I facilitated a bookbinding workshop in Mareeba on the weekend. Over the course of the day, one participant mentioned that her family life would be changing at the end of this year when her three boys, (triplets!), moved out and moved on with their lives. I related very well to her feeling of apprehension for this impending modification to her current life.
Perhaps there is a commonality in this experience for all parents as, having raised their children to (hopefully!) be balanced, independent and fully functioning young adults, they release them into the world. I certainly experienced the same trepidation prior to my two oldest children leaving home in 2011 and 2012. In fact, my first solo exhibition NEST in 2012 was based around the universal experience of creating a place of safety, security and nurture – the family home – and the fleeting and fragile quality of this habitat.
The conversation on the weekend reminded me of one of the series from my NEST exhibition. A small commotion about nothing explored the patterns of experience, both shared and distinct; and considered the question, ‘Is there an underlying thread that connects all human beings through common circumstances and perceptions?’ This work focused on the anxiety felt by the parent when a child eventually leaves home which is perhaps more pronounced and magnified before the event but seems like an over-reaction after.
Three years on from NEST, my role as a parent has evolved. The immediate demands on my time are less and there is a hint of a future filled with infinite possibility and a taste of new freedom from the role of a single parent. That is not to say that I do not treasure every minute of currently being ‘mum’ to my 17 year old or that I don’t for one second miss the constant presence of my older two children. It is just that I have come to appreciate that life is in a state of flux and that I am capable of changing and adjusting with it.
The last time my Mother visited with our family in Cairns, I recall an incident that often replays in my memory. With the chaos of life as a single working parent of three children aged five to twelve, I was running late one particular morning, feeling stressed, working hard to get the four of us out the door to start our day. My Mother was laughing the whole time. Frustrated, I turned to my Mum before getting in the car and asked her what was so amusing? She said ‘This life you have with your children – it is so fleeting. It should be enjoyed and celebrated.’
That stopped me in my tracks. Truly, I did not appreciate the humour or joy in my circumstances at the time. All I saw was an endless, all consuming weight of mundane responsibilities and a set of thankless activities looming ahead of me. My attitude needed a rather large adjustment.
My mother does not remember saying those words and takes no credit for the changes that they brought. I worked hard at finding joy in my life as a parent and creating a happy childhood for my three charges. And then, in a blink of an eye, my children have grown. And just as my Mother predicted, my life has entered a different stage.
Our lives change and so do our roles. We grow as people with the changes. The trick is to remember to find joy and humour in every stage, isn’t it? That will be a life very well lived. Nearly 13 years on, I still thank my Mum for her laughing reminder!