Did you recently trade your Mom label for that of Empty Nester? When your babies were born, you envisioned the life you wanted for them. You saw them being happy and successful. You saw them accomplishing all the important milestones. You saw them going off to college one day and learning to be independent, successful adults who would make their mark on this world in some way. Remember those days?
Fast forward to today. You just dropped off your youngest child, or perhaps your only child, at his new dorm and said goodbye with tears in your eyes. Or maybe you hid those tears until you got far enough away that he couldn’t see you cry. Memories come flooding back of all the times he needed you to be there for him. The time he fell out of the tree and you nursed his cuts and bruises. The time you cheered him on at his little league game and saw him make that home run. The look on his face was amazing and you were so proud. The time he asked a girl to the senior prom and she said no. That was a heart breaker and you got him through it.
But, what now? Will you be able to be there for him? Will you even know when he’s struggling? What if he doesn’t keep up with his classes? What if he succumbs to peer pressure and does something stupid? Will he ever need you again? What will you do with yourself when you come home to an empty house?
If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “YAY!! I finally have my freedom”, that’s pretty much what I’m going for here. That’s what you’ve been working for all your life. Remember when you had that dream of him being an independent adult making his mark on the world? This is how it happens. He needs to go off and find out who he is and what he can do. And yes, that can hurt when your whole life was wrapped up in raising this child who seems to no longer be your “little boy”.
IT’S YOUR TURN
If you’re feeling upset that he won’t need you to take care of him anymore, that’s pretty normal. But if that upset is consuming you, it may be time for you to explore who you are when you’re not “on duty” as his Mom. What have you dreamed of for yourself? What have you always wanted to do that you haven’t done? Before he was a “twinkle in your eye”, what dreams did you have for your life?
What you want for yourself may be something you haven’t thought about for a while. Yes, those ideas occasionally surface and you toy with the possibilities but then you push them aside because you have adult responsibilities. You feel guilty when you want something “frivolous” that will make you happy. Now that the house is empty, you feel like you’re too old to pursue past dreams.
I’m encouraged when more and more these days I hear women defy the archaic thinking of “I’m too old.” I was lucky enough to have a mother who continued to say “When I get old . . .” well into her 90s. She set that example for me and I never considered the idea of retirement. At 60 I embarked on building a new career. But there are still women who are struggling with the idea of being an “empty nester”. These women feel like they’ve fulfilled their purpose in life and wonder, “Now what?” This is a very real emotional state. And it’s something that can be overcome by learning to fulfill your needs after having spent years putting your child’s needs first.
What will you do? What hobbies do you not do? What did you used to do for fun before you were Mom? When is the last time you did something crazy and silly just for laughs? I recently had a conversation with a woman who, at the age of 55, is starting a long dreamed of acting career. And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. She’s stepping out of her comfort zone and going for her dream. I’m not suggesting you all pack your bags for Hollywood. But you had dreams at one time and you put them off. This is a good time to resurrect them.
Your dreams are not dead. They may have been sleeping for a while but they’re still there. Revisit those dreams and start making them a reality. You may find they’ve evolved into something a little different. That can be fun. It can also give you a clue as to who you are now. Allow yourself to be frivolous and silly. Step out of your comfort zone and do what makes you happy.
Celebrate your accomplishment. You raised your child to be independent. You did a great job instilling the values and resilience into his makeup. You set him free to fly from the nest and learn to make his way in the world. Now it’s your turn. You get to focus on you and create a life that is fulfilling for you. It won’t happen overnight. And you will fall back into old habits from time to time. Be gentle with yourself and keep building momentum. Putting yourself first will take little adjustments day by day.
As you go about making those adjustments there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Change takes time.
- The “what ifs” will rear their ugly heads. And when they do, just knock them down. You’ve got this.
- You will fall back once in a while. That’s OK. Just keep getting up and moving forward. Your kids didn’t learn to walk on their first try.
- Celebrate every small step you take.
- Allow yourself to enjoy life. It’s supposed to be fun.
THEY’LL BE BACK
Oh, and when you start to feel lonely because you’re missing your kids who don’t call every day or need you for everything, remind yourself that they’ll be back when they don’t have any clean clothes to wear or they get tired of eating pizza for every meal. And when they bounce back, surprise them with your new way of life. Let them see how happy and vibrant you are. Who knows, when they realize you’ve built a life of your own they may decide they want to get to know you better. They may eventually realize the awesome example you set for them by being you and following your vision. Also, remember that even when they’re old and gray, they’ll always be your babies.