I think all mothers will agree that your life is forever changed the minute your baby comes into the world. I’ve been a mother for almost half of my adult life – that’s almost two decades. And more recently, I feel like I’ve been getting phased out of my kids’ lives since they’re now 20 and 17 years old respectively.
Not only do they no longer need my advice or help for anything, but they’ve also started making important decisions for themselves. And while I relish the newfound freedom to reclaim the life I once put on hold, their independence is bittersweet.
But it wasn’t until my eldest son casually discussed the idea of having his own house that I finally had to face up to the fact that they’d be potentially leaving home a few years down the road.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes through the mind of a parent once his or her children hit the adulting milestone of getting married or moving out, here’s a first-hand recount of the emotions that come bundled with “empty nest syndrome” and what to do when your kids finally fly free.
Note: All images for illustrative purposes only.
Until you become a parent yourself, it’s quite hard to wrap your head around the immense urge to protect and care for your child at a drop of a hat. Motherhood for me was no different. My children always came first, and over the years, I’d gotten used to prioritising their needs over my own – even when it came to meals and self-care.
When my sons were born, I also made the bold decision to put furthering my studies on hold. It’s said that the most critical time of a child’s development is between birth to the age of five, and I wanted to be there to witness every milestone.
I didn’t want to have to miss them taking their first steps, saying their first words or the priceless reactions from them tasting food for the first time.
For many years, weekends were dedicated to whatever the kids wanted to do. McDonald’s was their happy place, so we’d find ourselves there every Saturday morning, like a ritual. Then came the park- and playground-hopping. This would leave my husband and I thoroughly exhausted by the time Monday rolled around, but it’s something we kept at for the sake of the kids.
At times, my tunnel vision of caring for the kids left me wondering if I’d ever get back to being “me”.
I remember the day my eldest son told me not to walk him to school anymore. My heart was breaking on the inside, but I told him with a smile that I was proud of him and his desire to be independent. Then I unwillingly let go of his small hand.
He was in Primary 3 then, and school was a mere stone’s throw from home, and yet I watched him every step of the way from our home window like a hawk.
From there, every new year was a conquest for independence. School holidays that were usually reserved for family bonding became opportunities for side hustles as my sons picked up part-time jobs to make extra pocket money. These days, my sons seek out every opportunity to spend time outside with friends or busying themselves with sports.
And while I’m happy they have social lives of their own outside of studying, I sorely miss the days when shopping for clothes was a family affair leading up to every festive season. Now they rather not take my advice in the fashion department.
When you’ve spent so much of your life as a parent, it’s difficult to adjust to life without the kids at home. I’ve encountered different emotions throughout my journey as a mother, but none of these feelings terrifying more than the thought of them leaving me.
When you go from being your child’s lifeline and food source to not being needed at all, it leaves a strange hollowness in your heart. One might describe it as the sinking feeling of heartbreak. I feel lost at times, and as a mother, I can’t help but worry about their wellbeing and health even when I know they’re perfectly capable of looking after themselves.
There’s also a feeling of confusion and loss. I find myself constantly wondering what I should do with all my free time, which is ironic since for as long as I can remember, free time was something I longed for.
Interestingly enough, in a parenting journal that I read, the term “empty nest” refers not only to the people who have left but also to the person who has returned, which is you. This isn’t the end of parenting; rather, it’s a transition.
Once you get over that initial bumpy portion of the road learning to let go and be your own person again, the rest of the journey is more smooth-sailing. And while your children might be preoccupied living their own lives, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer family. Once grandchildren are in the picture, you can expect your life at home to get busier with grandma/grandpa responsibilities.
For me, I’m finally relishing the fact that I have time to take up that baking class I’ve always wanted, and don’t need to feel guilty about wanting to curl up at home with a good book. I’ve also rekindled my passion for writing, something that I put on hold when motherhood called. In the health department, I’ve started to prioritise my wellness and am determined to stay as healthy as possible so as not to be a burden to my children.
If you’re having trouble dealing with your kids moving out, here are some things that can help:
Take up that painting or dance class that you’ve been holding back on or sign yourself up for a new course with your unused SkillsFuture credit.
If you’re in the market for a new job, all this free time will let you upskill without any parenting guilt. The goal here is to replace old activities centred on your children with new ones. You can start by checking out the host of classes offered over at your neighbourhood CC.
For my husband and I, we used all our new free time to make weekly date nights a thing – something that had been put on the backburner for years. Impromptu casual lunches – another thing we sacrificed thanks to parenthood – was finally an option again. It was nice just being able to spend time together without our children lingering at the back of our minds.
If you’re scratching your head for date ideas, This date idea Telegram channel will inspire and help bring spontaneity back into the relationship.
You won’t be able to move on with your life if you incessantly check your child’s social media profiles and spend every minute worrying about how they’re doing or adjusting to their new life.
Instead of nagging them to reveal their whereabouts every couple of hours which might actually drive them further away from you, give them the space to be the one reaching out to you with updates. Just let them know you’ll always be there when they need you!
Sure, we’re all still juggling our lives, whether it’s work, grandchildren, elderly parents, or a variety of other obligations. But without the chaos of kids in the house, now you finally have some free time to yourself.
Self-care is a necessity and is not a frivolous want. I find going for a morning jog is very liberating as it calms me down before I go about my day-to-day routine. Find what fits your lifestyle and take time to enjoy your present moment.
Don’t forget to treat yourself to things you enjoy once in a while like a facial, massage or even a staycation – because you’ve sacrificed a lot for your children while they were growing up. It’s only fair that you treat yourself a little too.
You may even attempt something more substantial like volunteering with a charity, to help you take your attention off your children and channel them to others in need. Not only will volunteering give you a sense of purpose and help you find new meaning in life, it’ll also help you develop a strong network of friends and prevent you from falling into depression.
These flexible volunteer opportunities will help get the ball rolling.
I know I can’t be a mother hen, shielding them from the harsh realities of life forever. And even though it’s taken me a long while to accept the fact that my job as a mother is mostly done, I take heart in the fact that I’ve raised, educated, and instilled good values in both my sons.
And now that it’s time to let them create their own paths in life, I will not stand in their way. Perhaps my future grandbabies will reignite my maternal instinct and make me the important figure I once was in their lives all over again. But for now, it’s time for me to take a backseat and focus on myself once more.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it’s that what will make your children successful human beings is not what you do for them, but what you have trained them to do for themselves.
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