By now, I have ridden many waves of transition from hands-on mom to empty nest mom. From, "Mom, will you take us to the pool?" to, "Mom, I'm not going to be here for dinner, but can some guys come over later?" to, "Mom, you know I'm not coming home spring break. Right?" The last was asked with a tender, somewhat tenuous smile as he put his arm around me.
All I could do was smile back at that infectious grin.
I've had my ups and downs in this letting go process.
I had to grieve the loss of all that abundant youthful energy around the house. I missed the mess he left in the den. When we visited him at school, I felt awkward in my new role as onlooker, not sure of where I belonged in the world he was building.
I simply missed him.
Something has helped to ease that grief, and I'm not stuck in that sense of loss.
It comes down to one thing.
I have chosen, with intention, to let go.
I have not told myself that something was being torn from me, or that I was losing my grip on my child or my ability to mother. Life was not yanking him away from me.
When I consider people who struggle with depression after their children leave home, they frequently perceive that they are being robbed. They feel victimized by the years going by, bringing with them unwanted closure on the hands-on years of parenting.
Let's take my absolutely favorite-of-my-lifetime black evening outfit. I wore it singing jazz, in the late 80s. It was backless, with a soft, silky fabric, a plain classic front and nothing adorning the waist. The pants flowed freely.
I thought it was spectacular and channeled my inner Lauren Bacall.
But when I became a mom, there weren't a lot of places to wear my elegant attire. I certainly couldn't wear it to work. Plus, frankly, it was a bit snug in places.
I gave it away. Its time had passed.
I know kids aren't clothes. It's the process I'm talking about.
Any time you can claim intentionality, it is empowering. Even if it is painful.
I have been and will continue to work on acceptance of my new role, and my declining prominence in his life. Not my importance or my significance, but how primary I am to who he is, or what he does. He was never mine to keep in the first place, but a blessing that was given to me to care for and cherish.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In 2012, she began blogging, focusing on mental health topics. Her work can be seen on The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Better After 50 and Readers Digest. She also has published one eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.” You can listen to Dr. Rutherford on her podcast, SelfWork!