The immediate demands of motherhood are endless: nighttime feedings, never-ending loads of laundry, chauffeuring children to and from a plethora of daily activities, potty training, helping them learn to tie their shoes/read/be a good person. These demands were so numerous, so overwhelming for me that I chose to leave my job as a TV news producer more than two years ago to focus on the needs of my children full-time.
But now, I stand on the precipice of change. In a few weeks, I will register my daughter for kindergarten next fall; I’ll also be registering my son for morning preschool. By September, I will have an empty nest three mornings a week. While the demands of motherhood won’t disappear entirely — far from it; they’ll likely expand exponentially, but in a different trajectory than I’ve grown used to — I’ll finally be able to reclaim some of the me-time, some of the individuality, some of the independence I’ve lost over the past five years, where my title has gone from “high-flying television executive” to “mommy-in-chief.”
This upcoming change has me asking myself, who am I now? It’s a question all mothers find themselves asking at different points along their motherhood journey, whether it’s when our children go to preschool and elementary school for the first time, or whether it’s when they move out as young adults, leaving us with a truly empty nest.
As I contemplated this question — and its potential answers — I turned to someone who’d been there, done that: my own mother. She was a stay-at-home mother when I was a child, yet managed to (from my perspective) seamlessly transition from full-time to long-distance mom when I graduated from high school and moved several states away to attend college. I asked her how she did it all so fluidly.
“That,” she told me emphatically, “is an apparition. It wasn’t easy for me to watch you move so far away. I’d been really involved in your day-to-day life — maybe more than I should have been — and when you went to college, suddenly I was limited to a weekly phone call.”
So how’d she manage?
“I knew from the time you were very young that you weren’t going to be the type of kid who would be satisfied sticking close to home after high school,” she told me; this was the first time I’d heard this, so I was glued to her words. “So I prepared myself for the inevitable: that you were going to go far away.”
Here was her basic plan of attack:
- Make a wide variety of friends. While my mom loved having other mom friends when I was younger — they could bounce ideas off one another and relate to each other well — as I got older, she found it necessary to make friends who didn’t necessarily have kids. “Their friendship validated who I was as a woman, aside from being a mother,” she told me. This made sense to me. Over the past five years, I’ve surrounded myself with a great circle of friends, who all happen to be mothers of kids about the same age as my own. Sometimes when we get together, I find myself wondering if we’ll ever have anything to talk about other than temper tantrums and pooplosions.
- Find — and maintain — your own passions. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with ballet and competitive swimming. As a result, my parents became engrossed in my hobbies as well, in some ways making them their own. When I graduated from high school, my parents involvement in these activities came to a screeching halt. My mom admits that for a while, she struggled to find things she was passionate about, independent from me. Once she did — in the form of Pilates — it gave her a sense of independence; this activity was hers, and not related to anyone else in our family in any way.
- Stay involved in your career. Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you just because you’ve always been a stay-at-home mom. My mother also stayed home with me for the first seventeen years of my life, yet she stayed up-to-date with certifications and additional training for her career the entire time. When I was a senior in high school, perhaps anticipating the upcoming empty-nest years, she returned to work on a part-time basis. She told me this preemptive transition back to the working world helped her personally as well as professionally.
- Do things that are just for you. My mom learned first-hand that your new-found free time doesn’t have to be a constant effort in productivity. She found that simply learning how to relax was one of the toughest parts of transitioning from the demands of motherhood to having older kids. “My hardest year wasn’t when you left for college,” she said. “It was when you started kindergarten. I think I spent half that year roaming the house, wondering what to do with myself.” Turns out, she did a lot of laundry before realizing that it was OK to sit down and take a breather. “I’d forgotten what a quiet, peaceful house was like,” she told me, adding, “I literally had to relearn how to be quiet and peaceful, too.”
For you moms out there with older kids, what advice would you add as I prepare to send my kids off to school next year? How did you make the transition?