Even though being a mom was never my only identity, now that my sons are grown, I wonder what my purpose is — what is important now? I’m finding it hard to answer this nagging question for reasons I can’t explain.
Throughout our lives, our priorities shift, but as every parent knows, having children is a complete game-changer no matter how independent or driven you are — seeing another city, adding to your shoe collection, trying a new restaurant, or getting a promotion all to become less significant.
You juggle your relationships, career, dreams, and everything around your kids — even your relationship with your spouse or significant other changes. You know a human cannot survive without you, and you would do everything and anything to ensure their health and happiness.
As your kids get older, they need you as a guide
As your kids age, they need you less for sheer survival and more to guide them through life, root them on, and help them become independent. As any parent can attest, this is harder than it sounds – for you and them.
But eventually, they will leave your home and head out into the world alone. While they are growing, there is little time to think about Big Things — you’re too busy making sure that at least most of the balls you’re juggling stay in the air. But with an empty nest comes the time to ponder the more significant questions in life.
That’s where I find myself.
The empty nest is both exciting and unsettling. We’ve been empty nesters for a few years, and lately, I am nostalgic. I reminisce about extraordinary and ordinary moments of our lives when our sons still lived at home.
After a long day of work, I remember making dinner with our kids at the table and doing homework. We were tired and a bit harried, but that time with them put my day in perspective. Once we were all home, I was reminded they were necessary no matter what happened at work. Knowing that my time with them was limited, I did my best to give them my attention.
What is my purpose now that I have an empty nest?
Recently, two old photos have captivated me. One is of me at a work event where I received a leadership award. I look at that gal in the photo and see someone who is proud, humble, ambitious, and driven. Someone who wants to climb the corporate ladder, make a lot of money, and broaden her career.
And I distinctly remember calling my family at the end of that evening to share the news — because no matter how important my career was, they were the reason for everything. My purpose was clear — work hard to help support my family. Find meaning at work while balancing my time with my loved ones.
The other photo is of the four of us — my husband, my sons, and me — on vacation at the beach playing putt-putt. A rainstorm came up suddenly, and as everyone headed for their cars, we kept playing. We finally took cover under an overhang, and my brother-in-law snapped the photo.
I cherished my time with my kids
We were all drenched — soaking wet from head to toe, but we didn’t care. We’re smiling — all of us -genuinely smiling because we’re doing what we do best — having fun together. Looking at that photo, I remember how I felt — happy to be on vacation, relaxed, and enjoying acting silly in the rain. And I remember how much I cherished being together. They were the center of my universe.
That first year as empty-nesters was a significant change but not necessarily a negative one — we had the house to ourselves; we could come and go as we pleased, no one to cater to, no one to drive around, and no events to attend — it was just us. And we had a blast. Yes, we missed our boys terribly, and we were thrilled when they came to visit and sad when they went back to school, but they were happy and adjusted, and so were we.
Around the second year of being empty-nesters, I started feeling a void that nothing could fill…My role as a parent became more “strategic,” but I didn’t feel it was drastically diminished. I enjoyed being less involved in the day-to-day stuff and more involved in the big stuff.
Now I wonder what my purpose is
But now that they’ve been out of the house for a few years, with no plans to return home to live, a question has been nagging at me — “What is important now?” It’s a question that I can’t answer yet.
It’s different being the parents of kids still in college and being parents of fully independent adults — they aren’t dependent on you in the same way — they are making their own lives and homes. It makes me sad knowing they won’t be home for the summer or for a month for winter break — they’ll be working, and our times together will likely be long weekends.
My husband is important — but we can’t go back to a time before we had kids; we aren’t those people anymore. We are finding our way as a couple in this new scenario in which our time is much more our own. Our careers are important — they help us support our family. But without being parents daily, there’s space to figure out “Who am I now?” and “What is important to me?”
My daily routine has changed — all those regular parenting tasks are gone, and what initially felt like freedom now feels more like a void…Making dinner for two is not nearly as fun, and if one of us has an evening event, eating dinner alone is quite a change.
When you achieve your goal, what comes next?
When you’ve been working so hard toward one thing for so many years — raising independent children — and you reach that goal, how do you figure out where to go next?
I don’t want my life to “feel less than” or let my life atrophy because I’m not connected to parenting in the same way anymore. It’s so easy to get lost in parenting, working, and being a good partner and friend and put our dreams aside until they are deeply buried, long forgotten, and seemingly insignificant and irrelevant.
At a recent gathering with friends, as we all sat around talking, it became clear that all of us were wondering what to do next. It didn’t matter if we worked outside our homes or stayed at home; with our kids out of the house or about to be — we all felt lost and introspective about finding ourselves again.
Each woman expressed some variation of “Who am I” and “What am I meant to do with the rest of my life?” As women and mothers, we are so used to multitasking and cheering on our family and friends that we’ve forgotten that we must root for ourselves.
It appears to be a universal theme, and it’s not too late to start asking the big questions and digging deep into what makes us happy and fulfilled outside of family life. What do we want our marriages to look like, and where do our careers fit? Instead of being overwhelmed, I want to get excited about the endless possibilities. I want to be able to answer the question — what is important now?
Maybe the benefit of being older and wiser is the ability to ask big questions, meditate, ponder, and search for answers without the distractions of daily parenting. Perhaps there is no room to fill the void and find a different kind of fulfillment.
Questions for women thinking about their next stage of life
Here are just a few questions I will ask myself in the hope that searching for answers helps me better understand what is essential now. I hope these questions help you, too.
- Who am I now?
- What is my purpose?
- How can I serve others?
- What skills do I have to offer?
- Where does work fit in, and for how much longer?
- What do I want out of my marriage and partnership?
- Where do my friendships fit in?
- How do I continue to grow my relationship with my adult children and their partners?
- What do I want to do for fun and creativity?
- What is my purpose now that I’m no longer needed in the same way as a Mom?
- What significance does my job have now — more or less?
- Should I be doing something more significant — if not full-time, then at least as a volunteer?
- Who am I as a parent now that I’m not mothering on a daily and tactical basis but more of a strategic resource?
- When can we retire, and what will we do to fill our days?
- What are my dreams now that my time is my own?
- What’s important to me now?