Big Questions ~ Personal Ponderings, Change, Parenting

A Mother’s Empty Nest


I’ve been a mother for 31 years and it’s been rather apparent for much of that time that these four kids were growing up and moving out but yesterday, my youngest left for college and I realized that I’ve been lying to them, to myself and to the world for the last year.

It was about a year ago as my youngest daughter began her last year of high school when people in my life began asking how I would handle becoming an empty nester…. My standard response was “are you kidding? After 30 years of motherhood, I am ready”, after all, I was the mother dancing at the bus stop when she began kindergarten thinking of the silent and uninterrupted bubble bath I could take while she was learning her ABC’s. I have been silently dreaming of less laundry, a single monthly grocery trip, a clean house, weekend trips away, soup for dinner….

Don’t mistake my intent – I loved every moment of taxi driving, bleacher warming, midnight tears, and often reminded myself to be in the moment with the trials and tribulations of motherhood because I may one day miss it – all of all those things, but I did them for a long time. So like Oprah when she said goodbye to the daily production of a television show, I felt that I was ready to say goodbye to the daily grind of motherhood. And while it’s true that I won’t for a moment miss hauling 20 bags of groceries, folding 60 T-shirts, or begging for a clean bathroom… I realize that the daily grind also involves hugs, energetic smiles, disappointed tears, sweet compliments, teenage laughter, and numerous other nuances that balance the challenges of maternity. Of course intellectually I knew all that, and I understand that my job for the past 31 years has been to teach and nurture these four young humans to go out into the world as kind and loving adults. To that extent I was a success. I am fortunate enough to have raised four fantastic human beings who are full of love and compassion.

Perhaps, the real issue here is the underlying realization that I am now responsible for all of those things I’ve been saying I would do when the kids grew up… I am one of those people who have three shoeboxes and two hard drives full of photographs that need to be documented in some organized way for future generations. I have shelves full of projects covered in dust that have been waiting all the free time I would someday have. I have vows of creating a life that is independent of my children so that I am interesting and current in adult conversation.

People are saying not to worry because the kids these days – they come back and while I definitely know that (son #1 came back twice)… they don’t come back the same as when they left. It’s not necessarily the body in the house that I am missing as I experience the ‘empty nest’ syndrome… it’s the child. My offspring are no longer, children – – and that is the element that I didn’t prepare for as I considered sending my youngest off to college telling people that I was ready….

The main part of the lie that I was trying to convince myself of was that I was OK with not being needed when in fact – that is how I thrived! I know – they still need me; yet in truth, their job now is to learn how to rely on themselves and frankly, I did teach them that. They still call when they are hurt, or sad, or sick. They call to ask how to get out a stain, and when they can’t remember how to write a footnote, or to know which dry cleaner to use but overall, they know how to go out into the world. I need to do what I taught them to do – I need to heed my own advice!

I need to believe that I did a good job and that change is good. I need to remember that I am still responsible for setting an example of what their mid lives may hold and aspire to always be someone they want to introduce to their friends and coworkers. I want to demonstrate that independence goes both ways and that I can be a woman in this world independent of her children. I need to learn to fill my days with productivity and joy in ways that may be different from motherhood but just as fulfilling. I need to learn how to enjoy the quiet and calm that now exists in my home each evening.

This is it…. This is how life works, the circle is always dynamic and I am just now becoming unmistakably aware of it vitality.

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