I have to confess that I’m uncertain about my motherhood status at the moment. You see, I’ve entered a new chapter in the parenting book, and I am not at all sure how I feel about it.
My 18-year-old daughter departed for college in early September, joining her 22-year-old brother in the shared pursuit of higher education, independent lives and the future. And while I’m glad they are both happily settled in institutions of their choice in two wonderful cities (London and Savannah), I’m not so happy some days about where it leaves their mom: disconnected.
What’s my role now that the nest is empty? How do I quell my panic when the girl who called me almost daily from her high school in Virginia doesn’t even call weekly from Georgia? How do I resist pushing her for more information when all she says in her rare phone calls is “yep” or “nope”? I’m supposed to be good at this long-distance mothering thing, and yet knowing vitually nothing about my daughter’s classes, friends or feelings leaves me feeling like a rank amateur. Her brother says she talks to HIM and that she’s having a great time –- I guess that’s a relief. But I want my own confirmation! And visiting the school Web site just doesn’t do it.
I’m whining, and I always swore I wouldn’t, that I would never become one of those poor, tearful, depressed empty nesters you read about in women’s magazines or see in sitcoms. I DO have a life of my own! I have a wonderful and demanding job, a loving and supportive husband of two years and a 14-year-old stepdaughter at home, but that child has her own mother nearby and I’m more of a laundry consultant and chauffeur for her than anything else. Somehow it doesn't seem appropriate to throw my temporarily underused mothering skills her way, nor do I think she'd accept them.
Meanwhile, during the evenings I sometimes walk restlessly around my house, fighting the urge to pick up the phone and call my kids. I want them to feel free and unfettered, to make their own way, not to depend on Mom for advice. But I don’t understand why I feel so sad when the phone doesn’t ring, the e-mails don’t come and that fierce bond between mother and child doesn’t feel as tangible as it once did.
I know all of you mothers of young children are saying to yourselves, "This will NEVER happen to me." I said that, too. And I did a lot of reading and thinking about how to prepare myself for the empty nest stage ... to little avail.
I've been surprised by my daughter's reaction to sudden freedom, yes, but MORE surprised about my own feelings, whatever they are. Discontent? Low self-esteem? Anger? Probably a mixture of all three. Writing about this all may help; that's why I've offered to start a new category for DotMoms called "Empty Nester."
Please send me your thoughts and share with me your perspective if you have experienced this yourself (or remember it from the viewpoint of your own departure from home). I'll be interested in seeing how -- with your help -- this new chapter of motherhood will read.
Ellen is a 50-year-old mother of two, stepmother of two, who lives in North Carolina with her family.