The past few years, I've been in the throws of what some term "empty nest."
Since I had my now 21 year-old son when I was 39, my 50's were still filled with hands-on parenting. I had hoped I would get through menopause before he hit puberty, but that didn't happen. It was a challenge, but we got through it.
Now he’s graduated from college and is headed to a job far away from home. These past four years, I've learned a lot about him, my relationship with my husband, and myself. I've had my share of brushing back tears and working to discover other things that bring passion and purpose to my life.
Moving over. Stepping back.
As a therapist, I watch people go through changes all the time. Some have been changes they chose and purposefully created. Others have been changes caused by trauma or loss that they had to trudge their way through, and somehow try to keep going.
Watching my teen become an adult is something I have treasured. He's gone through his own changes -- his own letting go.
What has really helped has been not to view my son's growing up and out -- as loss. It's change -- and sometimes that has caused me to miss him, or wish I could be there. It's the end of a certain time, or a way of being together. But it's not loss.
Loss is when something is gone. Forever.
I've had many people write to me that their empty nest has turned into depression. Like any form of grief, that can happen, as painful feelings entrench themselves, and your thinking grows cloudy or negative. You focus on what is no longer, rather than what is. Depression is innately a focus on the past, rather than on a hopeful present.
The challenge for me, and probably many parents, is how to redefine yourself. It's not my responsibility anymore to check up on whether or not he got his teeth cleaned, or is he getting enough sleep, or is he going through something he needs to talk to someone about. He's got all that.
Then what does motherhood look like now?
I like the way it looks.
Today, motherhood feels like waiting to be asked, or needed. Looking for small things I can offer, or do for fun, that would brighten his day. Giving out an occasional piece of advice.
Loving him as best I can, but staying out of the way.
I know I'm lucky. So many people have adult children whose choices are painful to watch, and often require a continuation of active helping, or at least trying to help. Drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships, or mental illness can be a huge factor at this age. It's hard for those parents to know what to do.
I would much rather have my own issues, than the pain of watching someone I love struggle so much.
I admittedly would love it if he weren't going to live 1500 miles away. I would enjoy having him pop by after work, or bring friends over for spaghetti and meatballs. I would like to see him enough where we might get on each other's nerves, or have an occasional squabble. (Actually, that happens anyway, come to think of it.)
It looks, for now, that my mothering will be the long distance variety. That's part of the redefinition. I'll learn about the best way to send packages, or maybe I'll take up SnapChatting.
My mother used to say, "There are no boring things, only boring people."
Perhaps empty nest is the same.
"Empty nest is only empty if you make it that way."
If you find that any grief you may have is extending into depression, you can contact the NHS on one of these numbers.
For more great posts visit Dr Margaret Rutherford's blog.