It was sometime after the start of last school year when my youngest decided to be a jerk.
“Wow, Mom, next year is going to kill you…”
He had my attention.
“…I’ll be graduating high school and Rachel will graduate from college.”
His declaration hung there heavy and cold – a would-be Dementor, a joy-robber, a snarling, surly bully. I staggered backwards from the blow of his words, quickly recovered, and offered what I hoped would be the truth–
“Oh, I think I’ll be just fine….”
It reminded me of what my daughter had said the year before that, “Next year will be a REALLY big year….”
Which would have been last year, the year she would turn 21, my middle son would graduate from high school, my baby would turn 16 and start driving. And, oh, yeah, the year my husband and I would turn 50.
I’ve raised a pack of darlings, haven’t I?
Here’s the thing: I got through 2013 just fine, despite the turning 50 thing, milestones for each of my babies, my husband’s five month’s of looking for a job and even a knee injury, surgery and receiving an unexpected and surprisingly disheartening diagnosis.
Wait…no, that’s not even the thing. This is The Thing as it relates to what my son said:
I’m not raising my children for myself.
I’ve never forgotten what our pastor said when my children were small, and I instantly hated it–“You aren’t raising your children for yourself, you’re raising them for someone else.”
He wasn’t saying this in an abstract sense (raising them for God) but rather in a literal, one-day-they’ll-grow-up-and-move-out-and-likely-get-married sense.
There was great value in hearing this as a young parent; it gave me a lot of time to process and get used to the idea.
Not raising my children for myself is one of those broad concepts that informed and shaped my philosophy of parenting throughout our children’s entire lives.
I like my children.
I enjoy their company.
I had no idea when I became a mother almost 22 years ago it would only get harder to parent with an open hand.
Your head might have an understanding of the need to let go, but your heart can be stubborn and white knuckled. That is the tension of parenting.
The Empty Nest shouldn’t be an abrupt, overnight event; it should be a season you fully anticipate and for which you prepare. Children leaving home is the natural order of life. To treat it as anomaly is disservice to yourself, your spouse, and most of all, your children.
I didn’t recognize those early signals of empty nest, but looking back now I see how they were beginning to prepare me:
Beginning the summer after my oldest child’s junior year of high school, I saw her increasingly less and less. She and her two best friends did spend a lot of time at our home but when they were together, they were doing their own thing (as they should have). Once school began, it was even more rare to see her. Between work, friends and extracurriculars, she was busy, a blue-eyed, wavy-haired blur mostly seen coming and going.
I fought the urge to resent it, because as I’ve said before, I liked spending time with her. But I also wanted her to enjoy her senior year and to make the most of it. Still, I wrestled with the personal cost to me.
Maybe it sounds odd if you aren’t there yet, but it felt like she was rejecting me. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth! It had nothing to do with me, because as you will find when you have a senior in the house, the world revolves around them. Even if your child has never been the one to demand attention, suddenly they’re in the driver’s seat, in full control of their time. Even at 18 they understand their senior year IS something special, and the wisest ones know they’ll never pass this way again.
You do realize that as we’re training our children, they’re training us, right?
Most of the time it’s undetected, though, like how my daughter’s actions her senior year would prepare me for her brother’s departure two years later. Having gone through that season once with her, I didn’t take it as personally with him. In contrast, I anticipated and expected him to be busy with senior activities and maximizing time with his high school friends.
Which brings me to now, the week before my youngest – my forever-baby – will begin his senior year; and in a week my daughter will return after a 12-week internship in The Philippines to begin her senior year of college.
I’ve had moments this summer when my throat tightened, when my whole body tensed, when my heart ached with the weight of memory. I’d freeze and reach into the past and long for my babies to hold my hand to cross a street or whisper prayers at bedtime, when they’d beg me to sing, when they’d want me to lie by their side, when I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted from tending their every need and a reasonable number of wants. When milestones were turning over and baby steps and first teeth; mastering the potty and tying shoes and doing everything MYSELF; losing that first tooth and starting school, learning to read and then reading to learn. When driving and high school were deep into the future and graduation wasn’t even on my periphery.
And now it’s here – the last high school and the first college graduation – nine months away.
Nine months…a season of gestation. Expectancy.
There is a time turn turn turn….
Time to give birth to something new.
I think I’m going to be just fine.