I’ve always prided myself on being prepared for being an empty nester, the day my daughter (and her boyfriend) found their own place and moved out. I secretly felt superior to those moms who cried every time they talked about their kid leaving home and going off to college. I almost yearned for the day when my husband and I had the house to ourselves. With no worries about who would be home for dinner or battles about misplaced tools, order would return and life would be calm again. What I didn’t count on was just how excruciatingly quiet the house would be – the silence is deafening.
My husband and I were married 10 years before starting our family. From the moment we said “I do,” our friends and family badgered us about having kids. While we’d decided that we would “eventually” want children, neither of us was in a hurry to make that happen. I was only 20, and Donnie was 26. We were determined to build a strong relationship before starting a family, so everyone would just have to wait.
Marriage was great! Other than the times we were working, we were inseparable. We spent endless hours talking about all our plans and dreams. We bought a house and two cars; we traveled to 32 states and four provinces; and every night was date night. We’d go out with friends or just by ourselves. We enjoyed each other’s company and were content being just the two of us.
In 1990, my nephew was born, and I got the bug. I couldn’t get enough of the precious little baby and decided it was time we had one, too. Fortunately, Donnie was ready to be a dad, and the following July, little Lanie was born. Not content to be a stay-at-home mom like my mother and sister before me, I headed back to my full-time job after 12 short weeks with my little one.
It was much harder than I imagined – juggling all those balls without letting any drop. I felt guilty for leaving my kid, for neglecting my husband, for not giving my job all my attention, and the stress of trying to keep up eventually made me sick. My little girl was turning two. Instead of embracing that age – “terrible or terrific” – I remember only the daily agony of migraine headaches. The pain was excruciating and debilitating. At the time, I had been through a barrage of medical tests to find out what was wrong. The general consensus was that I needed to relax and give myself a break. I kept up the pretense that I had complete control, but after almost two years without a diagnosis, I was ready to admit defeat.
I sucked as a mom. Well, technically I was a good mom. I was patient and loving and caring on the outside, but on the inside I was a mess. It wasn’t Lanie’s fault, but part of me blamed her for the pain that wouldn’t go away. I never told anyone; instead I just stopped trying. Even though I went through the motions of living each day, I did so disconnected. My work suffered – I spent most days just staring into space. My child suffered – it was all I could do to feed and change her. And my marriage suffered – I was so exhausted from fighting the pain each day, I spent most evenings sound asleep in front of the TV.
Not sharing my pain with Donnie almost proved to be too much. A week before Christmas, he packed a bag and was ready to move out. The trauma of watching my life fall apart was like cold water being thrown in my face. I’m really not sure if it was the migraine medication I had received just a few days before or the panic of losing my marriage, but at that moment, I vowed to take control.
I had been both physically and emotionally unprepared for motherhood. I had convinced myself that because I was older and more established, adding a child to the mix would be a simple as buying a crib and a package of diapers. I underestimated the fundamental changes both Donnie and I would experience once we became parents. Life was no longer about what was best for the two of us; now everything revolved around one tiny being.
Although Donnie and I were ultimately able to mend our relationship and work together to become good parents, our timing was off, and we never got the chance to have more children. As an only child, Lanie was taught the importance of being strong and independent. She learned her lessons well, and at 24, she and the man of her dreams have set out to find their own path.
I thought I’d be happy for the empty nest and the peace and quiet when Lanie and Jay moved out. Life is a little less chaotic, and I have more time for myself. But now there’s a big empty space I haven’t figured out how to fill yet. I know it’s time for Donnie and me to reconnect and redefine our lives as empty-nesters, and we’re doing that. It’s just going to take a little time to adjust. Maybe when Lanie has a baby of her own…Oh crap! Sorry, Mom! I finally understand why you were so anxious to be a grandma.
Life is full of change and challenges. How are you coping with being an empty-nester? Are you taking the time to redefine yourself or are you stuck longing for the past? I’d love to hear your perspective on how to let go and move on.
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