Who am I now? (Rido/Shutterstock)
Even though being a mom was never my only identity, now that my sons are grown, I find myself wondering what is my purpose–what is important now? For reasons I can’t explain, I’m finding it hard to answer this nagging question.
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 become less significant.
You juggle your relationships, career, dreams, and everything else around your kids. Even your relationship with your spouse or significant other changes. You know that there is a human on this earth who 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 less for sheer survival but more to guide them through life, root them on and help them become independent beings. 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 on their own. 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 bigger questions in life.
The empty nest is both exciting and unsettling. We’ve been empty nesters for a few years, and lately I find myself becoming nostalgic. I reminisce about extraordinary and ordinary moments of our life when our sons still lived at home.
I remember after a long day of work, making dinner with our kids at the table doing homework. We were tired and a bit harried but somehow that time with them put my day into perspective. Once we were all home, I was reminded that no matter what happened at work, they were what was important. Knowing that my time with them was limited, I did my best to give them my attention.
Recently, two old photos have captivated me. One is of me at a work event where I’d just received a leadership award. I look at that gal in the photo and I see someone who is proud, humbled, ambitious and driven. Someone who wants to climb the corporate ladder, make a lot of money and broaden her career. And I distinctly remember at the end of that evening calling my family 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 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. We are 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 big 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 yes, 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.
Somewhere around the second year of being empty-nesters, I started feeling a void that nothing could fill…My role as a parent definitely became more “strategic” but I didn’t feel as though it was drastically diminished. In fact, I enjoyed being less involved in the day-to-day stuff and more involved in the big stuff. But now that they’ve been out of the house for a few years, with no plans to return home to live, there is a question that 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, their own homes. It makes me sad knowing that 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 now. Our careers are important – they help us support our family. But without being parents on a daily basis 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’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 so easy to put our dreams aside until they are deeply buried, long forgotten and begin to seem 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 we do next. It didn’t matter if we worked outside our homes or stayed at home; with our kids are out of the house or about to be – we all felt a bit lost and introspective about how to find 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 it seems we’ve forgotten that we need to 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 in? 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 the big questions and then meditate, ponder, and search for answers without the distractions of daily parenting, Perhaps there is now room to fill the void and find a different kind of fulfillment.
Here are just a few questions I will be asking myself in the hope that searching for answers helps me better understand, what is important 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 really more of a strategic resource?
- When can we retire and what will we do then to fill our days?
- What are my dreams now that my time is my own?
- What’s really important to me now?
Tracy Hargen is a Southern girl born and bred but did a stint in NY and NJ after meeting her Yankee husband! Having known each other for a mere 6 months they eloped – it seems to have worked out as they have been married 28 years and counting (but they don’t recommend their sons take this route!) Since their two sons recently flew the coop, they are empty nesters. Still at home is their faithful pup Sumo who is Tracy’s furry faced baby and her favorite colleague. He joins her in her home office whenever he’s not trying to raid the garbage. And their brand new addition, Layla, a Great Dane puppy! Working in corporate America from a home office for the last 30 years, Tracy finds juggling work and home both exhilarating and exhausting. You can find her on Twitter @t_hargen. Her work can also be found on LoveWhatMatters.com and the book You Do You!