“You need to stop this,” my mother said one evening when I called her in tears.
“Join a book club,” she offered.
This wasn’t the comfort I was looking for.
I had been scrolling through the local Facebook empty nest group when a post from a mom caught my eye. Usually, parents post questions such as, “When does FAFSA have to be submitted?” Or happy announcements — “My daughter was accepted into the University of Tampa; go Spartans!”
But this post was different.
“It hit me today that I am unprepared to drop my daughter off at college and leave her there. I will be such a mess I won’t be able to drive home.”
Finally, someone said it, and I knew I wasn’t alone.
For months I had been hearing the standard phrases one hears when they have a graduating Senior who is going away to school.
You must be so proud! Yes, I am.
They grow up so fast! Too fast; why isn’t there a pause button?
This is the next step. I’m aware.
The house will be so quiet! The silence is going to be so loud.
No one asked me how I would handle an empty nest
Nobody asks a mom how they plan on dealing with the empty spot in their heart when the child they raised, loved, and lived with for 18 years packs up his Hydroflask, and 112 Abercrombie T-shirts and moves out.
When a woman is expecting a child, she is inundated with baby books, support, and advice from fellow mothers. There’s even a class to teach breathing techniques to help soften the pain of bringing your child into the world.
What about the pain felt when it’s time to let go?
How will I breathe when my child leaves?
I picture a Lamaze class for soon-to-be empty nesters. A group of middle-aged mothers with sagging breasts, crepey eyelids, and a few stubborn grey hairs, all wearing comfortable underpants and sensible shoes, listening to the instructor’s voice.
“Okay, ladies, you’re doing great! This is going to be a big one. Your kid has taken all the posters and pictures off the bedroom wall, leaving nothing but a smattering of push-pin holes behind. Now you’ll want to take slow, deep breaths; remember, the room will look empty. Exhale out. Excellent. Brenda, are you okay? You’re hyperventilating, and we haven’t even gotten to the part where you load up the car with luggage.”
When I asked my mom for support, I ended up feeling crazy
That night I called my mother looking for validation; I ended up feeling like I was crazy and a bit annoyed that I was simply told to join a book club — it implied that my life was empty without a child to raise and meeting once a month to discuss the protagonist in a novel would assuage any emotions one might experience when a new, uncharted chapter is on the horizon.
In retrospect, my mother wasn’t being callous. She had three daughters, none of who moved out immediately after high school. When I graduated in 1993, my little sister was only nine, leaving my mom with a glorious stretch of years until she faced her empty nest. It made sense that she couldn’t completely understand.
Many people don’t.
I found enormous comfort in the comments that followed that mother’s raw, honest post. I am not the only one who has to duck into the bathroom to cry.
Letting go is not for the faint of heart. Yes, we are proud and happy for our children’s new beginning, but also mourning an ending.
Respect a mother’s right to feel the way she does. Resist making light of her emotions. Allow her to sit in her sadness. Better yet, sit with her.
Because knowing you’re not alone is half the battle.
More Great Reading:
My Son Is Leaving For College: Please Don’t Say “It’ll Be Fine”