who felt just as your SIL does.

BUT she worked full time, had a full social life and plenty of interests.

I think it's a huge mistake to assume that it is just because, as you see it, she has nothing else in her life that she feels this way.

Being supportive might help.

Vintagejazz Mon 07-Jul-14 12:19:43

I do think it's sad when you see someone's life become totally empty when their last child leaves home. Yes, obviously it's a sad day for lots of mums, regardless of how much else they have going on in their lives.
But if you have lots of friends or a job or an absorbing interest or hobby, then I think you will adjust much quicker that the mother who really has nothing else to absorb her time, and no interest in finding something else.

Hopefully your SIL will gradually realise the advantages of being able to go off on mid week holidays, have a tidy house all the time, cook or not cook as she feels like and just do stuff on impulse once again.

Vintagejazz Mon 07-Jul-14 12:21:04

The OP sounds like she is being supportive. But there's only so much you can do.

Limeandice Mon 07-Jul-14 12:35:51

Sounds like she would make an amazing foster mum with so much love to give

zzzzz Mon 07-Jul-14 12:43:48

I'm sure you'd be much better at living her life than she is. Well done. With zero experience and only glimpses of her life and the choices she has made you've won and you have no way ever of being proved wrong.

HOORAH!

DioneTheDiabolist Mon 07-Jul-14 12:43:54

I wouldn't suggest fostering, it's not a hobby and your DB may not thank you for it. Give her time to adjust, her youngest is just leaving and suddenly it's all real. Once it has sunk in, she may surprise you all.

whitecloud Mon 07-Jul-14 12:49:07

Summerbreezing. You did and are doing all you can and you are right - it is advisable to develop more interests and not put all your eggs in one basket. I think it is harder to do if you have several children, and/or, say, a partner who is away a lot. Then you might not have much time to start with new interests. Because of circumstances I had to develop more interests when my dd was about 14. It helped me get through the teenage years and now she has left home I have adjusted because I was already involved in other things. I still felt sad, though. It is always sad when you have invested a lot in your children. A bit easier for me to plan in advance and do other things because I only have one child.

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