Life ebbs and flows. There are times when we are swept away by the task at hand. We are committed to our goal and have all the energy we need to see it through to its conclusion. During these times we feel connected and involved in life. At other times, however, we find we are living in a place of uncertainty. A kind of restlessness takes over. We feel discontent with our lives, 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 can leave us feeling bewildered. We have been so focused on the children that we did not adequately prepare ourselves for parent obsolescence. Wasn’t it only moments 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. We lose our sense of value and feel we are no longer lovable. Our children have left our world for their own, both physically and psychologically. It seems they don’t have time for us as they build a life apart from us. We have forgotten how we felt at their age. They are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
It is difficult to prepare for the feelings that an empty nest can create. But understanding that it is a period of transition can help us quit fighting the discomfort and help us begin taking the necessary steps to make the most of it. We can get through it and we will. Life will feel “normal” again. But first we must go through the in-between time.
During any transition period in life, whether it be an empty nest, retirement or loss of any kind, it is important to take the time to grieve our lost identities. Our identity as a mother was a very important part of who we were for twenty plus years. It will take time to give up this part of who we are and replace it with something equally meaningful. What are the things about motherhood that you will miss the most? This is where your grief lies and as you feel the sorrow and let it go, you will heal.
In order to make a successful transition it is helpful to avoid obsessing over the past. Wallowing in guilt and regret is a clever way for the psyche to avoid focusing on the present or the future and avoid 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 our 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 in this part of our lives. We might just become wonderful, wise women.