These days, my only son Rob is traveling at breakneck speed through his twenties. So, I’ve ridden many waves of transition from hands-on mom to empty nest mom.
That letting go process happened gradually. But as time marched on, whether I was ready for it or not, each new phase came rolling in.
“Mom, will you take us to the pool?”
“Mom, I’m not going to be here for dinner, but can some guys come over later?“
“Mom, you know I’m not coming home spring break. Right?“ The last was asked with a tender, somewhat tenuous smile as he put his arm around me; all I could do was smile back at that infectious grin.
I’ve had my ups and downs in this letting go process. The ups have been all about watching him create his own life. Having the time to begin to blog and podcast. My husband and I traveling together; more time with friends. But I’ve had to grieve the loss of all that abundant youthful energy around the house. I missed the den being constantly messy. Worse still, I felt awkward in my new role as onlooker when we visited him at college, not sure of where I belonged in his new world.
I struggled at times not to miss what had been.
But I eventually discovered something that helped.
How letting go with intention heals the grief of empty nest…
It comes down to one thing: you have to choose, with intention, to let go.
When I consider people who struggle with depression after their children leave home, they’ll say they feel robbed. They feel victimized by the years going by, bringing with them unwanted closure on the hands-on years of parenting.
And yet, this feeling of a child being torn from you isn’t good for you, or for your child. Life isn’t yanking them away from you. You’re not a victim. You’re sad.
Think about it. As a parent, you’ve already had a lot of practice in adjusting to a new normal. The getting-no-sleep phase, the diaper years, preschool, grade school, teenage years…college, young adulthood. The new phase has always been right around the corner. And, let’s face it, some phases have been much more pleasant than the others.
Each time, it’s been important to let go when those years were done.
Empty nest doesn’t have to be one that’s too painful to bear.
“Only your prominence in your child’s life changes. Not your significance.”
Your children are never yours to keep; they are a temporary gift to nurture and cherish. Ideally, from their first years, only your prominence in their lives will decline. Not your importance in their lives, nor your significance. Only how central you are to what they’re creating in their own life.
If you relish each and every stage of your children’s lives, with intention, you can avoid looking back or clinging to one stage or the other. Because not only is it impossible to go back in time for one more afternoon of pushing your giggling little one on a swing, before you know it, you’ll be transitioning yet again. And believe it or not, there’ll come a day when you’ll likely miss having this surly teenager under your roof.
Let’s use something non-child related as an example. Years before my son was born, I owned my absolutely favorite-of-a-lifetime black evening outfit. I wore it singing jazz in the late 80’s. It was backless, with a soft, silky fabric, a plain classic front and nothing adorning the waist. The pants flowed freely.
I thought it was spectacular and channeled my inner Meryl Streep when I wore it.
But when I became a mom, there weren’t a lot of places to wear my elegant attire. I certainly couldn’t wear it to work. Plus, frankly, it became a bit snug in places. Okay… quite snug.
I gave it away, quite purposefully; its time had passed.
Kids aren’t clothes. But there’s a fundamental similarity in the process. Any time you can claim intentionality, it’s very empowering…this is especially true when facing a painful situation.
Your intention gives you back a sense of control…
You can make a vow to yourself. And each vow will offer you a sense of control over a process that has seemed out of control.
Here are some vows to consider.
I will, with intention, be grateful to see my child create a life of their own. Not everyone has that good fortune.
I will, with intention, realize that my role will change, but not my significance.
I will, with intention, not look back.
I will, with intention, not harangue about texts left unanswered, or calls that I love to get coming only from time to time. I will not make it personal.
I will, with intention, realize that I will always be Mom (or Dad).
Oh yeah… “I’ll always be Rob’s mom”. And then, my own smile returns.
I will, with intention, remember to smile.
You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts, as well as free downloadable ebook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”
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My new book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression will be arriving November 1, 2019! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life. More to come.
Originally published on Midlife Boulevard; revised and posted on April 30, 2016 and further revised and republished on June 1, 2019