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Time to say goodbye: Parents get their empty nests back

After Covid forced many adult children to move in with mum and dad, Kathy Donaghy meets two families ready to bid farewell once again as restrictions ease


Ailbhe Moyne with dad Gerard and mum Síofra. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

Ailbhe Moyne with dad Gerard and mum Síofra. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

Ailbhe Moyne with dad Gerard and mum Síofra. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

Having grown-up children back at home during the pandemic has been a conflicting experience for many parents, but for some, the time to see their children fly the nest once again can't come quickly enough.

When Ailbhe Moyne (24) left home in Carndonagh on the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal, she dreamed of being a primary school teacher. Her life after college saw her follow her dreams and start work at St Colmcille's Girls National School in Swords.

Sharing a house, working hard, meeting up with friends and travelling whenever she got the opportunity meant Christmas would be the only time she'd spend any extended period of time back at home.

As soon as the coronavirus saw the schools close, Ailbhe travelled back home - all the young teachers she worked with did the same - and she's been there since. "My plan before Covid was to go travelling. I had applied for a career break to travel, but the pandemic has taught me that so much can change in a year. I'm hoping that I will return to work and go to Canada later," she says.

"It's just been the three of us," she says of spending extended time with her parents Gerard, who runs a bakery business, and Síofra, a local GP. "It would have been a lot different if my siblings had been here," she says.


Rohan, Maya, Bollu, Cauvery, Sagari and Prakash Madhavan

Rohan, Maya, Bollu, Cauvery, Sagari and Prakash Madhavan

Rohan, Maya, Bollu, Cauvery, Sagari and Prakash Madhavan

Her brother Oisín (21) is in the Netherlands studying physics and her sister Aoibhinn (22) is studying in Scotland. Despite it being just the three of them, Ailbhe says there wasn't any tension between them - they did their own things during the day, cooked a family meal in the evening and watched films together.

However, while her mum Síofra has enjoyed having her daughter home - the two became running buddies, building up to 10k - she feels that her daughter's life has been put on hold due to the coronavirus, and getting back to work will be good for her.

"I'll miss her companionship and I'll be lonely when I go for a run, but I was very aware that she was missing her friends and we couldn't fill that gap. As a parent, I felt for her, but I was also quite busy at work. I think Ailbhe had the most difficult time of the three of us during lockdown," she says.

Síofra says by the time her children were ready to fly the nest, she was excited to see them go and even though it might be a while before she sees Ailbhe again when she does leave the family home in Donegal, seeing her get on with her life is part of the parental process.

"Covid-19 may mean that I won't see her for a long time. If Covid maintains its hold, I can't go away and have to isolate for weeks. Because of my job, that wouldn't work," says Síofra.

While Ailbhe's dad Gerard says he always loves when his children are at home, he's excited for Ailbhe to embrace her own freedom again and he's sorry her plans to travel had to be put on hold. There won't be sadness when she leaves, he says.

"Our kids brought themselves up in lots of ways. They defined their own independence and whenever they went away, there was no fear or nervousness. From early on, I think they had a sense that the answer would always be yes from us if they wanted to go somewhere and we'd facilitate it if we could," says Gerard.

"We have a vast network of friends all over the world and I think it's made a difference to how we look at humanity and other people's cultures. I'm excited for Ailbhe to go away to Canada or wherever that next step may be," he says.

At her home in Straffan, Co Kildare, Cauvery Madhavan is learning to let go a little and embrace the busyness that having three adult children back home brings.

Having raised her children and watched them fly the nest to pursue their studies, she had settled into what she calls a "brilliant" routine of working on her novels from early in the morning, leaving her free to indulge her passion for golf in the afternoons.

Her carefully choreographed life changed dramatically when the pandemic saw her three grown-up children, daughters Sagari (29) and Maya (22), and son Rohan (27), return home from their studies abroad.

In the initial stages of lockdown the boyfriends and girlfriend of her children also moved into the family home for several weeks. This meant six extra adults in the house with Cauvery, her husband Prakash, a vascular surgeon, and her mother Bollu, who came to live with the family from India three years ago.

With all three of her children studying abroad - Sagari and Rohan are in Budapest studying medicine and veterinary medicine respectively, while Maya is in Poland studying medicine, Cauvery had carved out a brand new routine.

"Life was brilliant. It was fantastic. I knew they were off doing what they wanted. For years, except for a few weeks in the summer when the children came home, we didn't have that feeling that our house was like a railway station," she says.

"You used to never know from one day to the next day whether each would have friends over for dinner. Or you'd have made a meal and they'd have all gone off," says Cauvery.

An empty house meant she was able to devote herself to her writing. She had just finished her latest novel The Tainted and was preparing for its launch and to go on the festival circuit to promote it when lockdown happened.

Instead, her book, which has been named as one of the top summer reads by the Irish Book Awards, was launched at home with all her family around her, raising a glass and toasting their mum.

The fact her children were preparing for exams in the early stages of lockdown made a big difference to how everyone got on, she believes.

"We've lived in this house for the last 12 years. There's one 'good room' as we call it, which is only used at Christmas time. After all those years, the room got used. It became a study. They weren't going through the house driving us bananas because they were studying during lockdown," she says.

The positives of having her children home meant they all got an opportunity to meet and get to know their partners. "I can't think of that ever happening again. If one of them gets married, we might congregate like this again, but this has been quite a unique situation," she says.

Watching them at the dinner table chatting with their father or cooking with her own mother was a privilege that she would have been denied had they not been home for an extended period of time.

"It was nice for my mother to spend time with her grandchildren. I don't want to sound all Pollyanna, but that was lovely. I can be a bit obsessive-compulsive about tidying. But I made up my mind to turn a blind eye to what comes with so many people being in the house. In a way, that was a lesson for me - let go a bit," says Cauvery.

However, she is looking forward to a sense of order being restored once the house empties again. "Because they're young adults and not teenagers, you can't knock on their door and tell them to tidy up. The relationship changes and you have to hold your tongue a little bit."

And she will very much welcome getting her writing routine back on track. "If something is out of order or not properly arranged, I'm always looking for an excuse to procrastinate. Because we were all eating late and enjoying the food together, my writing did fall by the wayside," she says.

When September comes, the plan is for her children to fly the nest once more.

"Who knows what will happen then? We've made the best of it. In a way, it's prepared us for what it might be like if they can't afford to buy houses and they have to come back and live with us.

"It's given them a taste of what will happen if they don't save money. I think they realise if they haven't got their act together, they're going to have to put up with their mum and dad," she says.

Irish Independent