They are not babies anymore and they haven’t been for a long time but every time I hear one of their voices on the other end of the phone line or see them on FaceTime, my heart goes right back to when they were little and they were everything to me and I was everything to them. It is natural. It is in me. It just happens.
I guess it is my minds way of bringing me right back to where they need me to be; their mother, their spouse’s friend, their children’s grand mother, their cheerleader, someone to go to for advice or just someone to listen to them. This is a role I will NEVER give up because number one, I worked really hard to get to this point and two, this stage of motherhood is beautiful and I am enjoying it as much as I have enjoyed any other stage.
The transformation from mother with children at home to mother with children out of the house was hard for me and that is putting it mildly. Shocking and cold would be the words I would use to describe how I felt when it really sunk into my soul that my kids were not coming home to stay. When my babies started leaving the nest, I was not as happy as I thought I would be with my new found freedom because there were some things that I transitioned into easily and then there were others that required a lot of work on my part and I wish I would have been more prepared. Some people really look forward to their kids moving out but others struggle. Neither way is right or wrong but we all have to face it at some point and it can be uncomfortable, sad and downright life altering. So I thought it would be nice to put together a list of things that moms – no matter what stage of mothering you are in – should prepare for so that you aren’t hit by that wrecking ball of shock that can hit at any time. Believe me, it can be brutal.
So LISTEN UP, YOUNG MOTHERS because this post is for you. One day, your little birdies are going to take off but there are a few things you will need to work on before they do.
Maintain and strengthen your relationship with your spouse. This seems obvious, doesn’t it? When you are just starting out and your kids are small you can lose focus of what got you to this point of your life in the first place. The handsome guy that made your heart stop every time you saw him. All the time you spent getting to know each other and realizing your similarities and how fun it was to do things together. All the hard work that the two of you have put into building and nurturing a family. You aren’t thinking about these things when you are running out the door in your pajama bottoms to get the kids to school – that started 15 minutes ago.
When your kids head out the front door at the end of their high school years you are going to be left at that very door with the person that started this family with you but guess what? If you haven’t made an effort and worked hard to stay close as friends and companions with your spouse, this could be a rocky road for you. Having a good relationship is not only important for your kids while they are at home because it lets them see what a strong marriage is but it gives you a foundation to build on and work with when it is just the two of you again. Your kids are going to move on one day so you need to be ready to do the same. As much as you think you might like to pack up your things and move with your kids (depending on your kids, I guess) to that new and exciting world, you probably aren’t invited so you need to fortify your current life.
Even if you are struggling with your kids right now, enjoy every moment. This was said to me so many times when my kids were little and I always thought to myself of the person who was saying it to me, “You have no idea what you are talking about.” I was always so tired chasing 4 kids around and trying to make sure everything was done and I wanted my kids to remember me as a mom who was cool and who really tried to help them. I’m pretty sure that is not what they think of me now.
The people who were telling me to slow down and enjoy my kids were actually right and I would have been smart to listen to them. Enjoy your children no matter what age they are and despite the struggles you are having with them right now. One day you will look back and think about the kind of a job you did as a mother and wonder if there were some things you could have done differently and you WILL wonder, even for just a minute, that it might be kind of nice to go back and redo some things. Going back is never an option so try to just enjoy every little thing whether good or bad. It is your history to embrace.
Know that you are doing a good job. The worst thing we can ever do to ourselves is compare the job we are doing as a mother with how someone else is mothering their own children. If this describes you, stop it right now! Every single child is different and requires a completely different set of mothering tools to help them along their path of childhood so looking over at what Marvelous Molly is doing is not going to help anyone, least of all our kids.
Only you know what goes on inside the four walls of your own home. Only you know the real struggles of your children because you feel it deep inside. You are the only person who is so vested in your child’s happiness and future that you are constantly thinking about how to help them to be successful. So whether you are getting them into the best possible schools, sports programs, music classes, helping them with homework that seems way over your head, driving back and forth to practices and rehearsals, staying up with them late at night when they have a bad dream etc., it doesn’t matter. You know what your child needs because you have a connection with them that no one else will ever have. Not even their future spouse. Yes, they will move on without you one day but you are the one who is making a path for them and you are the one who is helping them through those critical and sometimes very tough years of childhood. You are doing a GREAT job and no one else can do it but you!
Teach them basic skills they will need to know when they leave home. I know, I know, I know. So many times I thought that it was just easier for me to do things around the house than to ask my kids to help or to take time to teach them things because it took longer and I wanted things done right the first time. WRONG.
This is of course the exact opposite of what you should be doing because you don’t want to miss some very important lessons that you can be teaching them along the way. Take the time to show your children how to do everything because this not only teaches them basic skills but encourages them to be productive and capable people without you. Yes, you do want this for them as hard as it may be to realize now. Plus, your sons-in-law and daughters-in-law will love you forever. If this applies, I’m so sorry, Leanna, Melissa and Richie!
Have a plan for how you will keep in touch. This will date me but I am going to say it anyway. When I left home to go to college my dad pulled me aside and said, “Remember, call me on Saturday evenings after 10:00 p.m. so that we can catch up on what is going on with you but if you can’t call between 10:00 and 12:00 p.m., wait until the next Saturday to call because phone rates are so high. Unless it’s an emergency of course, and then you can call me collect, I will refuse the call and call you right back so that I don’t get gouged by the phone company.” Needless to say that did not instill me with the greatest of confidence that I had a lifeline if ever I needed one. My dad meant well and I know that I could have called him at any time but that was just the way things were in the late 80s.
Before anybody walks out the door of your home, make sure you have all cell phone, email and physical addresses for your kids and anyone they might be living with. This is not only important because you want to be able to reach your children and keep up with what is going on in their lives but for safety’s sake, you need to know how to reach them. Yes, they are adults and they are moving on but you should be able to reach them. Plus, it is fun to hear how things are going in their new and exciting lives. I love to hear about the people my kids are meeting, the jobs they are doing and how they are taking care of themselves. There aren’t many things more fulfilling than hearing the maturity and growth in your child’s voice. It’s what you are working for so prepare for it and look forward to hearing about it!
You just might miss the things that once made you crazy. Again, I never wanted to admit this one but it is true. I never thought I would miss seeing a mess in my family room. Do you know that after all these years, I just realized that I really do not like seeing the lines from my vacuum cleaner on my carpet? I used to think that this made my house look so nice and I tried to keep my carpet clean as much as possible, picking up sporting equipment, books, toys along the way but now, I would welcome seeing ANYTHING on the floor in my family room.
Try not to stress about the mess in your house or the need to get one more load of laundry done (unless it is underwear and socks) but soak up the joy of just being around your kids and all the stuff that comes along with them. It is those relaxed moments when THEY feel comfortable and realize that you are really tuned into what they are saying that they will open up to you and I’m sorry to say it – it is probably going to be in a messy room with un-vacuumed carpet. They don’t care about all of that. They care that you are focused on them. You can vacuum and dust the rest of your life away when they are out of the house if you like. It just doesn’t matter right now.
Know how you are going to fill this new void in your life. Think about it. You are going to have another half of your life left after the kids move out and you are going to need something to do with that time. Yes, there will be grand children and possibly a job but 40 or 50 years is a long time and you need to figure out a way to use that precious gift you are given.
There are going to be things that you would love to be able to do when you are an empty nester and you may even have some ideas dancing around in your head right now. Don’t let those things grow cobwebs or get lost but keep a journal with thoughts about things that interest you, start making mental plans and form opinions on what would really make you happy. Things such as going back to school, starting a business, picking up a hobby, travel, etc. It is helpful to start thinking about these things ahead of time so that you don’t waste time trying to figure it out when the clock is ticking!
Have and maintain a great group of friends. If there is one thing about girls that I know for sure, it is that we always like to have one or two really good friends. We love to have someone to chat with as much as possible and it is really important to have someone to do things with that are just for girls. While your children are little, you can do some of these things with them and that is great to build a bond with them while they are young. But they will not always be young and they will not always be around. They are going to get jobs, go to college, get married and live their own lives. Yes, you will still be a large part of that but you will no longer be the center of attention. It’s a bummer but it is going to happen.
The fact that girls like to have a really good friend doesn’t change as you get older and in reality I think it becomes even more important. Your family will always be your #1 group of people to turn to but it is also great to have friends who can give you advice because they have been through similar situations, laugh at you when you make a mistake and enable you to laugh right along with them, to cry with you and pat you on the back when you need it and most importantly, help you to remember that you are a good person. No one will ever be just like you and you cannot be replaced in their eyes or your families eyes. Everybody needs to have a cheerleading section and that is what friends do for you so don’t feel guilty about nurturing those important relationships.
Let your birdies fly! This will be the hardest thing to do of all so you really need to be prepared for this one. My three youngest children attended the same college and one year they were all there together; a senior, a sophomore and a freshman. The first week of classes I was a mess. I was so sad and couldn’t help but cry for that whole week and it didn’t matter where I was. My poor husband probably thought I was going crazy and I know that he was tired of me crying constantly. There was a somber mood in the house. Until the Friday evening of the first week of classes.
My husband and I were watching t.v. and I was feeling a little better about everything; thinking that I might just make it through this ordeal and that at some point I might get back to myself. I looked at my husband and kept thinking how thankful I was for him. My rock. My support. My friend who wanted me to be happy. I was starting to feel a little glimmer of hope when guess who walked back in the front door? That’s right – Alex, Jennifer and Elizabeth. What the heck! The three people that I had been crying over all week decided to come home for the weekend for various reasons but mainly to get away from campus and just relax. Great. My first thought was not how happy I was to see them or to hurry up and give them each a hug but what would I have to go through when they all left again on Sunday evening? I wasn’t sure that I could handle it again.
Even if you are counting the days until you are an empty-nester, this day will most likely be life changing for you and maybe not even in the ways that you are thinking. You only have your children with you for a short time and so you have to pack a lot into those precious days you have with them. When they are ready to go, they don’t usually look back for a while because they are so excited to get started with this new chapter of their life and really, this is what you want for them. Make sure you are prepared in every way possible and then release them knowing that you have done the best that you could do.
And don’t feel too bad, the grand kids will be right around the corner most likely so you still have a lot left to look forward to!
My world still revolves around my husband, kids and grand kids and yours will too. Find a balance for your life. Find peace in your Motherhood journey and feel good knowing that you have done everything that you could possibly do for them – and for you.
I am finding joy in my life right where I am and it feels wonderful!