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Lois Alter Mark Headshot

How I Endured The Perfect Storm Of Life Stages

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I never thought of myself as someone who defined herself by her children. Whose life was so closely intertwined with theirs that I would feel lost once they left home.

But apparently I am.

I have always worked, even when my kids were little, but they were usually close by. I would juggle them in my arms, making goofy faces to entertain them while trying to conduct a professional interview over the phone, or write an article on deadline in the middle of the night while they slept soundly in the next room.

So now, although I love traveling around the world, hanging around the house pantsless with my beloved hubby and not getting up in the middle of the night worrying whether everyone's home yet, there is an emptiness deep down that I can't seem to fill with anything else, no matter how great it may be.

Because there is nothing that can take the place of my kids.

My youngest, Sara, graduated college a couple of weeks ago and when she drove away yesterday to start her real life (meaning, her life in which I have been demoted to a supporting role), I unexpectedly burst into tears. This totally surprised me because I was totally behind her (well, not literally, although, trust me, I was tempted), encouraging her choices and even singing the Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Spaces" with her repeatedly.

At her college graduation -- and at my son, Alex's, two years ago -- I was actually pretty composed. That was not the case when we first left Alex at college and I sobbed like a baby in the parking lot. I sensed that was the beginning of the end and now, six years later, with Sara graduating, I know my kids' childhoods are officially over.

As a mother -- as their mother -- that just makes me sad.

Of course, I'm happy that they're doing exactly what they should be doing now -- which is leaving home to start their own lives and doing whatever makes them happy. Honestly, I wouldn't want them to be home at this stage. I genuinely want them to go out and have big adventures, fall in love, see the world, make their dreams come true.

I just want them to keep sharing all of that with me.

So I guess I'm really feeling more nostalgic than sad. I can totally relate to my friend, Lisa Heffernan, who so eloquently wrote that the hardest thing about having your kids leave the nest is that you start to know them a little less.

When Lisa and another friend of mine, Sharon Greenthal, were on Katie Couric's show last week talking about how to deal with an empty nest, Katie quietly admitted, "I think part of the reason I'm having a hard time with this is because it makes you profoundly aware of aging."

That made me gasp because it was like an "aha!" moment. Was this really all about me and not about my kids? Was I missing the old -- well, young -- me more than I was missing them?

I think it's probably a combination. Kind of a perfect storm of life stages.

My kids have left the house, my husband has retired, my parents are elderly and my dog is gone. Whose bright idea was it to make me go through menopause during all of this?

My hormones have no idea what to react to first.

So, tonight, I will get into the shower, try to figure out which shampoo might possibly have a positive effect on my newly dry/oily hair and have a good cry over the children my kids are no longer. Then I'll text them (I wait for them to do the actual calling) to tell them how proud I am of the adults they've become.

And, as they move on with their lives, I'll move on with mine.

I may no longer be that 21-year-old girl who has her whole life in front of her.

That would be my daughter.

I'm that 55-year-old woman -- you know, the one with the dry/oil hair and the raging hormones -- who is looking forward to the rest of hers.

Follow Lois' adventures as an empty nester on Midlife at the Oasis and on Twitter.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

  • Katie Couric, 56
    AP
    Talk show host Katie Couric has been a single mother for the past 15 years after husband, Jay Monahan, passed away from cancer in 1998. Couric has two daughters, Ellie, who graduated from college earlier this year, and Carrie, a senior in high school.
  • "It's less that I'm worried about being an empty nester than I am at being absolutely flabbergasted at how fast time flies. That's a little bit scary. As my friend John says, 'You're never going to be any younger. You've got to enjoy the road ahead.'" – Katie Couric, USA Today
  • Andie MacDowell, 55
    Getty Images
    Actress and model, Andie MacDowell (center) is mother to two daughters, Rainey Qualley (left) and Sarah Margaret Qualley (right). She also has a son, Justin. When MacDowell's youngest daughter went away to college, MacDowell decided it was time to focus on her career again. "I asked myself, 'What am I doing here? There are no kids. I am ready to go now,'" MacDowell told TV blog Zap2It.
  • I’m learning a lot about parenting young adults. Because of technology today, we expect kids to stay in touch with us too much. I think that’s unnatural. We really do have to give kids their freedom and allow them to go off and become adults. I had to recognize my clinging and stop it. – Andie MacDowell, The New York Times
  • Susan Sarandon, 67
    Getty Images
    Academy Award winning actress, Susan Sarandon, has two sons, and a daughter, Eva Amurri (left). Her youngest son, Miles, left for college in 2009 and Sarandon couldn't have been happier. Sarandon embraced her empty nest and took advantage of her extra free time by fulfilling her dream of starring in a Broadway show.
  • "I'm so ready for an empty house...The thing is, when you have kids you're such a captive to their school schedule so you get an invite or you wanna go someplace or something, you have to be back by a certain time. I'm very hands on so I have to break that habit." – Susan Sarandon, WENN.com
  • Alfre Woodward, 60
    Getty Images
    Actress Alfre Woodard struggled with her empty nest last year when her son, Duncan (left), and daughter Mavis left home. Woodard decided, however, it was time to throw herself back into work and starred in the 2012 film, "Steel Magnolias."
  • "(Being a mother) was just the most incredible human experience I think that I could have, and I miss it terribly." – Alfre Woodard, Associated Press
  • Michelle Pfeiffer, 55
    AP
    Actress Michelle Pfeiffer has two college-aged children--daughter, Claudia Rose, and son, John. Being an empty nester is "scary," Pfeiffer told Ladies Home Journal in 2012, but she's finding ways to stay busy. Her new hobby is painting portraits.
  • "It's scary, but it's also exciting to think about. Once I get past the shock of having an empty nest, I'm going to be really happy with my newfound freedom." – Michelle Pfeiffer, Ladies Home Journal
  • Meredith Vieira, 59
    AP
    TV Host, Meredith Vieira, is an empty nester after her three children--Ben, Gabriel, and Lily--have left home. But instead of letting the blues settle in, Vieira is taking the time to enjoy the extra time with her husband, Richard, she told Parade Magazine.
  • “I sometimes feel guilty saying it, but I think the empty nest is great! We did our job, as my husband points out repeatedly. You’re supposed to give your children roots and wings...The fact that our three kids are launched, so to speak, and seem to be very happy, young people, makes me feel good about what we accomplished." – Meredith Vieira, Parade Magazine
  • Cybill Shepherd, 63
    Getty Images
    Actress Cybill Shepherd has two daughters, Clementine Ford (right) and Ariel Oppenheim, as well as son, Cyrus Shepherd-Oppenheim. With the children grown and flown, Shepherd had a hard time adjusting at first, crying and having a hard time dealing with the empty bedrooms, she told The New York Times. She is using the extra time to focus on her career and even found time to pen a memoir.
  • "Yes. I still suffer from the empty nest thing myself... Once the kids are gone you have to find yourself again. But there’s also a chance to take on new things." – Cybill Shepherd, More Magazine