In a few days, we’ll move our oldest son into his freshmen dorm at university. I surely join all the moms who go before me in experiencing this tumultuous storm of emotions that includes pride, joy and happiness for him all while (mostly unsuccessfully) stifling tears.
His being “gone” doesn’t really bother me that much. He’s going to school across town and it feels a lot like we’re sending him to summer camp. I know we’ll see him more often than some parents get to see their college kids who travel greater distances for an education. So it’s not his leaving (or maybe it is and I’m delusional) that’s causing my rumination.
It’s more the sense of coming change and a fear of the unknown that might be nagging at me most. I didn’t fear the future when I was young. I couldn’t wait to grow up.
I looked forward to getting a driver’s license and graduating high school and college. I dreamed of landing a good job, getting married and having children. This is it! I’ve been living my dreams all this time. Lucky me.
But I never dreamed of one day becoming an empty nester.
I know some people surely have or have had that very dream every damned day. Those of you who’ve been raising kids and maybe even grandkids for the better part of your life have likely dreamed of having the house to yourself for once. Finally!
But not me. I’ve never dreamed of growing older, of winding down or living a quiet life. So I’ll need to discover some new dreams. Figure out what I want to look forward to next. Get excited rather than feeling gloomy about this impending change. But until I begin to feel excited, I’ll need to learn to cope with what I’m feeling now–whatever the hell this (likely somewhat hormone induced) hurricane is that’s washing over me at the moment. I know it will pass. I’ve seen moms survive and thrive after their kids are gone. But if it’s helpful to anyone reading this to know of some things I resolve to do and not do during this particular time–they are:
- Refrain from spending money as a salve for sadness. I truly am tempted to remodel rooms in our home and buy a new wardrobe. Such expenditures are fine and may actually be overdue, but I must not ignore the budget completely when I’m feeling blue.
- On the flip side, I must be willing to spend some money on new dreams. The hubs and I have discussed our increasing freedom to travel and pursue new interests but we often squash those talks with fears of spending any money. What about all that college tuition? What if the car breaks down? What if we get laid off in our 50s and no one will hire us? We must not let irrational fears cause us to clench too tightly to that which does not ultimately provide real security.
- Be mindful of the lure of social (or anti-social) drinking/eating. For me, alcohol magnifies rather than numbs my emotions. So it’s best not to overindulge when I’m feeling particularly prickly. But no matter how a glass of wine (or a cheeseburger) might make any of us feel, those of us experiencing life transitions would likely do well to continue the practice of moderation even though we may be freer to “live it up” or feel some need to “cut loose.”
- I will not be tempted to attach strings to my love. Teens can be real self-centered assholes sometimes. But I will not seek gratitude or genuflection for every care package mailed, tuition bill paid or inspirational text message sent (and likely ignored). I’ll do those things in love because I love my kids, not because I need them to love me back in some particular way.
- I will think less about myself and more about what I can do to add a little joy to the lives of others. It’s said that dwelling too much on one’s own predicaments can lead to negative emotions and depression, while doing for others improves mood and instills a sense of purpose.
- I will remember Who loves me unconditionally, what is true about me, what my purpose in life continues to be no matter how many humans actually live in my house.
I have no idea how this new chapter in my life will eventually look for me. I’ll surely cling a bit longer to what was, and kind of still is, since we still have one more high schooler at home for a couple of years. That kid is about to get the full on “baby of the family” treatment which he will either love or hate.
And for those of you whose kiddos are still little, I won’t spoon out the tripe about “enjoy them while you can.” I always hated that. The truth is, it just goes. Some things stay the same for a while and then they just change. We can’t adjust the speed of it all or even control our reactions to the change. But we can support one another through each season with love and kindness–and hopefully no