Contemplating an Empty Nest


Q. The youngest of our four children is leaving for college at the end of the summer. He is counting the days until he begins this new adventure, but as the day of his departure grows closer, I can feel myself growing more anxious. I’m worried about how I’ll fill my time when I’m not needed to provide rides, go to sporting events, or make big family meals. I’m worried about how my husband and I will get along when there are no kids around for us to focus on. I can feel myself slipping into depression about the fact that my years as a busy mom are ending, and it all went by so fast. I loved being a stay-at-home mother and never wanted to do anything else, but now I’m 53—without a career or a plan for how I’ll spend my time. I’m feeling lost!


I don’t want to let my husband know how I feel because he always encouraged me to consider working part-time, and I resisted because of the kids. I felt that my role as a full-time parent was hard enough without adding an outside job to my busy life, and I always expressed my gratitude that his career enabled me to make that choice. Unfortunately, I know that my husband simply can’t relate to my feelings about the changes to come. The nest isn’t even officially empty yet, but I’m already feeling lonely.


A. Whether a mom has worked outside the home or stayed at home full-time with her children, it’s a big transition when the last child leaves the house. The vocation of motherhood demands such intense focus and sustained attention that it can be difficult to envision what life will be like when mothering takes on a new dimension. I’m right there with you in this—my youngest leaves for college this year, as well—so I can relate to many of your feelings.


First, though, to be fair, it’s likely our husbands can’t relate to what we’re going through—at least not completely. Of course, fathers are deeply attached to their children and also experience some emotions that go along with a maturing family. But the Lord gifted mothers with a special and necessary connection with our kids. It’s this connection that enabled us to stay up all night with a fussy baby, hear our own toddlers crying in a crowded park, or intuitively know when our middle schoolers were struggling with school or friends.


Our particular gifts as women—what St. John Paul II called our “feminine genius”—allow us to love in a distinctly selfless fashion. We’re born nurturers, so contemplating a time when our nurturing isn’t needed, or changes significantly, brings a host of emotions. Personally, I find myself reflecting on the past 25 years and wondering how the time flew by so quickly. In the thick of it, there were days that felt like they dragged on forever, but somehow the years passed in the blink of an eye!


It’s certainly okay to spend some time being nostalgic for your life as a young mom. As your youngest child graduates, it’s inevitable that you’ll look back on your role in his life and the lives of your other children as you led them into adulthood. The important thing is not to let your trips down Memory Lane turn into a fixation on your sense of “loss” for days gone by. Instead recognize that your role as a mom remains very important to your family—it’s just evolving into something different for this season of life.


You’ve probably already discovered that your older children still need you! But rather than require your constant input and direction, they want the benefit of your listening ear, your compassion and understanding, and your wisdom as they encounter the challenges of living in the “grown-up” world.


Just as your relationship with your children is maturing, you now have the chance to forge a new relationship with an old friend you may have neglected: you! If that sounds hokey, consider that you’ve spent the better part of your adult life putting your family ahead of you. As you enter a new season in your life, you have the freedom to take better care of yourself and explore your interests and talents.


You’ll finally have something you’ve lacked for years: time! We moms sometimes don’t know what to do when we find ourselves with time on our hands. If you’ll allow yourself the luxury of stillness and pray for clear direction from the Holy Spirit, you may discover that you’re being called to something new and exciting.


Finally, it’s paramount that you connect with your husband in this transition. He is your future! Perhaps what seems like a lack of understanding is really disappointment that you are depressed at the thought of living alone with him. Try to express your feelings to him about the change in your maternal role, and be sure to listen to his perspective as well. If you focus on your marriage and on taking good care of yourself, you’ll discover that you’re entering one of the best seasons of your life!

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