Finding Yourself in the Empty Nest
by Christina Fain
Undeniably, the infamous midlife crisis is not a myth, but we tend to associate this with balding men driving red convertibles. We don’t have an image of women navigating this time of life, not even a funny one! This transitional period affects women, specifically mothers, on a very personal level. Once a woman becomes a mom, she often loses herself in her children— years of baby clothes, play dates, soccer games, and school dances. It’s not until the children are gone that moms are forced to come back to their own reality as an individual.
There is a saying: “Together may we give our children roots to grow and wings to fly.” It was while preparing my son to “fly,” i.e., pack for college, that I realized my identity was attached to his wings. My son was ready to move on to the next chapter. But was I?
It took the empty bedroom and a love-hate relationship with the now small loads of laundry to make me realize I was in a full-blown depression. The mom who once thought she had it all together was now a frightened individual with no real direction—a lonely, guilt-ridden empty-nester who for years had focused on nurturing everyone except myself. Myself. I had no idea who “myself” was. I felt like I was in a crowded room with nothing to contribute or offer the people around me.
It took me almost a year to come to terms with my new situation. As a mom, I had conditioned myself to be the subsidiary person in the mother-child relationship. I would have never let my son think he was less than anything he wanted to be, but somehow I had come to think that if I did “something for myself,” I was “being selfish.”
I remember times when I silently wished I could do something non-mom related (girls trip to Vegas anyone?), but those thoughts were immediately squelched by feelings of guilt for even considering it. I know I’m not alone in this. It is this thought process that keeps us from practicing self-love and a knowing a real sense of who we are as individuals. Balancing your needs with those of your kids is not selfish, it is an act of self-love that is essential for mental and emotional well-being
Eliminating the negative association of “myself” and “selfish” allows us to properly prepare for the rest of our lives after the kids have left home. In hindsight, if I had used this “myself does not equal selfish” philosophy, times at the playground would have been balanced by time at the spa, and I wouldn’t have let myself feel guilty about it.
Consider how many times you asked your kids how their day went, and then ask yourself how many times you stopped to evaluate your own day. I’m guessing one outweighs the other—by about 20 years. I imagine the times you discovered your child had a bad day, you helped them develop a strategy to have a better tomorrow. Not taking that same initiative to build your own better tomorrows is unacceptable. Why wait until the third or fourth decade of life to allow yourself to acknowledge your existence as an essential being with equally important needs and aspirations?
I learned to change my perspective about being middle-aged. Instead of thinking “My life is half over and I have no plan,” I began reminding myself that “my life is only half over,” and I have control of its design! It is never too late to reevaluate your feelings and reposition yourself in life. Do not let guilt in, unless it is to guilt yourself onto a plane to Vegas.
Teach your daughters to eliminate anything that initiates feelings of selfishness. Show her how to recognize those feelings as a sign that she needs to evaluate what she wants for herself and encourage her to make a plan to achieve it. Encourage your sons and future fathers to remind their wives to be conscious of their own wants, needs, and long-term goals outside of the mom role. The point is that if you trust yourself enough to raise awesome kids, you should trust yourself enough to know when you need to be the person with a name.
Understanding the importance of self-love should be fundamental. Anything that purposely creates strategies to nurture self-worth is essential. Consciously striving to develop better tomorrows, for everyone, is invaluable.
Photo credit by: Petr Ganag (Stříbro, Czech) @petrganag
Tina began creative writing at a young age. Professionally, she has written for legal professionals spanning more than 20 years. As an over-thinker, mother of two, she draws her inspiration from her adult son and much younger daughter, as well as her personal experiences trying to navigate life’s beautiful complications. When not writing, she spends her time reading, hiking with her family and planning her next travel adventure.