Coping with the empty nest
AS A NEW day dawns upon the start of the 2018 school year, many parents would be feeling a sense of relief as the long, hot school holidays are ending.
The inevitable cries of "I'm bored, there is nothing to do” become part of the Australian summer break, just like thongs, togs and whinging about the heat, leaving everyone frustrated, kids and parents alike. Suburbia is not always the most exciting place, especially when many backyards are small and getting smaller, and playing out in the street is no longer deemed safe.
For those who live out "beyond the black stump” a new school year means another season of change. For many families who live their lives as a tight and often isolated unit, out in the big sky country, another new year means kids being sent to boarding school, who won't see their homes for at least 10 weeks at a time, interspersed by school holidays. Some never live at home again, having left home at age 11 and only visiting on holidays and then moving away after school to pursue life apart from their family.
For parents who are sending their kids off for the first time, it is usually filled with anxiety, as worried thoughts rise to the surface as frequently as the fickle emotions that threaten to overwhelm even the most stoic.
Much time is spent trying to picture their home without the cherished son or daughter and wondering how the family would cope with the gaping hole that will be left.
Often these families go through a time of grieving. Dads normally cope by going to work and the demands of a property soon help to dispel any lingering emotions.
For kids going to boarding school for the first time, it is like a grand adventure. Being away from home isn't yet their reality and their imaginations are full of the fun that awaits them. For many young outback kids, it will be the first time that they will have spent with other kids in a classroom setting besides their own siblings, added to that is the boarding house and learning to live with others is a steep learning curve.
As the kids rush around to whisper the last goodbyes to the poddy calves, dogs, lambs, pig and horses for the term and the family gathers for the last photo at home before the lengthy journey to school, this can bring emotions to the surface that threaten to overwhelm everyone.
The kids who have already been at boarding school usually keep the atmosphere light, as they make the mental adjustments necessary to transition from bush life to boarding life. Mum keeps her dark sunglasses on, desperately trying to keep the tears in check that threaten to escape her red rimmed eyes, while dad cracks jokes to keep everyone laughing, avoiding eye contact with mum in case he too succumbs to a spot of leaky eye syndrome.
As they drive out the long dirt road of life, vehicle crammed to the ceiling with children and belongings, another chapter opens in the lives of many young bush families, a replication of the generations prior.
My best bit of advice as a mother who has travelled the boarding school route for the past nine years, and will finish with my youngest daughter completing year 12 this year, is not to live in the future or dwell on the past. Live in the moment. Choose peaceful and positive thoughts and kick "what ifs” out the door.
Make sure you listen to your kids, especially taking note of the things that are left unsaid. Be guided by your intuition and make good connections in the boarding house. Most kids not only survive boarding school but learn to thrive.