All those years of rushing children to soccer and ballet, horses and theater productions, teacher conferences, college care packages, rushing off to the airport to pick them up as they return for holidays before flying off again to school…whoosh! they are gone. And so are the children.
You raised them to be independent. They are exactly the young people you hoped they would become: busy, active, involved, productive members of society, with their own life trajectories and concerns. If they are in their mid- to late twenties, you are likely in that interim place where mothers are stored while grown children develop and test their wings. And that can be a very lonely place for a mother.
Once these children marry and have children of their own, relationships shift and families reconfigure to incorporate the new members. You have a distinct role: grandmother. You have a place in the family.
But this interim place, this on-hold place - it can be wrought with pain and confusion. For one thing, it is a massive adjustment to go from being the central point in your children’s lives, the very point to which they are tethered, to being off their grids. Not only do they no longer need your daily ministrations, but also they aren’t mature enough to realize the enormous change their independence has brought to your life. It is the death of a beloved role; and, like any death, it needs to be mourned.
Sure, the image of the phoenix comes to mind. You hear of women “re-inventing themselves in mid-life, now that the children are gone,” and “becoming themselves.” You hear of companies started, novels written, volunteer commitments in the community – but you don’t hear of the quiet mourning in each mother’s heart as she goes about her daily business in a world that is forever changed. You don’t witness the quiet moments when she wipes away the burning tears that seem to come out of nowhere
And you don’t hear about the fear a woman faces about trying to articulate this to her children. Why bother them with my stuff? I’ll get over this. It’s just a phase. They’re doing just what I wanted them to do. It’s time for me to get on with my life. I’m not the first woman whose children have left home.
But, oh! For just one day of bandaging bruised knees, settling he-said-she-said arguments, commending the broccoli because it’s good for you… Just one day of looking in the rear view mirror to check on the toddler in the back seat. One day of…being mommy.
But those days have vanished.
Whether your friends talk about them or not, I assure you that this is no minor transition for a women,. It is a large and significant shift from one role to another, and it comes on us suddenly. We first feel a little relief when the house is quiet during those times when the children are away at college. We read. We cook what we like. The house stays neat. But in those days, we have the comfort of knowing chaos will resume the minute you return from the airport with the children and their suitcases of laundry.
Now it is quiet all the time. Now the house stays neat. Now you have all the time in the world to do just what you want with whatever spare time you have. They are not coming home. There will be no holiday chaos. They will not be bringing their books and laptops and sloppy clothes next time they visit. They will come with handbags. They will have to run off shortly after eating. They have things they have to do, places they need to be in fifteen minutes, people who are expecting them. Other people. Not you. Their kisses graze your cheek as they rush out the door – and they are gone.
I recommend you share your thoughts and feelings with your women friends who are in a similar situation with regard to their children. Unless there was deep familial dysfunction and pathology, it is very likely your friends are trying to get along the best way they know how, just as you are, even though that includes the daily presence of a hole right in the middle of their hearts.
This is the progress of life. This is the cycle since time immemorial. The differences over time, of course, include the dissolution of the extended family. This is the main cause of the distress women face when their children leave home. Our culture could benefit greatly be re-examining this issue, and perhaps the economics of our times will force a re-evaluation of the benefits of the extended family. It would benefit us all, in each generation. It would mean connections do not have to be artificially severed. It would keep the cloth whole.
Meanwhile, acknowledge the pain of the loss. Know that every woman faces it. Know that the support you receive from your women friends can help you greatly as a community of mommies becomes a community of mothers, women of adult children, and seats of wisdom.
Wisdom is the pearl that develops from the painful separation of having your children move on. And wisdom is a beautiful gift, bittersweet in the winning, and beautiful to witness because of the difficulty in which it was born.