The day my baby girl left for college, the last of my three children to fly the nest, I found myself in a heap on the bedroom floor. I did all the right things saying goodbye like not bawling incessantly, not clinging to her clothing and pulling on her to stay just one more minute, and while I did get tears in my eyes when I saw her own mailbox; I let her go with some ambiance of grace. Coming home, however, was a different story.
The house was empty. Like, empty, empty. The pitter pat of little feet had long subsided and the busy noise that lived here had taken it’s exit. It was eerily quiet. I paced. I paced for a little while and then stopping short on the hallway of memories I keep on the wall in my living room I realized … those days were gone. It was over. My parenting, as it were, was no more.
Down to the floor I went. I grieved, I cried, I bawled, I wretched. Lying there, memories flooded through my thoughts and I saw vivid images of my children growing up. At each memory I felt sicker and sadder. While everyone had told me, yes everyone, “It’ll be great! What a relief!,” about empty nesting, this was so far from the truth I was screaming my shock. No, I was a grieving mama and I simply had to sit with it. No one told me how empty I would feel.
I thought, “I was just getting it right,” then they up and leave. I thought, “They’ll never need me again,” or, “Did I do it well enough?” All my chances, in that moment, were gone. What was done was done. Yes, I was in a very dark, scary place!
I went to the internet to read up on other empty nesters and all I got were thin definitions of the term I was living in and several lists of things to do to “get by.” Create lists of things you’ve always wanted to do, start a hobby, call on friends, volunteer, etc., etc. But these are all just busy things to avoid the real issue that I knew I was going to have to face.
It had to be about me now. That’s the example I could set for my children. That life goes on, is still wonderful, and that under no certain terms do you ever give up. I knew, in those first days of empty nesting, that I had to go through the stages of grieving successfully and then come up with a plan. Not a “stay busy to avoid thinking about it” plan, but a real one. Something with meaning and purpose.
With my husband deployed I couldn’t focus my energies on him, though I do have a dear friend whose empty nesting resulted in the healing of her marriage and that is exactly the kind of thing I knew empty nesting was supposed to be. A time of healing, changing, growing, and getting back in the game.
I could write, I thought. But, about what? I pulled out my laptop, dusted it off, and went through almost two pots of coffee just staring at the blank screen. Okay, that’s not going to work. I tried reaching out to friends. Some of them, in their busy lives, were too busy. I was even actually told I was high maintenance by one friend. That made me sad. I didn’t want to be high maintenance, but I did want healthy friendships, so I paid attention to the friendships that filled me with purpose and inspiration and decided not to feel bad about the others. Still, something was lacking.
I volunteered, thinking that if I could get involved with a cause I was passionate about, that would fuel me to continue to become a better person. But, I was told they were “Cutting back,” and even though I had some ideas, it just wasn’t the right timing. Back to the drawing board.
The thing about empty nesting is that it’s not that your children will never need you, want to spend time with you, or not come around on breaks and holidays. They will, and mine do. It’s just, well, different. They’re adults now. They don’t need to be mommy’d. It’s time for the relationship to change, and while it eventually will turn into something astronomically beautiful … the in between of figuring out what that looks and feels like is hard.
For instance, when I text my son and he doesn’t respond I can’t get upset. He’s busy. It’s not a personal thing. If he comes over for dinner and leaves right after, at least I fed him and I know he ate that day. If my daughter calls me because her stipend didn’t go through at college and she’s in a panic it’s not my job to fix it, it’s my job to encourage her to fix it. When my children, when being the key word, come around or call or text … it’s my responsibility to be the mom they need NOW. Not the mom I was. The kind of mom who listens. The kind of mom who validates. The kind of mom who doesn’t stick her nose in their business. The one who shares her thoughts, not necessarily her opinions.
And as we morph into those kinds of mama’s we absolutely have to look at ourselves as women. For this is the time that we, as women, show our children who we are. Creepy, scary, difficult; but this is when they’ll get to know us on a brand new level. I want to show up for that, don’t you? I’ve just got to find that woman before they notice I may have lost her along the way.
So, I write. Starting with this, on this new day, I am determining myself a woman of value who has the opportunity to get to know herself all over again. What I do, where I go, with whom I do it with is totally and completely up to me – it’s time to rebuild.
So I started rebuilding by having my daughter and my grandchildren move home. What?! Okay, so I didn’t navigate that as successfully as I’d have liked too. Ugh, don’t judge. It was a timing thing, with my husband being deployed and her rent having gone sky high, it worked out to have her come home for a year. I have my beautiful, amazing grandchildren to dote on, love, spoil, and pay attention too.
So, while I’m still working on me – yes, I’m writing right now! – I’m enjoying life’s little rewards that come at times in our lives when we absolutely need them the most. Now, my next story is going to be, “How to live with your daughter and her children when they move back home after being gone for years.” HA!
To all my empty nester friends … you’re not alone. Let’s do lunch.