I have spent 46% of my life parenting. Day in and day out, tending to the needs of my three children, adjusting my schedule to theirs, knowing where they are at virtually all times, feeling comforted that, at the end of the day, they are all under one roof with their heads resting on their pillows, bodies safely tucked into their beds. Together, we have survived the chaos of play dates, sibling rivalry, defying chores, tackling homework, trying to be in three places at one time, creating and adjusting calendars, milestone celebrations, extra-curricular schedules, rides to and from, and the list goes on and on and on. There is a plaque on our kitchen wall that reads:
I, along with my husband, have lived in the state of mayhem for twenty-three years. As a first time parent, I had no idea the life we’d will be thrust into– no one does. It comes on fast but slow, through stages, at the same time. It is inextricably the greatest whirlwind of my life, and I wouldn’t change a second of it for anything.
Except, now, my husband and I are on the cusp of an empty nest, and I’m bracing myself. It hadn’t occurred to me until my eldest son got on a plane to move across country, after he’d graduated from college, to begin his life, what a shift in mine was about to occur. It took me by surprise, but then I realized the shift he’d created when he came into my life. Mothering was not immediately easy for me. There was an adjustment period, one in which I had to learn to let go of my autonomous self. And, now, I need to learn the reverse. Through three children, I’ve realized letting go isn’t an abrupt shift like becoming a parent was.
When my eldest moved away, I went through a period of mourning, almost like I’d lost him forever. It’s been two years now, and it’s easier, but not easy, none-the-less. I miss the day to day things. When I talk to him, I find myself trying to catch him up but only having time for or remembering the big things. I recall his last year of high school was the year of tears for me. I looked at every milestone, that year, as the last of something… the last dance, the last photo, the last game, the last award, and graduation, the last day, and, finally, the last day of summer before he’d go off to college.
Then, I still had two children at home. My second son’s senior year of high school was a little easier, though bittersweet all the same. It was absent of nearly all the tears, as my approach had changed. I’d survived the first and knew how life would be after high school, and to that point, it wasn’t so bad. My eldest son came home from college some weekends, and on holidays, and for summer. This was mixed with we couldn’t wait to see him and we couldn’t wait for him to leave because when he was home he brought along his college swagger. He thought our house was his dorm and our rules had become non-existent: an aha moment for all of us, we needed to set the record straight.
And, now, with the third, I find myself cautiously anticipating, for the aftermath is, again, unknown. The finality of the last child at home on a daily basis is our reality, right now.We are in the throws of what I call the Senior-Year-Wall. We experienced it with our two sons as well. It’s as if, subconsciously, in becoming these obstinate, unknown children to us, distancing themselves makes the prospect of the transition to college a little easier. I recall my eldest moved out into the yard his summer before college began in order to assert his independence; my second born took to living on the edge, pushing nearly every boundary we had set for him. And, so it has begun with our daughter. In my better moments, I can rise above it to recognize the stage for what it is. Yet, I cannot help, sometimes to find it infuriating and frustrating. When I take a step back, however, I realize the complexity of this stage, unlike any other. It’s perhaps more difficult for them to step out of the nest than it is for us to let go. We’ve been through it, ourselves, after all, and we’ve survived. So have our parents, and they survived, too.
For each of my children, I have written them a year-long letter that begins the first day of summer before senior year approaches and commences with graduation, one that encapsulates all the highs and lows for both of us. It becomes part of my graduation gift to them, though I’m not sure that when they receive it they are even, yet, fully equipped to understand it. Time and experience will make the words richer.
A wise friend told me, “You have taught your children that the world is their oyster, and they have listened.” I am so immensely proud that I have taught my children to pursue their dreams, their passions. The exciting part of this stage is in watching them begin.
And, so, too, this is a time for my husband and I to begin. This new chapter in our lives is meant for us to pursue, perhaps renew, our dreams and passions. The shift needs not to focus on what we are losing but on what we are gaining. Not without pangs of adjustment, to be sure, I am almost excited for the prospects that lie ahead. I realize I cannot unknow what I’ve come to know– that my being as a parent has enriched who I am. No longer and never will I be again an autonomous being, for I am a parent; I will carry my children with me wherever I go. But the time has come to begin setting goals (short and long term) that at the center are about me. Letting go is not easy, but that’s what parenting is, and it’s a process just as regaining my sense of self is a process.
The LETTING-GO Plan
1) Update my bucket list
2) Just breathe
3) Remember the plan all along was to raise them to become self-actualized adults
4) Take the transitions in stride
5) Enjoy my clean house
6) When it’s too quiet, remember when it was too loud
7) Cherish some friend time
8) Read more. Write more
10) Be there when they need me and sometimes when they don’t think they do