Life ebbs and flows. There are times when we are swept away by the task at hand. Committed to our goals, we have all the energy we need to see them through to their conclusion. During these times we feel connected and involved in life. At other times, however, we may find we are living in a place of uncertainty. A kind of restlessness takes over. We feel discontent, lethargic and uncertain.
The childbearing years are a period of time when most mothers are caught up in the demands of the day as they chart the course for their children’s future. We have little time in our days or space in our psyche to think about much else. A whirlwind of activity hurdles us through time and we hang on for dear life committed to the end.
One day, we wake up and find ourselves alone. Suddenly, we are empty nesters. It was easy to laugh and joke about it as we anticipated this moment. We couldn’t wait “to do our own thing”, “have the house to ourselves”, and “be free at last”. The reality, however, is quite different.
The ending seems abrupt and the change in our day-to-day lives seems bewildering. We were so focused on our children that we did not adequately prepare ourselves for parent obsolescence. Wasn’t it only a second ago that they couldn’t take a breath without us? How did they become self-sufficient so quickly? Oh yeah, that was the goal!
The empty nest can feel dreadfully quiet and lonely. In that quiet space it is easy to let self-doubt and fear creep in as we seem to lose our sense of value and purpose. Our children have left our world for their own, both physically and psychologically. They are building a life apart from us and we are no longer privy to the little ups and downs of their day to day existence. How quickly we have forgotten how we felt at their age. Yes, we remind ourselves, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. But what are we supposed to be doing?
It is difficult to prepare for the feelings that an empty nest can create. When we begin to understanding that it is a period of transition for us as well we can give up fighting the discomfort and begin to take the necessary steps to find ourselves again. We can get through it and we will. Life will feel “normal” again. First, we must go through the in-between time.
During any transition period in life, whether it be an empty nest, retirement or a loss of any kind, it is important to take the time to grieve what we have lost. Our identity as a mother was a very important part of who we were for twenty years or more. It takes time to replace this identity with a new one. Allow yourself the time to grieve. Ask yourself, “what are the things about motherhood that I will miss the most? This is where your grief lies. Feel the sorrow. Let your tears flow. It is only after the grieving can you let that part of you go and make room for something new.
Wallowing in guilt and regret about the things you wish you’d done differently as a mother is a clever way for your psyche to avoid focusing on the present or the future and to avoid experiencing the pain of grief and loss. Parents whose children are having difficulty adjusting to adulthood, are most vulnerable to falling into the regret trap. Whenever possible, stop yourself from doing this. What’s done is done. It is now your children’s responsibility to make the most of what has been given to them, just as we had to build a life from the hand that we were dealt. Our job is done. It’s up to them now.
Secondly, avoid the temptation to worry about the future. Living in fear of what tomorrow may bring is a very handy way of avoiding today as well. Today is all we have. The future will take care of itself when we live today to its fullest.
The period of time between the ending of one phase of life and the beginning of another, is a fertile opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Rather than filling the void with fear and guilt, we can use the time to learn about ourselves. Dare to just “be” in this quiet time, this in-between time. By tuning into our inner voice, we can listen to the callings of our heart and follow where it leads.
Spark this journey by reading a good book or learning something new. When we indulge our creative selves we are providing fertilizer for the ground of our true selves. The answers will come and the future will unfold as it should.
When we take the time to mourn the loss of our identities as mothers and dwell without resistance in the uncertainty of the now, we will uncover a new version of ourselves. We will become the women we were meant to be now.
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