And Then They Were Gone: Leaving Home for College

Lisa writes: It all happens in the next few days. After two and a half years of pondering the empty nest here at Grown and Flown, and eighteen years of dreading it, Mary Dell and I will bid our youngest children farewell next week as they are both leaving home for college. Mary Dell is threatening to bring home a new puppy and I am just now realizing that I should have had a fourth child.

College move in day, University of Denver

As we measure the time of departure in hours, rather than days, a montage of my youngest son’s life plays before my eyes. I am carrying him into school to pick up his older brothers and his sweaty sleeping body is nestled against mine. He is scoring his first goal and, as the ball dribbles into the net, he will trip over his own feet, face plant on the field and bounce back up grinning. We are in the ER and as I offer him my finger to bite as the doctor stitches his foot, he grasps my arm tightly but does not shed a tear. I drop him off at the high school for a summer orientation and he strides into the building without hesitation or even a backward glance at me. And then today, as we fill duffel bags with sheets and towels, I am both grateful and sad at how eager he is to leave.

One of the wonderful things about exploring the path to the Empty Nest is the way so many moms have shared their families’ stories with us. We asked a few moms to tell you what it was like when their kids left home and we urge you to share your story in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or give us a link to your story and we will include it below. As you read through the thoughts of these wonderful women, think of us because we are on our way!

Mindy Klapper Trotta The dropping off was not the issue, the coming home and looking at an empty room was more of a heartbreaker. Still don’t like to look when my kids visit and then leave. It all just seems so stark.

Kerry Flynn Barrett I will never forget the day I left my eldest daughter in Boston where she was to attend a program for kids with special needs to have a full college experience. It was 100 times worse leaving a young lady with special needs In a big city than sending off my second daughter in North Carolina which is about three times the distance. I literally felt paralyzed on the Massachusetts Turnpike as I apparently drove the car home. I don’t recall an exit I passed or a special sightseeing spot. I felt so empty, yet I knew it was the best thing for her as we all rationalize our thoughts are fears do. The memory that stayed in my mind and still does today is that I left her with the biggest smile on her face. As I look back, this was a crowning moment in both of our lives that I will never forget. She now happily resides in Cambridge.

Sharon Hodor Greenthal It was heartbreaking, even though I was so excited for my oldest to start. It was much easier with the second child.

Claire Dansby Our first to go to college had to be up at school for most of July for football conditioning….I guess a trial run so to speak. I am full of mixed emotions…sadness, joy, panic, excited for him to start the best four years of his life and sad that the best 20 years of my life are closing in.

Wendy Walker Cushing I was so full of excitement for her I could just squeal! Loved the whole experience of it last year! It’s been awesome!

Laura Fehl I have been preparing for this day all year. I know it will be hard as it has been my daughter and I for the past ten years! I am very appreciative of reading all of the feedback from this group! I know that my daughter will be fine and so will I, but not without tears! Stay tuned for my first thoughts. I am sure it won’t be much different from most of the other posts. It is just helpful to know that you are not going through it alone!

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn Funny enough, I felt pretty good when we drove off. I liked his roommate, I liked the dorm, I thought the college ran a great drop-off day program for parents and students, and I felt my son was in a very good place. It wasn’t until we got home that things became harder. Setting the dinner table without a place for him was the hardest thing of all!

Heidi Kachline Hanley The drop off of #1 seven years ago was hard. My other two kids teased me about how I would fall apart as we left. Although on the ride back it was my husband who had a tear roll down his cheek as he was driving us all home. He just said. “I wasn’t ready for that.” Dropping #3 on August 16 and as someone here said, proud and excited. I’ll miss him like crazy, but know it is as it should be!

College move in day, UWGB

Risa Nye My husband dropped off the first two, since I’d done the college tours with them and he hadn’t been on their campuses yet. But we both went with our “baby” when the time came. I don’t know, I guess we were all really prepared and excited, so when we did actually part ways (him to a student thing and us to the parking lot) it was a moment that signified a new beginning for all three of us. I just knew he would be happier at college than he ever was in high school, and that we were starting a new chapter too. I agree with Mindy that coming home was different–we took the leaf out of the kitchen table…really back to two after so many years.

Linda Snyder Long I drop my baby on August 19th, we live in Chicago, she’s going to AZ. I know she’ll do great and she’s so excited to go, it’s selfishly me! I will miss her so very much, she’s been pure joy to raise and the sunshine of our lives!

Camille Montesi Schaeffer It’s heartbreaking. I cried. Your family is never the same and the house is too quiet.

Holly McFaul up to the day a combination of abject fear and extreme pride for her. The day of nothing but pure joy and pride for her to reach her dream.

Cyndi Cervera Whitten Never try to talk and give last-minute instructions etc. while hugging them for the last time before driving away….

Jane Shrewsbury Hillis It was 1994 when we took our oldest to college. That morning before we left, I went in his room to wake him up and found the usual lump in the bed with head covered, yellow blanket on his pillow and Pooh bear under his arm…I know it sounds childish but it was what I loved about that boy. He slowly held Pooh Bear up in the air and announced, “Pooh, its time for you to find you a woman. I’m leaving & you have to stay.” Leaving the parking lot with him waving was just about the hardest moment of my life. Neither his Dad, nor two sisters, or I could say a word for the next two hours. For fear of losing it. We did and guess what? four years later he graduated and got married the same weekend. Two years later we had our first grandchild ( now a total of four.) So we think the trade-off was worth some of the tears!

Cindy Redd For my first son, I felt a huge separation from “our” world. It now seemed like HIS and then the life at home. I ALWAYS jumped at the chance to be a part of whatever I was invited to! And blessing the guys at college with food is ALWAYS a WIN/WIN!!! With my second son, I was shocked that I actually left him at his dorm room door after dinner, in the dark, in a BIG city before his roommate even moved in! I still remember the horrible feeling driving away! But they both settled in, called, texted, brought some friends home. And then the football games began!!!!!!!!!! Yes!!!!

Janet Runkle Wall I dropped my first son off five years ago – I kept lingering trying to “fluff his dorm room, but boys don’t like much “fluffing”! I felt proud of and excited for him, but very empty inside; tearful and sad. I drop off my 2nd son and youngest in three weeks. I have a feeling it will be very similar, except emptiness x 100! Not ready… #emptynest : (

College move in day, UWGB

Wendy Roever Nelson It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. My first thought was how was I going to make it until the next time I saw her. I think I was more worried about me than about how she would do. I was pretty sure she would be fine!

Andrea Viets My eyes have been threatening to spill over with hot tears for months (and frequently do). My son is so ready. I feel proud, happy and excited for him, and heartbroken for me. This is the end of his childhood. We will find a new way of being mother and son, I know – but oh how I shall miss these days and years of mothering him up close…

Suzanne Croce McGonigal I felt victorious, like we had achieved a goal as a family. We had delivered a child with many challenges finally to the point of starting college. When I returned him to college after Christmas break I felt that overwhelming emotional separation that most (moms especially) feel in the fall. I sobbed my way out of town on the trip home!

Jean Manos Andreacci With the first, I felt like I wanted to go to college again; with the second, he looked so forlorn, I was worried; with the third, I was concerned that he wasn’t ready; with the fourth, I knew she would be fine but I was lonely!

Lauren O’Donnell Weinstein To avoid the empty nest ..I got pregnant ..had 18 years between…so I got to start all over !

Annette Scolini Chastain When I took my daughter to University of Washington Seattle she was certain that is where she wanted to be. We are from Northern California. The night before I left to come home after we had gotten her all set up in her dorm she had a melt down. I knew I needed to stay strong but seriously considered packing her up and taking her back home. We decided she would stick it out one-quarter and then if it wasn’t working out we would come get her. I left with a lump in my stomach that didn’t go away for at least three days. Long story short she will be starting her senior year soon and we couldn’t be prouder of all of her accomplishments. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stay strong

College  Move in Day, Lafayette College

Vilma Sicilia-Sceusa As The Nest Empties  is a blog post I wrote about sending my daughter off to college. Love your blog!

Annemarie Favatella Enoch I made myself sick for a year knowing I would be dropping my son off at college, which was only 1.25 hours away. Now he is going to London to pursue his Masters and PhD. Who knows when he will come home.

Cheryl Nicholl I wanted to cry, and feel the loss, but we got a call from our daughter-at home (w/ her grandmother) who had just been caught giving a HUGE party while her grandmother was out. It was on Fox news. I. Kid. you. Not. So… instead I was screaming.

Julie Silverman Burton How To Say Goodbye: A Lesson From My Daughter ”

And finally like so much else about parenting, we don’t really know what it will be like until we are there.

Julie Warwick I drop my only child off  - four hours away! – on August 21st. I just keep trying not to think about it……I am excited for her but am going to miss her sooooo much.

Crista Cornwell McCormick Will let you know in twenty days

Linda Faucher-Swallow Will let you know in less than a month

Judy Lanoue Dudley 17 days away from dropping off my first at WVU. Will let u know

Becky Stone I will be dropping off my one and only child, my daughter, at ASU and then I’m moving to Utah! The kids are supposed to leave NOT the Mom! Who does that? Feel guilty but I guess I have to get on with my life like she’s getting on with hers. I will miss her soo very much!

So grateful for these heartfelt comments left below.

Becky Blades  I am trying to keep it light, because I’m in a house full of comedians. But the sense of immanent loss feels heavy today.

Patti just dropped off my first child yesterday and my heart is still very heavy. Honestly, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have enjoyed mothering him up close and now need to figure out how to navigate from a distance. He is ready to be on his own and I need to figure out to let him go.

Michelle I feel like I left a piece of my heart at my daughter’s college! I have the level headed mom on one shoulder and the emotional mom on the other. Emotional mom is winning. I am allowing myself to feel every bit of sadness I feel. I can say I was not prepared the overwhelming since of heartache that I feel.

Kathy Radigan I have three years before my first heads off to college and reading these accounts is breaking my heart! I know that it is wonderful for our children to be at the stage of life to start spreading their wings. This is what moms work for right? The whole point of our job is to get our babies ready to live on their own. But I want more time!!!

Alison at the Gracious Posse  I surprised our family with a puppy on Christmas Eve, and for the last few months my son has been calling the dog his “replacement.” I will have to shrink our breakfast table and find ways to keep from dwelling on the memories. At least the puppy will get me out of the house.

Nancy My mother passed away of Alzheimer’s several years ago, but was living with us when my oldest went off to college. She had moments of clarity at that point, and I will never forget what she said when we took him to school…”He will come home again, but it will never be the same.”

Debbie None of my daughters went close by and as I look back on it that was a very good move. Not only did they become independent and self-assured but they trained me to start a life of my own as well. And that I did. I work part time and went back to college and now am looking forward to attaining the long lost Bachelor’s Degree.

Melissa Lamke Beyond thrilled for both of our daughters as they begin their journey of becoming who they will become, heartsick as I feel like it is almost a death of my motherhood. I also have this overwhelming drive to recreate/nest our new, childless space- maybe it’s to lessen the feeling of the missing family members. I feel a need to make changes so that I don’t miss the old and familiar as much.

Annette Officially me and hubby aren’t empty-nesters as the older brother is back home after graduating and the oldest of our 3 sons bought a house, a mile down the road from us. So, not officially empty-nesters but still missing the youngest like crazy today and for weeks to come, I’m sure!!!

Normaleverydaylifeblog I will drop my oldest off in three days. There is a constant lump in my throat and I could cry at any minute. I know she’s ready, but it’s still hard. The best 18 1/2 years of my life and it’s hard to see that change!

Tanya  I want to redecorate/repaint my home. And that’s how I will distract myself for the first few months of this new chapter. After that, I can’t see where the road ahead leads. Honestly feeling a bit lost. But you put one foot in front of the other – what else is there to do?

Patti/KnowsyMoms Just said goodbye to our younger son. Of course, it’s not a final goodbye but today marks the end of 23 years with kids at home. That’s a big chunk of life and a big chunk of my heart. When I wrote about our older son going to college four years ago, I could not have anticipated what is now, truly, the end of an era.

Marisa Davis We noted a couple of engaging young men trying to find common ground with our son, so it was time to leave. Our son was ensconced and the cramped dorm room a comfortable mess. Husband and I drove to Martha’s Vineyard afterward and celebrated our success and the wealth of opportunities ahead for our son, for the people he would meet and those random late night conversations and events that would shape his life.

Laura Over the past couple of days, I keep remembering the look I saw in our son’s eyes as he hugged us goodbye; he was unafraid, proud to be there and ready to get on with it. Thus, maybe we do, indeed, deserve to take that victory walk. :-)

Janet We go tomorrow morning to take my first and only daughter. I can barely read the blogs without crying. I am so excited for her and so sad at the same time to be having her leave me. There I go again. I am sure eventually my eyes will stop leaking tears.

NKP And then there is the guilt…guilt that moving on is so hard, guilt that this is so silly to be sad about, guilt that this hit me so hard. Move on, I hear myself saying, take classes, hike, walk, meet friends, do projects, and sometimes I do. It’s just …different…hard…words don’t describe it adequately.

Janet  I cried over cheese yesterday – yes, CHEESE! I was making a grocery list and put the kind of cheese I use to make my son’s breakfast sandwiches in the morning before school and realized I won’t be doing that anymore!

Anonymous Our first just left last week. He has been a joy to raise. He has been a mentor to his younger sister, a calming influence to his brother with autism, and quite frankly… he has been co-parenting for a while with us. This has been the biggest adjustment of our lives, and its awful.

Melissa Wells  I wrote this last year when we dropped off our younger son and officially became empty nesters. It’s not so bad.

Mary Beth Dropping my only children off 4 hours away tjis weekend. I have identical twin sons who I adore. I’ve been preparing myself that its going to be hectic and busy moving them in. Im hoping to break down in car on ride home. We shall see.

 

Brian Rutter  Kept repeating The Circle Game in my head with each goodbye. Offered dumb platitudes/advice while the years crumbled away.

Nancy Wolf  Missing her already; younger bro in backseat, now solo kid, unhappy too!

Kate Boucher  the first time I was sick to my stomach. This one will be so much easier. Almost looking forward to it!

We would love for you to share your story about your child leaving home in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or give us a link to a story you’ve written. Thanks!

Photo Credits: University of Denver, UWGB (2), Lafayette College



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Why Good Parenting Calls For Cheap Scare Tactics

Becky Blades, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: “Dirty clothes shouldn’t be scary,” said a person who has not opened the door to a 17-year-old’s bedroom room or shared a car with an open gym bag. Or a person who has not sent a laundry-challenged 18-year-old out into the world.

Becky Blades, Laundry or Die

Releasing my daughter into society without being sure she would actually do her laundry was a terrifying moment in my empty nesting transition, and I met it the way I meet most scary parenting encounters – with frantic, jerking shrieks of foreboding and emotional threats: “Your life will be out of control! No one will live with you! No one will love you!…Did I not make myself clear? No wire hangars!”

Being afraid my daughter did not know how to take care of herself and her things turned me into Mommy Dearest; I displaced aggression and spent way too much time passing judgment on her closet. But in the end, though it wasn’t pretty, sending her to college was therapeutic for me. It was the crescendo of a decade and a half of using fear as a parenting tool, and it was the leg of my mom journey that sent me into serious self-analysis.

One morning sitting at my journal, I wondered to myself if my two daughters, then 17 and 15, knew the difference between a mother’s warnings and real risk. Like generations of mothers before me, I had used predictions and exaggerations to make points, I had inflated and fabricated scenarios and lorded threats just to make sure I was heard. I always felt these tactics were cop-outs, that a better mom than I would not need to resort to such things.

As I journaled for days, through years of memories, I realized that stirring up a little fear was a big part of my job description. I remembered, for example, that my children had grown up in a much safer neighborhood than I had. They didn’t need to be afraid to walk to school, or to hang out at the neighborhood shopping center. But living in that safe, shiny “bubble” we had worked so hard to create for them had created its own risks. They were dangerously trusting, and truth be told, they didn’t know what door locks were actually for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” were not serious words in suburban la la land.  In fact, the phrase “stranger danger” would set our humor-seeking household doubling over in laughter when properly placed in a conversation.

That’s the funny thing about fear. It’s funny. Until it’s not.

And it’s a parent’s job to clarify the difference. It was my job to make sure my eight-year-old got to enjoy life with enough security to laugh at paranoid clichés like “stranger danger” and also to assure those same words will send a chill down her spine at age 18 when a middle-aged man gets a little too friendly on a deserted subway platform.

That’s why my daughter’s last year at home was so frightful for me. I scrutinized my work and wondered if I’d covered the right material. She was terrified of making a low SAT score but undaunted by the prospect of running out of clean underwear. She did not know that having a laundry routine would save her from the free-floating overwhelm that would endanger her very peace of mind and turn already busy days into frantic clothing searches.

After a year of self-inflicted note making, I bid adieu to my daughter with an e-mail. Subject line: Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Attached were 200+ tidbits of laundry advice, financial lectures and life lessons that I was afraid she might not know.

It got her attention. She read it all. Not because she was afraid of dying alone, but because she was afraid of the parental financial repercussions if she ignored me. (Those threats have not been veiled in the least.)

Come to find out, the things I’m afraid of for my daughter are things she is afraid of, too. As she got to know other young women at college, she reported that I am by no means the most dramatic or fear-wielding mom alive. Other moms fret and stalk and agonize and warn their daughters with much more flair than I.

I should have remembered this comforting fact from my own coming of age: as we step out on our own, women parent one another with the lessons they learned at home. The ones that make it through the noise are the lessons that are most repeated in mom’s most intense voice.

So . . . sorry, not sorry.

If my two daughters aren’t a little bit afraid of the sound of my ring tone between the ages of 15 and 18, shame on me. If my 18-year-old isn’t wary walking through campus after dark, I didn’t do my job. If my 21-year-old isn’t a little freaked out when a guy on a second date won’t take her home when she asks, I’ve missed a conversation.

Parents of sons likely have an entirely different list of fears and parenting imperatives. I hope that in addition to worrying about their sons’ safety, they are terrified of their sons being cavalier with girls’ hearts and bodies. I can think of no stronger deterrent for a well-raised young man than the look on his mother’s face when she learns of her son’s shoddy behavior.

The only thing we have to fear is NOT fear itself – it is losing fear as a parenting tool. But I’m not afraid. I’m betting that just like the laundry, creatively applied scare tactics will always be part of the job that never ends.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

About Becky Blades

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages.

She lives in Kansas City with her husband of 30 years and her Maytag front load washing machine.

Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie, and her blog, startistry. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest at: LaundryorDie.com

 



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Mother-Daughter Shopping with Graduation on the Horizon

Our daughter will soon turn in final papers and tests, which will wind down another year of school. This spring feels like no other because she is a senior and this is her season of lasts. During these final few weeks she will join her friends at the Prom, Awards Day, and finally Graduation to mark much more than just the end of the term. So in our daughter’s closet are the new dresses, shoes and accessories she will wear for these truly special occasions. For parents of girls, in particular, senior spring is also a season of shopping!graduation

Fortunately, she often includes me (and my American Express card) on her quest to find the “perfect” outfits and, according to The Wall Street Journal, we are not alone.

The mother-daughter shopping trip is expanding into new territory. Moms and their girls follow the same retailers on social media, trade photos of clothes and create joint pin boards of looks they plan to shop for, whether online or in a traditional trip to the mall. 

In a recent survey of 12- to 19-year-old girls, 74% said their parents were “very involved” or “involved” in shopping with them. According to the Futures Company, a consulting firm; 78% said they respected older family members’ opinions. Mothers, meanwhile, are adopting youthful looks retailers say. The result is women’s and girls styles are converging.

Shopping together has given me a front row seat to watch our daughter evolve from “little girl cute” to a young woman who has her own unique, slightly-preppy sense of style. During the hours we have wandered in stores and shopped on-line, she has learned basics of consumer economics – she gravitates toward the sale racks and pays attention to return policies. She reads the fine print about fabric care (avoid costly “dry clean only”) and watches for the purchase threshold for free shipping.

My newest lesson for her comes courtesy of the Amex card I have had for decades. I recently added Amex Offers to my card which, frankly, couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Here are the features that I love:

1. Personalized Offers

Offers are curated for me based on where I have shopped in the past. That makes this a highly personalized program.

2. Simple to Connect

AmexOffers.com is simple to navigate. Just click on “Save” to add any Offer you choose. I downloaded the app onto my smartphone. I look up rewards in any location, while I’m on the go. You can also connect your card to social networks and add the Offers to your Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or TripAdvisor accounts.

3. No coupons!

There are no codes to complicate the process or coupons to forget on the kitchen counter. Thank you for this, Amex, truly.

4. Savings are Significant

Substantial savings await. Currently more than $15 Million in savings for card members are available for the taking. Discounts I have nabbed range from $5 for iTunes to $75 at Elie Tahari – there is a wide range and variety so take a look to see what works for you! In addition to the retailers where I have taken advantage of offers this spring I have Amex gift cards in mind for the other grads on my list.

Delighted that Amex Offers are helping me and my daughter as Graduation looms ever larger on the horizon.

I received compensation in exchange for writing this review.  Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.

Sweepstakes

BlogHer will randomly pick a commenter on this post to receive a $100.00 AmericanExpress® GiftCard at the end of the sweepstakes period (May 31, 2014.) All you have to do to enter is comment below with the answer to this question: What do you like most about Amex Offers?

 

Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.
You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#AmexOffers” and “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 72 hours to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 5/5-5/31

Be sure to visit the Amex Offers brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!



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Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

It is not my job to build my kid’s self-esteem, but rather to give them the tools to earn it for themselves. Self esteem results from setting challenging goals for ourselves and then accomplishing them. Sure, the recognition of others helps, but only if we know it to be genuine (and kids can see through this at a shockingly early age.) So I can encourage my kids to set themselves goals and to stick with them, but I cannot bestow self-esteem upon them, that they will have to earn it for themselves.

It is not my job to be my kid’s companion. I love being with my kids, and since they entered adolescence, I suspect I love being with them a whole lot more than they love being with me. When they were small they would demand my attention  and I felt that I failed them when I didn’t keep them company or play with them as they wished. In doing that, I took on a job that was not mine. Kids need their parents for love, comfort and guidance…playmate on demand is simply not in the job description. It helps to remember that the happiest people are those content with their own company.

It is not my job to make my kids happy. I am pretty sure if I could have figured out the key to happiness, I would have sold it and funded their tuition. My notion of happiness is not static and it has evolved over my life. I know that getting what you think you want does not always lead to happiness. I know that money can buy peace of mind, a sense of security and freedom from certain hardships, but it cannot touch happiness. I know that true happiness is looking at the world through your own lens, not the one handed to you by others, even your parents. And as the mom of three I know that happiness is so different for each child that even if I had the power to bestow it, which I certainly do not, it would consume my every waking minute repackaging it three times over. Finding happiness has been a lifelong, and not always successful journey; I really don’t have the runway to find it for four people. So my kids are going to have to do what I and every other person did, and find it on their own.

My job was to model and teach impulse control and deferred gratification. None of us can always get what we want. The Stones taught me that, and it is my job to pass this along to my kids.

My job was to give my sons relationships that would last a lifetime, people who they could turn to in need. That is what family and close friends are for. But far more than teaching that people will always be there for them, I hope I have taught them to be there for those they love. 

My job was to teach them right from wrong in a world that may well contradict my message.

My job was to make sure that my kids launched into the world as well-educated and well prepared as they could be.

My job was to make them flexible and unencumbered by the past, prepared for a world I have not seen.

My job was to teach them that quitting is sometimes, but rarely, the answer. We do not learn persistence (and grit) by doing what we love. We learn persistence by doing what we don’t love.

Being a parent calls on every physical, intellectual and emotional resource we have. It is a long complex process and I, for one, made it a whole lot harder than it needed to be. As parents, we pondered how our own parents had it so much easier, how life was simpler and they found raising us far less challenging. We hear this question often and assume it was because we were raised in simpler times that demanded far less of parents. But maybe it is otherwise. Maybe our parents had a better sense of what was possible for parents to achieve. Maybe they knew what was their job and what, as children, was ours.

girl playing in snow



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Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone: The Wit and Wisdom of Becky Blades

Lisa writes: Mary Dell and I have read Becky Blades’ beautiful volume, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone,  and we love it. We don’t just love it because we have high school (and college!) graduates this year. We love it because it is the perfect gift of wit and wisdom for any girl/young woman, age 15-25, and because of the messages of empowerment, understanding and optimism Becky conveys.  It is a little manual for life, and who doesn’t need that?

Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone

But Becky’s book is even better with some of the back story. Her slender and beautifully illustrated volume is very much a “mom story” that so many of us can relate to, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her to hear  firsthand.

Interview With Author Becky Blades

Lisa: You say in the book that you wrote this as a reminder to oldest daughter before she headed off to Harvard? Why did she need reminding and why didn’t you just tell her what you had to say?

Becky: My firstborn, Taylor Kay, was a driven child, and busy, busy, busy. Every minute seemed so intense – with few of those hang-around-and-chat moments where topics just come up. When we WERE in the same room, I shared her attention with the crowd of people who were texting or Facebooking on her phone. Since she was working so hard, and I didn’t want every conversation to be an argument, I gave her a pass on that, and other things – like doing her laundry.

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Four Most Dreaded Words for a Stay-at-Home-Mom

What comes to mind when you hear that an educated woman, a woman who once had a burgeoning career, has stepped down to become a stay-at-home-mom?  Really, what do you think?  That she is a great mom?  That she wasn’t really all that successful and found the hidden trap door in the floor?  That she couldn’t hack the pressure of the dual lives that most parents lead?  That she found the best solution for her family?  That somebody’s husband must be doing well or that somebody cannot afford childcare? That you pity her or want to be her?

Today, at The Atlantic, Lisa discusses the question she dreads most of all, “What do you do?” (Photo credit: John Schultz/flickr)

Stay at Home Mom, The Atlantic story on stay at home mom

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BTDT* Moms Talk Best Parenting Practices

Lisa writes: It is easy for us, as moms, to get down on ourselves about our parental transgressions.  All too often we remember the days when we shrieked at our kids for, truly, little more than being kids.  Focusing on our missteps as moms and dads has become almost a national pastime, as we berate ourselves for not being the perfect parent.

While I am happy to leap onto the bandwagon of self-indictment, and admit to more than my share of errors in judgment and practice, I am going to search out the glass half-full here. I have asked a few experienced moms to jump in and, without crowing, just reflect on what went right. Here are eight of their best parenting practices that we can all consider.  After all, as we like to say, parenting never ends.

mom and baby at zoo, a family visits the zoo, elephants at the zoo

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Stay-at-Home Mom With Rebuttals and Regrets

Lisa writes: After pondering for 17 years my decision to be a stay-at-home mom, I put my thoughts on paper.  At no point did it occur to me that I would not work outside our home or that one decade or even nearly two would pass before I returned to the workplace.  But days turned into months, months into years and suddenly nursery school applications became college applications and I would be hard pressed to say where the time went.

I was asked if this post was hard to write.  It was hard to face, but easy to write.

HuffPost Parents put up “I Regret Being a Stay-at-Home Mom” and the Today show and Fox and Friends asked me to come speak about it.  The thrilling part was the hundreds, now thousands, of comments that have been generated by readers reflecting on their own experiences.

Today SHow, Stay-at-Home Mom, Regrets staying at home

Since posting my confession, women, and a few men, have told us how much it has meant to them to hear these thoughts laid out publicly. Then, and this has to be the very best part of the internet, they have shared their stories and their lives with us.

We have heard from women on maternity leave and women nearing retirement. Some have been mothers reflecting, as I have done, but many have been young moms with infants and toddlers who have the question of returning to work still swirling in their minds. Below we share their voices.

Readers wrote articulate, thoughtful rebuttal posts, and we have gathered them here or they can be found above under the tab “Discussion: Stay-at-Home Mom.

Lest this look like a love fest, a few comments were venomous, as readers suggested I should not have had kids.  A few were a bit touchy, suggesting I just needed to grow up.  And many vehemently disagreed with me, with one particularly astute writer (mom of five, physician, and thought leader) offering up what she felt were more important family issues that should focused upon.  I have tried to reflect their voices as well.

Rather than describing what some incredibly articulate women have said, I offer up their heartfelt insights…

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Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom

 

Lisa writes: The most expensive decision of my life I made alone.  There was no realtor, no car dealer and no travel agent when I chose to leave the paid workforce and become a stay at home mom.  There was just me looking at my husband, my children (those inside and outside the womb) and the chaos that was our lives. At no point did I calculate the lifetime impact of diminished earnings and prospects.  I looked at the year we were in and the following year, and I bolted.  No part of my brain sat itself down and thought, what is the price both in both this year’s dollars and my lifetime earnings, to leaving the workforce and is it a decision that a decade or two from now I might regret?  At no point did I examine the non-monetary cost which would loom just as large. At the time it seemed forgone, two demanding careers, two small children and another on the way, two adult lives hopelessly out of control.

One day I was working on the massive trading floor of a London bank, the next I was on the floor of my children’s playroom.  And while it meant I would forgo a paycheck, not once did I think, at age 33, of what the job market would look like for me in years hence and therein lies my most expensive mistake.

youngest-child-1024x683

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Motherhood and the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: This morning, The New York Times posted a wonderful article, “After the Children have Grown,” about motherhood and the transition to the empty nest.  The author, noted psychologist Madeline Levine, confirms what Anna Quindlen has often said, that the real empty nest begins the day our youngest child graduates from college.  Yet Levine takes a different look at our children’s separation as not a single moment but rather one more step on a long path of pain and happiness that is parenting.  She explains,

Motherhood inextricably weaves growth and loss together from the moment of physical separation at birth to every milestone passed.

Yet she finds that, in some ways, parents are unprepared for this transition despite the fact that we should have seen it coming.

motherhood, empty nest, mothers and sons, after the children have grown

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Mothers and Daughters, the Teenage Years

Mary Dell writes: Teenage girls travel in packs, migrating between friends’ houses. Over time, mothers and daughters from each family get to know one another well. When it is our turn to host a Friday night sleepover I am delighted. On Saturday morning, while serving pancakes, I pull up a chair with my daughter and her friends and join them for a chat.  Learning how to be welcomed (momentarily) into my daughter’s group, yet heeding the cue to disappear, are lessons I learned from my mother when she was the one wielding the spatula.

I recently asked my oldest girlfriends about their memories of those long ago school days. Here are some of the things they remember:

mother and daughter, teenage girl and mom in the 1970's

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Mom Bloggers Would Have Made Me a Better Mother

Lisa writes: “Is that normal?”  was the first, second and probably third question I asked my pediatrician every time I walked into his office.  Normal.  Young moms are looking for normal but, in truth, we don’t know what it looks like.  Enter the internet and Mom bloggers.  My kids were born in the 1990s and my access to online information was limited in their early years.  Had I been able to consult this tribe of supporters, I would have learned that “normal” looks like a lot of different things and that my kids were fine.

I would have loved to have been part of a global group of young mom bloggers sharing information, trying to make sense of the changes in their lives and bringing humor to the process.  I could have used all three, perhaps humor the most.

Mom bloggers would have made me a better mother and here is why:
Mommy Bloggers

Mom bloggers would have told me that the exhaustion I felt with three kids, age four and under, was not only normal, but inevitable.  A quick consult with moms further along the parenting curve would have allowed me to see the light when stuck midway through a couple of dark tunnels.

When I lost the plot with my children, I might have believed that I was not a bad mother or a bad person and that there was even some value to my kids in learning what happens when you push someone too far.

Experienced mom bloggers would have pulled back the curtain and shown me that other mothers were not perfect, they just looked that way from the outside.  Ditto, their kids.

We are all unavoidably products of our upbringing and reading widely (not just from the few bestsellers around at the time) about different parenting experiences would have loosened my enslavement to my own past.

I would have learned that I was not the only mother who sometimes found days with very young children to be dull and repetitive.  And I might have realized that it was not forever. Over the course of my sons’ childhoods I have worked outside our home full-time, at home full-time and at home part-time.  If I had known that life was going to have so many different stages I would not have panicked when I found myself in the wrong one.

I would have learned much earlier that the mess is worth the memories and you can get a new carpet but you can never rewind the tape.

Mom bloggers would have been able to help cover up some of my failings as a parent.  With access to a myriad of mom and kid sites, my children might not have discovered that I am useless at baking or any other creative pursuit.  I could have covered my tracks with brilliant ideas that I stole from clever mommy blogger.

I could have used advice on chicken pox, sibling fights, tween curfews and the best way to tour a college campus. But the good news is that I am pretty sure that someday I will be looking for advice on being the mother of the groom and, hopefully, on becoming a grandmother (starting with Grandma’s Briefs).

Even as my kids and I bid farewell to their childhood, I have found that the community of loving, caring moms and dads, reflecting deeply on how to be better parents, will travel right alongside me on this journey.



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In Training for the Empty Nest

Mary Dell writes: Sitting on the sidelines, I have long been jealous of my husband. He coached our son in baseball and football, sports into which they both poured their high school energies. Our 16-year-old daughter is now in training for preseason soccer and I am finally sharing a sport – running – with my child. Since she will be off to college in two years, and we will have an empty nest, I am savoring these mother-daughter moments.

running with kids, training with your children, pre-season
Several times a week we drive to our high school track. After a little jogging and stretching, we sip from water bottles, our warm up now complete. I fumble with the earphones on my iPod while she races off, motivated by twin goals of a sub-seven minute mile and a spot on the varsity team. Waddling down the track, I admire my daughter’s athleticism and discipline. I can’t imagine what superhero capabilities the teenagers who compete at the Olympics are born with and perfect through their years of hard training.

The track is built around a football field and at times I can watch her running across from me, 100 yards of green space separating us. I follow her as she rounds a curve and disappears from my line of sight. She sometimes gives me a half wave as she speeds by. After she passes, I notice the rhythmic way her braided pony tail fans her back.

I go with her not only to get some exercise myself but also to act as guardian since it’s summertime and the track is usually deserted. While I never feared for my six-foot tall son when he worked out alone, I am reluctant to send her off, solo. Truth be told, I am a little reluctant to send her off at all. She is the baby of the family and when she leaves for college, my husband and I will remain at home in a house that will be so very quiet.

For now, I am in training with her as a runner. That is the official reason for our trips to the high school. My secret, unofficial reason is that I am training myself to accept how very grown up she is. We share the track and occasionally run alongside each other but I am neither pushing nor pulling her as I might have when she was a little girl, shy about joining the town soccer program. We are running our own, very independent, yet connected races. The training is good.



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Unexpected Pleasures of Parenting

Lisa writes: One of life’s great pleasures is having our expectations exceeded. And of all the unexpected pleasures life gives us, perhaps none is greater than becoming a parent. For no matter how much we know we will love our children, the actual experience of loving them is almost beyond words. With a heady cocktail of inexperience and overconfidence I thought I knew what parenthood beheld. I thought I had my mind wrapped around parenting and had realistic expectations of what was to come. Of course, I had no idea. girls, girls in park The surprises:

Front Row Seat of Another’s Life

Being a parent is having a front row seat in the theatre of someone else’s life. It is a chance to witness the entire arc of that life from the first breath, to that first awkward day of middle school, to the moment we hit the replay button and our children have children. For me it has been an unmatched and unprecedented opportunity to reflect deeply and in living color on my own life.

Return to Childhood

Being a parent has allowed me to be a child again. My childhood was simple and middle class, the stuff the 1960s and 70s were made of. My husband’s was much more austere in a country and family with far less. Yet I will be eternally grateful to our sons for allowing us to experience childhood all over again with them. From the first time they laughed at Pat the Bunny to the day they stood in front of It’s a Small World jumping up and down and begging to go on the ride for a third time, to the afternoon they drove away with their brand new drivers licenses, I have felt immersed in every step of their childhood. We identify with our children, critics say we over identify, but for me this has meant reliving childhood, but better.

The Toughest Job is Parenthood

By having a child I learned what kind of stuff I was made of. I thought I had faced challenges with a tough school, a tough job, life overseas…child’s play, so to speak. The toughest job, bar none, is parenthood. Children push us to the emotional edge, in good ways and bad and sometimes to the physical edge as well. The closest I came was at 4:00 am one morning when I had been up for twenty-one hours and was holding my infant son who would not sleep. I screamed at him at the top of my lungs, “You know what? Yes. You! You are going to be an only child. You behave like this and you are getting no brothers or sisters. An only child, do you hear me!” It was the worst threat my deranged mind could think of and my husband, who had long since made his way to the couch, had the good sense to switch places with me. My next son was born ten months later.

Our Children Show Us the World

Parenthood begins with showing our children the world, but it is not long before they return the favor. I knew I would be a teacher. I never imagined how quickly I would become a student. I have learned about glassblowing, pre-World War II aircraft and every professional sport. I am up on current music and the standings in the English Premier Soccer League. But I am a visitor to these worlds, and inhabit them because my children are there and when their interests and lives move on, so will mine, all the wiser for it. Later still our children literally take us places, as we move them into summer camp cabins or college dorm rooms, their first apartments or back into our homes. We take them places for a few years, they take us places for the rest of our lives and at every step we learn something. parenting, children, family

The Lessons Can Be Painful

Some of this learning will not be good. When they get sick we will study everything about their ailment. When they have trouble learning we master everything about their difficulty and when they get caught speeding, drinking or lying we must search for the fine line that runs between how much to help and how much to punish. We will be wiser, but sometimes painfully wiser.

I Love Being a Parent with My Husband

I knew that my husband and I would love being parents. We are both eldest children and had long shifts of caring for younger siblings, but I could never have fathomed how much we would love sharing this experience. We had the same career, we could talk for hours about our friends and our work and our aspirations. We could talk about books and our upbringing, about things we hoped to learn and things we hoped to forget, but nothing has or ever will come close to the shared passion for our children. He is the one person on the planet that I cannot bore with constant talk of how wonderful I think my kids are, there is no level of minutiae  that I can sink to in discussing our offspring that will lose his interest.

We are Thrilled with Their Triumph

There is a feeling of exhilaration as they accomplish something that we know for all the world is not within our grasp. It is the thrill of seeing them swim faster than we know we ever could, master a technological challenge or face an unfamiliar social setting with poise and confidence that we can only dream about. It is the moment when they appear in their prom dress or tux and we can feel ourselves so young and beautiful again, if only for a second. They are not us, but we will never so enjoy another’s triumph nor feel it so keenly.

My Child Made Me an Adult

I was pretending to be an adult until the moment my eldest was born and I knew it was time to stop pretending. My husband and I may have had careers, a car and an apartment but as we were beholden to no one, at times our early marriage felt like an extension of a long luxurious adolescence that no one was in a hurry to push us out of. One of the truly unexpected joys was realizing that, as the nurses at the hospital waved goodbye and I carried my newborn out to the car, I was an adult, a mother and that we would be alright. I have my children to thank for that.



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Long Distance Love

Mary Dell writes: After I married and had children I became a little jealous of my friends who lived near their parents.  In those families, grandparents held the tiny hands of grandchildren as they grew and grew.  Fortunately, I learned from my far-away mother how to be close regardless of living sixteen hundred miles apart. She helped me understand long distance love.

water lilly

Now eighty-five, Mom still travels to see us once or twice a year, refusing to let her slightly weak knee call the shots.

While in her younger years she played with the kids up in the treehouse or down in the basement, these days they hang out together on the ground floor, playmates still.

My mother has one more strategic method for growing connective tissue with her children and grandchildren: “care packages.” She pours imagination and love into a box of  treasures, each individually wrapped with notes personally addressed.  Even the Labradors are sometimes lucky recipients of a few canine treats.

Packages arrive for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, and, especially, birthdays. With great anticipation, our children have torn open her boxes and ripped apart tissue paper to reveal thematically chosen stuffed animals, jewelry, books, candy, decorations – whatever bit of whimsy caught her eye in her favorite shops – be they overstuffed dollar stores or tiny boutiques. Her boxes have even found their way to the mailroom at our son’s dorm and the cabin at our daughter’s camp with roommates and bunkmates in mind.

Recently my mother has begun to simplify her life by culling through her possessions. She now curates boxes with family photographs or vintage keepsakes from my childhood. She has even begun taking bigger steps by packing shipping cartons and tagging select pieces of furniture with which she is beginning to part. Mom has always conveyed her long-distance love for us with every package she dispatches.  Each card or satiny box of chocolates is an expression of her generosity and affection. When the moving van arrives from her house to ours, a nearly empty nest, I know that her devotion to us will be packed with each item she has chosen to share.

To honor her care package tradition, I am preparing our own carton of treasures for her this Mother’s Day.  As I wrap each gift and sign my card I, too, am sending love and gratitude. I realize that we have missed much by being so far away from her but I truly believe that geographic proximity is no guarantee for closeness and distance does not doom love.

wrapped gifts, presents, wrapping paper, care package, gifts for grandchildren

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