What Nobody Tells You
When you have kids, nobody tells you that when they grow up and leave the nest you will feel utterly lost at first. They don’t tell you that an entire portion of your identity will disappear and you will have to find something to fill the void. And most importantly, they don’t tell you that laying in bed and crying about this perceived loss is not okay.
After our babies are born, the long sleepless nights and fatigue blurred days seem like they will never end. As each day passes we celebrate the milestones. Things like our child’s first words, when they first walk, successful potty training, and the first day of kindergarten. Before you know it they are graduating high school and you look back wondering how it’s possible that all those years flew by so darn fast.
A Case of the “Lasts”
Last fall as my Son entered his last year of high school, I felt some pangs of “lasts”. The last first day of school, last school dance, last “Mom can I stay the night at so-and-so’s house”. I could feel the time slipping through my fingers, but try as I might, I couldn’t slow it down. Lying to myself, I told myself things will be great when all of the kids are out of the house.
I thought it would be great to not have to harvest a weeks worth of dirty dishes from my Son’s room, or to not have to search high and low for the toothpaste because he took it with him. Searching for the lost TV remote would be a thing of the past. And how great it would be to not have plates or wrappers left on the kitchen counter, or empty cartons put back in the fridge. But most of all, I thought about how great it will be when they come to visit.
Reality Sets In
As it turns out, none of it felt great. It was actually heartbreaking, and all I really wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry. I wanted the chaos back, I wanted the mess back, and most of all, I wanted my children back. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t miss the bickering, the door slamming, or the constant tension of having a teenager around, but I missed being “mom”. That feeling of being needed seemed to be gone.
At first I kind of felt like I was losing my mind, like I was mourning a death, and I guess in a way I was. It turns out that “empty nest syndrome” is a thing. Maybe not an actual clinical diagnosis, but it’s a known issue. And for many people, it has some serious side effects. That fact made me feel slightly less crazy, or at least in the company of other empty nest parents.
Our New Normal
A few weeks after my Son moved out, I started to embrace the lack of dirty dishes hiding in his room. I started to enjoy finding things where I left them. I started to feel less like I was losing my mind and my identity, and more like I could embrace this new normal. Now when the kids would stop by I get giddy with excitement to spend time with them, even if the time is brief.
My husband and I also started to find new things to do together. We spent a lot of the summer boating, one of our favorite activities, but we also looked for new adventures. On one boat trip we rented electric-assist bikes and loved them so much my husband bought us each one. Jumping on our bikes to go for a quick ride was so much fun. We enjoyed getting to explore new places in our boat. And, loved taking the dogs to the lake for a swim.
I also got to spend some girls’ weekends away with some very cherished friends, a time I really enjoyed. The summer ended up being a wonderful fun packed summer, and the perceived loss of all my children at home turned in to a situation in which I was able to embrace the change.
What Lies Ahead
My husband and I now have some more adventures planned. I have poured myself in to my blog, something I am still learning and crafting. And my husband has turned one room in to his “sports room” with multiple TV’s set up so he doesn’t miss a minute of his favorite sports. The change of lifestyle has actually been really good for us.
While I wish my kids visited a little more often, I also understand that they have their own lives. This is a new season in life for them as well. I feel blessed to have raised some amazing humans who, at some very young ages are pursing their career goals and slaying them as they go. The oldest daughter is back in college and living in the Bay area. My middle child has her college degree and is making a name for herself in the mental health field. And my last born, my son, is going to be a Fireman. His last year of high school was full of hard work, which has had a big payoff when he earned a full ride scholarship to attend college for fire science. We are blessed indeed.
My Advice to all Parents
If I could share anything to parents of small children, it would be not to get annoyed when everyone tells you to enjoy your children while they are little. Time really does go by as fast as they say. Those trying to impress upon you how fast time flies, aren’t doing so because it’s a cliche. Rather, because they blinked and their children were all grown and they too wondered where the time went. Perhaps they are wishing they would have spent less time being in a hurry. Or less time being annoyed about the small stuff, and less time stressed about the mess. They wish they could go back to when skinned knees were the worst pain their child felt. And most importantly, they are trying to warn you that when your kids grow up and leave the nest, you will feel a tremendous loss.
For the most part, I have filled the empty void and found my new normal. There are new things that bring me joy. I am still Mom to three beautiful young adults, and they have shown me I am still needed. The next chapter is yet to be written, for now my husband and I are enjoying our new lives and biding our time until we get to be a Grandparents. That will be the next joy in life that will be unlike any other.