|Ben, me and Jordan|
Getting divorced in my mid-thirties had an unintended side effect of pushing me into the mostly empty nest phase way ahead of schedule. My ex believed, and I mostly agreed with him, that the boys should be with him. He had a stable job, plus he could be the male role model we both felt they needed. So in spite of my very strong wishes to the contrary, my children didn’t live with me.
Let me tell you, it’s really odd to be a woman, a mother in your mid 30s and not have your children living with you. I experienced a lot of judgment (I must have been a bad mother to “lose” my children or no, maybe I was an unloving, selfish mother who “gave away” her children), I wrote endless bad poetry about how wretched that felt, I questioned my role in life, my identity and my worth because my children lived with their dad.
(They did both end up back with me but that’s not the point. I went through that transition and felt every awful bit of it.)
Now I have friends going through similar big life transitions – divorces, kids moving out, or entering high school or junior high or first grade. I watch them go through the same feelings I did and I’m oddly reassured that what I felt was quite normal.
And I want to tell them what they’re feeling is normal. That yes, you do wonder who and what you are when your children no longer need you 24/7. You wonder if you don’t exist for your children, well then what do you exist for? And how do you fill the time when you don’t need to cook and clean and clean and cook and do endless loads of laundry and drive them around or loan them the car. What do you do?
If they asked, I would tell them to feel their feelings but don’t get stuck there. That’s a dangerous place to be stuck, squarely in the middle of a big “I’m useless” mud puddle. I’d ask them what they did before they had children, who were they then? Because they are still those women today only even more so. After all, they’ve given birth and raised those kids and no one goes through that process unchanged. I’d say the changing is good, the transition – while painful – is also good even if they can’t see it now. And I’d tell them that they will be needed in far different ways as their children move to adulthood, ways they can’t imagine now (or at least I couldn’t), and that being needed by your adult children is even more amazing than raising the helpless babies, getting through the toddler years, and even better than the high school years (which I personally loved).