In just a few short weeks, I will be an empty nester.
I’m not sad about it, though.
For the past 22 years, since my older daughter was born, my life has revolved around my kids. I went back to work when she was 4 months old but left my career as a managing editor for a small publishing company when I became pregnant with my younger daughter three years later. Trying to juggle a career and motherhood was crushing me, and I knew that I had to pick one or the other. I was so fortunate that I even had the choice. So many parents do not.
But this means I’ve been a proud Stay-at-Home Mother for 19 years.
It all comes to an end soon, when we pack up my older daughter and take her to her new apartment, about 15 minutes away, to begin graduate school. A few days later we will drive seven hours to bring our younger daughter to her freshman year of college.
I have many friends in the same boat — getting ready to send children out into the world of college and grad school and work and first apartments. Most of them are sad. They tell me their tales of crying quietly at night while they try to embrace the “lasts” of everything — the last family meal, the last movie night, even the last struggle to wake the kids up in the morning. Not me. I’m not crying.
I will miss my girls, and I know at times I will feel weird. The house will feel weird. The silence might be deafening. I know there will be times when I’ll be bored or antsy or wonder what is next. I know my life is about to change in the biggest way since I brought my first daughter home from the hospital and I had no idea what I was doing. Hopefully, with this change, I do.
But that’s not the same as the grief I’m seeing this summer, watching my friends agonize as their kids get ready to leave the nest.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m not gut-wrenchingly, painfully sad. Is there something wrong with me? It seems like most of the mothers in the same boat as I am are crying, depressed, dreading what comes next. “Are you happy, then?” a friend asked when I explained to her how I was feeling. No, it isn’t happiness, exactly. It’s more these three things: a relief, a desire to move on to the next stage of life and a feeling of contentment.
Parenting adolescents has been long and painful. It’s not without its joyous moments, to be sure, like the Honor Society inductions and school concerts and plays and passing the driving test and receiving college acceptances. I certainly didn’t have the worst of adolescence to contend with. My girls didn’t get pregnant or do drugs or drink. They went to school and did their homework and studied hard. Still, I’ve been parenting adolescents for the last 11 years, and it’s not easy, even under the best of circumstances. (I count adolescence from about the age of 11, not 13, because the hormones and the struggles start way before the actual word “teen” gets hooked onto the end of the age.) I’m just tired. I don’t want to be anyone’s decision-maker anymore. I don’t want to drive people to and from activities. I don’t want to cook dinner, wondering if everyone is going to be happy with it. I don’t want to console a crying 15-year-old over the loss of a boyfriend who, though he treated her like garbage, she still wants back. I’m so over the prom thing.
I still want to be involved in my girls’ lives, of course. I look forward to pictures and phone calls and FaceTime, learning about new friends and new career paths being considered. Realistically, there will probably be some tearful conversations with young adults feeling overwhelmed by workloads and volunteer commitments and part-time jobs and issues with roommates and those ever-present mean girls we have to deal with our whole lives. I’m not naive enough to think that I’m never going to have a stressful or challenging parenting moment again. Just because they don’t live here doesn’t mean they aren’t my children, that they won’t still need my support and guidance. But it will be different.
I will miss my children. I will miss them sharing their daily lives with me. I will miss Saturday night dinners at the restaurant of their choice. I will miss that we are a family of four who enjoyed sitting around our table swapping stories about our days. I will miss watching reality TV together in the evenings and discussing politics and debating about the candidates. But I can enjoy these fond memories and not be sad. I refuse to be sad. Only good things are ahead, for my beautiful adult daughters, my husband and me.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of three novels. Her essays and blog posts have appeared at Writer Unboxed, Beyond the Margins, Kveller and The Tablet. She is the mother of two girls and lives in New Jersey.
You might also be interested in: