When I joined the empty nesting ranks, I thought I had reached a point in my life where I was "FREE" from all the ritualistic tasks that we as parents must perform each and every single day. Waking up early, getting the kids up, preparing breakfast, getting school lunch ready, checking book bags and homework, filling out school forms, Back-to-School nights, school fees, school plays and concerts, school fundraisers, parent/teacher conferences, snow days, half days, school field trips, class moms and dads, school projects, before and after care, baking cupcakes and cookies, making costumes, dealing with the over involved know-it-all parent, school clubs, finding out your kids need glasses, prom, yearbooks, school dances, getting their learner's permit, braces and retainers, teaching your kids to drive, dating, getting their driver's license, first cars, sports games, graduations, birthday parties, college applications, etc., and the list goes on and on. However, my transition from "power school parent" (and doing it as a single parent at that) to an "empty nester" was a bit more challenging than I expected.
As I think back, my daughter finished up her high school days in a strong position in which she was accepted to attend many different competitive colleges all across America that offered her scholarships due to her outstanding academic record. In addition to her strong academic record, she graduated Number 12 in her entire high school senior class of several hundred students and earned many different awards. So as you can imagine, I was and still am a proud mama. I knew whatever college she attended, she had the academic fundamentals to continue her study habits as she settled into college life.
When she moved into her dorm, all went well. The university had an agenda of things for us to do which included orientation. We attended orientation, and I remembered sitting down preparing to be inundated with tons of information. I listened, and then I heard the host speaker introduce a psychologist who was going to talk to us about empty nest. I was like --WHAT-- but then as the psychologist talked about things I had heard and some things (to my surprise) I hadn't heard before, I was convinced most of this empty nest stuff was not going to get in the way of my new rediscovered freedom.
Can I tell you that I was completely WRONG! Can I tell you that it was so hard not seeing my daughter and hearing from her every single day. Since she attends college far away, it's not like I can hop in the car and go see her. So I was doing a lot of missing her 'cold turkey.' Can I tell you that even though I had my new rediscovered freedom, I was a MESS! I had friends trying to keep my spirits up by coming over, cooking me food, taking me out for my birthday, inviting me to different places, and calling me daily to check on me. Despite the fact that my social calendar was full, I think one of the hardest things to get use too was just how quiet my home was. Unless I was making a noise, I heard every single clock tick, wind blow, and I even heard the automatic room deodorizer spray. To be honest, I was even hearing noises that I never heard before that made my nerves rattle a few times. Now that was quiet!
I must admit that a lot of the things that psychologist spoke about that I hadn't heard before turned out to be oh so true. Even though I was praying and I knew spiritually that God was our ultimate protector, I just couldn't relax. Finally, I just told the Lord one day, "Please be patient with me as I learn to relax." So why am I telling you this? Well, I am so glad you asked me. I want you to know that sometimes there is strength in showing others your weaknesses. Sometimes you don't know everything, and you need to listen to the advice of other trustworthy people. Sometimes when other people are more experienced in something that you aren't, they can recognize what you are doing wrong. Sometimes when you think you are doing a great job in covering up how you are feeling and are handling problems, other people can zero right in and tell you that you actually have cracks in your armor. Sometimes we all need to be reminded to trust the process-- even the empty nesting process.
Maybe you are not an empty nester yet? Maybe you are still in the 'thick' of parenting your preschooler, elementary, middle school, or high school kids and you feel overwhelmed and exhausted? Maybe you are asking God for more help, because your one income as a single parent is already stretched to capacity? Maybe you have a little, just a tiny bit, of animosity toward the other parent who seems to have more freedom than you do, because they aren't doing their part? Maybe just maybe you underestimated just how hard it was going to be as a single parent?
As an empty nester, I thought having my new rediscovered freedom was a sure winner. However, claiming my freedom was going to be more difficult than I expected. I learned that I am not the same woman I was before I became a mom. I learned that a lot of things had changed about me. Some of this change I did recognize, and some I didn't discover until my daughter left home for college. I spent so much time joking about looking forward to her going to college that I didn't realize for every year I was joking also meant I was one year older and farther from the person I once knew as me before I became a mom. You know what I am a better person, because I am a mom. I am committed to becoming better! I am committed to the process! Although this empty nesting hit me like a ton of bricks, it didn't paralyze me. Guess what I SURVIVED, and you will survive too no matter how hard things maybe for you right now as a single parent.
One glorious day I woke up, and I didn't even notice that I wasn't looking at my daughter's baby pictures as much, and I had stopped reminiscing in her room and reflecting on all the things she had collected over the years. I stopped noticing how quiet the house was, and I started making the house all mine again. Who knew there was joy in leaving something in the fridge, and it was there when I went back looking for it. Who knew there was joy when I turned the television to a certain channel, and it stayed on that channel until I changed it. Who knew there was joy in having my mornings ALL to myself. Who knew there was joy in not having to make dinner every night unless I wanted too. Who knew there was joy in inviting people to my home for dinner parties or more intimate settings. Who knew there was joy in cranking up the music at home and dancing (yes dancing) and singing until I got tired. Who knew there would be this much joy in me learning how to relax again. God reminded me that there is joy in discomfort, and there is His joy in letting a person go. I never thought I was capable of going from loving my daughter and doing everything I could to keep her safe to loving my daughter and being willing to let her go in an unfamiliar place so she could grow. Now that's powerful!
I had no idea my rediscovered freedom would come at such a cost. I just assumed that my freedom would resume as it was before I became a mom. My freedom had made a statement. One of the main things my freedom represented when my daughter went to college meant that unless God had a different plan, I would not be birthing any more children. Therefore, my daughter was the sole inheritor to my legacy. She knows me better than any other human being, and she would be the one person to tell future generations about my life when I am no longer on this earth. She is the key to my legacy. Was I ok with that? Well, I had thought about not wanting anymore children especially when I was enduring hard times as a single parent, but had I really thought about what that meant to me as a woman. I think it is safe to say that YES not birthing anymore children is the best for me. You know why I say that because when I get married and if my future husband has children, I will have more children that I can love just like my own. So, actually there is a possibility I can have more children, and that's more than okay with me!
Remember when I talked about letting go to grow? Well the first time my daughter came home from college to visit, she came in like a hurricane. I instantly knew that I too had grown, because she disrupted my new routine and freedom. She was different in a good way, and I was surely different. I think my mommy tears of seeing her for the first time since she moved into college lasted all of five minutes. We hugged, I cried, and literally five minutes later she was like a force. She began to tell me all the things she wanted me to cook, things she wanted to do, her high school friends were quickly making plans to hang out with her, and her new college friends were letting her know how much they missed her. Her cell phone was an incessant noise ALL the time, and I just wanted to smash it--but not really cause it cost too much lol. I knew beyond a doubt that I had grown from a mess to a happy empty nester. She had blossomed and settled into that unfamiliar place that I had left her when she first moved into college. My daughter and I were truly two separate people now!
As I close, I want you to know that I am living proof that God can and will meet your needs. If you are still in the 'thick' of raising your children and it's tough, He is with you. If you are an empty nester like me, and you are rediscovering life without kids, God is right there with you too. Our God is more than able. Our God is more than enough. Our God never sleeps or slumbers, so He is there when you need Him regardless of the time of day and no matter where you live in this big world. Our God has more for you to do. Our God has more people for you to meet. Our God has a pulse on you and your children whether they are with you at home or away from home. Just like I had to relearn how to relax, so should you. I'll say this again please RELAX. Take my advice open up your heart and let down your guard. Take my advice you will not live forever so if you have another chance at love, please seize it. Take my advice it's not about getting older, it's about becoming wiser. Take my advice growing, letting go, and embracing new things and new people will always be a part of your life. After you finish reading this article, I want you to go find a mirror and look at yourself in the mirror and speak out loud what you truly want to do with the rest of your life and who you want to spend the rest of your life with? Now make it happen. I already know you are amazing, and I can't wait to hear how you put action behind your words and good intentions!