Empty Nesting – where do you fit in?

August 29th, 2011

While writing The Empty Nesters, my new novel, out Sept 1st, I talked to alot of people about their lives after nametapes, Saturday sport and carol services. This wasn’t too arduous as we are all empty nesters. I think I managed to identify a few social stereotypes: the Foward Planners, the Helicopter Mother, the Live-the-dreamers, the Rescuers, the Happy Hobbyists and the Decorating Double Act. What do you think? Have I missed anyone out?

First, the FORWARD PLANNERS. Mrs FP studied for her doctorate/homeopathy course/teacher training alongside her children’s GCSEs and A Levels. At the age of 50-mumble, she swings into a new career after years of putting the children first. Mr FP often takes a step back at the same time, semi-retiring or taking up a ‘portfolio’ career, so he can concentrate on his special interests (Greek urns, military history?). The FPs look ten years younger as a result of their life changes. If they divorce it will be done discreetly and sensibly, with everything divided equally and no legal fees. One or both may emerge with a new partner slightly sooner than anyone expected but they are both fine with that. Really.

A more extreme type is the LIVE THE DREAMERS. Mr & Mrs LTD sell or rent the house out immediately the last child leaves school. They put the furniture in storage and move to France, New Zealand, Prague or Vietnam. Their shared vision, so often talked about over wine-soaked holidays, drives them forward, although they do have occasional spats over whether they’re like other ex-pats. Other LTDs start small businesses, buy gites, take over pubs or do garden or interior design courses. If LTDs are financially secure they may concentrate on the challenges: climbing Everest, trekking in India, running marathons. Occasionally LTDs are surprised if their children don’t buy into the adventure vision, and either become staid themselves, marrying and having children before university is finished, or going completely off the rails. Even adult children want their parents to be comfortably there, like old sofas they can go back to, rather than abseiling down the North Face of the Eiger.

The HELICOPTER MOTHER has always bulldozed through her child’s life, and won’t park her bulldozer just because Baby HM has gone to uni. Her mission is to maximise her children’s opportunities while minimising their responsibilities. She fills in their grant applications and packs their suitcases, leaving a stream of bossy messages on their Facebook page or blog when they’re travelling. She is furious when the university refuses to send her Baby HM’s regular grades, but insists that Baby HM sends his/her essays to her for correction before submitting them. When Baby HM graduates, Mrs HM networks furiously on his/her behalf, filling in applications for jobs and drive Baby to interviews and the first day at work. Mr HM keeps a low profile, unless Baby HM announces that she is marrying a wonderful Masai guide, at which point he’s urged to step in. He has to work hard because even a psychological helicopter is expensive to run, what with holidays to the children’s gap year destinations and buying Baby HM a flat once he/she leaves halls of residence. The HMs are unlikely to divorce as it would be too much for Baby HM to cope with, but Mr HM is often physically or mentally absent.

The HAPPY HOBBYISTS often take their friends by surprise, particularly when they can’t come to dinner because the sticklebacks/rare breed pigs/ferrets can’t be left unsupervised. Mr and Mrs HH take up breeding in a big way once the children are gone: bees, dahlias, West Highland cattle, coloured ponies, bantams…). If you ask whether bantams, bees or budgerigars are really likely to be that frightened of fireworks, or what could happen if they’re not checked every hour, you get a disapproving clucking noise as a reply. If the HHs split, it will probably emerge that one partner was not quite as obsessed as the other with the whole process.

The RESCUERS. Mrs Rescuer loved being needed, and that hole must be filled by other people’s disasters. Her mobile phone is clamped to her ear from dawn to midnight, as she dispenses advice or listens sympathetically to a wide range of troubles. She always has at least one bereavement, divorce and critical illness on her hands, so is a fount of useful information about benefits and helplines, but she is sometimes surprised – and hurt – when she meets the occasional professional victim who just wants to moan and doesn’t want solutions. She ends up falling out with them, and wondering why.

The DECORATING DOUBLE ACT. Mrs DD knows the Farrow & Ball paint chart off by heart, and is now working her way through the charts of the Little Greene Paint Company, Fired Earth and anything National Trust or English Heritage related. Mr DD is meticulous about measurements, alignments, budgets, drainage and other detail. First the DDs decorate the house, then the garden. Then they move, and do it all again repeatedly until one of them dies or runs off with an architect.

Have you spotted any other types? Do let me know!

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