By Chris Little
As mothers who have stepped “off the merry go round,” we’ve made the deliberate decision to set aside a hard-core career for a while so that we could spend more time with our young families. I stopped working full-time right after my first child was born, and while I’ll admit that sometimes I miss having a career to impress people with at parties, I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to spend so much time getting to know my two kids, and that I’ve been able to make sure my family has a calm, well-ordered home—at least some of the time! I think it’s been good for them, and it’s certainly been good for me.
But now my son is 18 and a senior in high school—he’ll head off to college this fall. My daughter, at 15 and a sophomore, isn’t far behind. These days they’re in after-school sports and other activities—typically they don’t get home before 5:30 p.m. The kids just aren’t around as much as they used to be, and I know that over the next few years I’ll see them even less!
So I’m adjusting to the fact that my career as a stay-home mom is drawing to an end, and just as a company man facing retirement naturally takes stock of his past and his future, I’m finding that I’m doing a lot of thinking about who I am and who I’ll be when the kids are fully out of the house. I wonder how other moms have managed this same transition. How do you go about stepping into this next phase of your life?
To find out, I gave my friend Rose Maturo a call—she’s a counselor with a practice not far from here. “I would compare it to a midlife crisis,” she told me. “For a stay-home mom, it’s been all about the kids, but now you have reshape your identity.”
Makes sense, right? We’ve loved being home with the kids, but stepping away from our careers can mean stepping away from our more independent selves, the people we are apart from our roles as parent and spouse. So when the kids, who’ve been so central to our lives and identities, pack up and leave for college, we can be left feeling a bit adrift.
“It’s a process of redefining yourself and your life,” Rose said. “In some cases, it’s getting to know yourself again, your likes and dislikes and dreams and hopes and wishes.”
But how to go about doing all that redefining and rediscovering? “It’s a journey inward,” Rose told me. “Journaling is really helpful because when you get past all the day-to-day stuff you can get to a deeper level with yourself. The same is true with meditation and reflection, anything from taking a walk to doing something on an artistic level.”
Rose suggested a few books that can also help along the journey:
But even more important than reading is talking, Rose told me. Talk with your friends about your feelings, talk with your spouse (who may have strong feelings of his own as the kids move on). But just as importantly, talk with your kids. “The relationship with your kids isn’t going to end,” she said. “A lot of moms think ‘my kids don’t need me anymore.’ But they do, it’s just in a different way. You can’t stop being a mom. And keeping in touch with your kids and keeping interested in their lives can ease the transition.”
A caveat: While many women embrace the freedom and opportunities this new phase of life presents, Rose warns that it’s not unheard of for women to fall into depression as the kids leave home. So certainly, if you find yourself stuck in a dark place, talk with someone about getting help.
But for most of us, this can be an exciting (though sometimes bittersweet) phase of life. I like the idea of taking some time to redefine myself and my life as I move into these empty(ing)-nest years and prepare for a less child-focused existence. In my next post I’ll explore another strategy: Expanding your circle of concern to include your community through volunteer work!
In the meantime, how are you going about preparing for “retirement,” that is, your life after kids-at-home?