Before The Nest Is Empty
Empty Nest Syndrome is the feeling of emptiness and loneliness that many parents experience when their child or children leave home. It is not a recognized clinical illness. It's grief.
And a question: who am I now?
The first morning without them. The house is quiet. The silence is loud. And you look in the mirror and wonder just who the hell you're supposed to be, now.
But what if you didn't have to wonder?
What if instead of needing to find out who you are you had never lost yourself in the first place?
What if you took time to find yourself, to reclaim yourself NOW, while you are still actively mothering?
WHAT IF YOU DIDN'T FEAR THE EMPTY NEST?
There will always be grief when a child leaves us to go out into the world. It is the end of something that has been a huge part of our lives and our identities for decades. But it doesn't have to be terrifying.
Start where you are.
Who are you, now? If you had to describe yourself without saying anything about your children, what would you say?
This can be the hardest part for mothers. So many of us have completely lost ourselves inside the role of "Mother" that we don't remember who we are, or who we were. So if you feel like you're getting stuck on this step please know that you are not alone.
Sit with this and let it take as long as it takes. One of the simplest ways to "meet yourself" is to daydream. Get to school pick up 5 minutes early. Sit in the parking lot of the grocery store, or your office, or literally anywhere for five minutes and just let your mind wander to YOU.
Remember you hopes, your dreams, your plans.
Remember you half-finished projects and long unused skills.
Because the truth is that you never left. When you became a mother you did not unmake yourself. And no matter what society's expectations are, there is no reason for you to do so. You can dream yourself back. I know that it sounds silly, that it sounds too simple, that it sounds ridiculous - but it works. It doesn't take a lot of time, or any money, or even a belief that it is possible.
All it takes is you thinking about YOU.
Small things will start to return. That you always wanted to learn how to bake, or woodwork, or write dirty haiku. Maybe you love to run or play basketball. Maybe you want to paint or read every book by a specific author. Maybe you want to give a TED Talk or set up a science lab in your basement.
Maybe your list is a mile long.
Maybe there is one thing in your heart.
I wish that I could tell you there was a fast, easy way to do this. If I could snap my fingers and bring you back to yourself I promise that I would. But the truth is that while your self didn't disappear, it did change. We cannot pretend that motherhood leaves no mark, that it takes up no room, and that you can simply click your heels together three times and be back to your old self.
Or that you'd even want to.
What comes next is a journey of reclamation and integration. Seeing yourself fully - who you are, what you want, what you need and remembering who you were and what you have. Those are all things that take time, that take work.
We are always becoming who we will be. And so there is always time to reclaim parts of yourself. Time to discover new ways for them to fit into your life.
Put yourself on your calendar. I'm not kidding. Make actual dates with yourself and make yourself a priority.
Make a commitment. Write it out, tell a friend, post it on social media - it doesn't matter. What matters is that you commit to bringing a part of the 'old you' into your new life.
Get support. The outside world is going to tell you that motherhood is all you need. You need people around you who will listen to your dreams and support you in making them a reality.
Build in accountability. Share your calendar with a friend. Post about your goals online. Ask your partner or a sibling to check in on you.
I'm not saying to run away and leave your four children to realize your dream of conducting chemistry experiments on the International Space Station. I'm saying find a chemistry class at a local university that you can audit. Or an online course. Find a club on meetup.com or get a subscription box. I'm saying start keeping a science journal again with all the questions you'd like answered and all the experiments you'd like to run.
Remember your old self.
Bring them along as you keep becoming who you will be.
THE NEVER EMPTY NEST
And now the nest is never empty - even when the chicks fly away.
Yes, you will still worry about them. Yes, the silence will still be LOUD. Yes, you will miss them.
But you will not wonder who you are, now. You will not wonder how you'll fill your days. You will not have a million dreams that have been put on hold. There will be much less regret.
Because you will have been living your life all along and not simply existing next to the lives of your children. You will be able to enter the next phase of your life with joy and anticipation.