Women tend to have a nesting instinct. We tend to like to have a home: someplace comfortable, safe, personal. We like to put our touch on a room or home where we live for any extended length of time, displaying something that leaves the impression it is “my home”. It’s important to us as females, and it likely has to do with our maternal instinct as well.
I like to unpack when I’m staying in a hotel room even for one night. It makes me feel like: “I’ve arrived, I’m here, this is my home-away-from-home for the night.”
Of course I’m speaking in generalities; certainly we are unique individuals and any manifestation of a generality will vary from person to person, in degree and application of the principle. But this tendency to make our accommodation our home I’m referring to as nesting. Birds create their nests and so must we:)
Preparation for new arrivals
Most reading this post are mothers. So, many readers will have experienced pregnancy. Some will be step parents, others adopters. You might remember the “season” of preparation: getting the baby’s space or room ready, collecting cradles or basinets, bedding, clothing and so on, for the baby. For those who’s children arrive at an older age, the preparation is not significantly different. Some of us go a bit over-the-top in preparation or expense, others will pay attention to detail, still others will simply dream of naming the child. All of this is an emotional preparation as we adjust to the change that is coming. It is thrilling, it is daunting, it is invigorating, it is exhausting, but above all, it calls us to prepare the nest for someone new.
The Nest in use
I’m a bit territorial. I’m a bit over-the-top; I like order. Nowadays, it’s called OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I don’t think I’m extreme and I’ve never been diagnosed, but when I was a child I was lovingly teased by peers who said I probably stored my socks in alphabetical order. Well, I didn’t but they were (and still are) folded neatly and sit in a row in my delegated drawer… the socks that is, not the peers!
I’m sharing this because many of us will have some sort of way of coping with sharing our space with (an)other(s). Some of us will give in and allow a mess; others of us will designate our personal space — or theirs. The physical space on one level is practical organisation. But on another level it is symbolic.
The heart of the nest
The physical home or nest and our organisation of it can be considered symbolic of our heart and emotions. We share a considerable portion of our hearts with our children. We invest in them because we love them and want the best for them. We seek to nurture them, build confidence and independence in them, so they can have their own aspirations and goals. Finding the balance between integration into our family and instilling confidence so they can develop independence in their own lives is important.
As a part of the family, I believe it’s important to include them in some of our decisions, and yet also to keep a part of ourselves separate from them… important both for ourselves and for them. We may share with them some of our personal thoughts and viewpoints yet, keep a part of ourselves private, not only for the obvious reason that some things aren’t appropriate to share, but also for their emotional well being we need to keep our identity as parents separate from their identity as children, and allow them privacy as well.
We are the carers. There may come a time decades from now, when we are old and they are adults, that they very possibly will become our carers. But in their childhood even to young adulthood, they will incur their own stresses and I believe strongly we must not impose ours upon them. We must not ask of them emotional support, even when we give them ours. The line between child and parent is an important boundary that protects them from burdens that are premature for them to handle.
We are living in a highly charged era, where stress is extreme. Many parents are lone parents and so their stresses may be felt with little release — no partner to share responsibilities with, no “other” with whom to discuss concerns or decisions which need to be made. But ought we to to burden our children with our worries or pain? I think not. They need emotional space to grow. And just as the adult world holds increasing levels of stress, so does the child world.
I’ve learned this from my own experience moving from being a married parent to a widow. I knew instinctively I couldn’t share how I was feeling with my sixteen year old son as my husband fought illness, but kept a sincerely positive and optimistic perspective both within myself and with my son. I shared the journey with my pen, with my God, and with my close friends whenever necessary, but made room for my son to share while keeping emotional space between us in order to protect him from too much information and to observe and support him.
Close but separate
The nest we create for our children is there to keep them safe and protected from a world which has wondrous opportunities but also stressors, disappointments and dangers.
We need to let them into our hearts and lives so they can feel loved and supported, while enabling them to be individuals with their own interests and adventures. Just as they learn to roll, crawl and walk… so too, we encourage them to socialise, explore healthy activities and individual interests with gradual separation from us as they develop independence. We share with them our time and material home, our love and support, our interests, which teaches them how to share theirs: their time and interests with us.
It is a balancing act.
It’s important to find a balance in order for each of us to be intimate within the family yet individual as well. It’s important in our child’s journey, and in ours as parents as well.
Next time I’ll share about the inevitable change when they leave home… leaving: “the empty nest”.