Adjusting to the empty nest is difficult, there's no doubt about it. When my youngest left for college in the fall of 2010, I felt as though my life's work -- being a full-time mother -- was over, and I wondered -- a lot -- about what I was supposed to do next. I missed my kids, but almost more than them I missed my daily sense of purpose -- the time-consuming and emotionally fulfilling job of being a mom, available and eager to help whenever I was needed. Not that they didn't need me anymore -- in fact, my son would need my husband and me, to some extent, more than he ever had, during his first two years in college -- but no longer was I compelled to do anything or be anywhere for the purpose of caring for others.
Then my son came home.
His first two years in college had been challenging and difficult in a variety of ways, and after much discussion and debate, he decided -- with our support -- to come home and attend a junior college. By this time, I had found my new life, and was immersed in my blog, my social media activity, and a sense of purpose that had replaced my job as a full-time mother.
"I don't want to be a full-time mom anymore," I thought. "I'm a blogger now!"
"I have things to do!"
It wasn't easy when he first returned home. Besides the mountains of stuff that he brought with him, the return of the constant drone of ESPN Sports Center on television and the sprouting of wet towel piles in his disaster of a bedroom, there was my expectation that now I had to be a full-time Mom (with a capital M) again. A few weeks after he came home, my daughter also returned, newly graduated from college and starting a job about an hour from home.
There's a big difference between a family -- two adults and two children -- living together and four adults living together. With four grown people in our house, the old rules didn't apply and a new dynamic developed between all of us.
I was surprised. One aspect of that dynamic was that rarely did anyone want me to be their mommy anymore. My kids were taking care of their business. My daughter, beginning her career, quickly found an apartment and moved out, happy to be on her own and starting her life as an adult. My son, though he would now and then revert back to the little boy I adored, was on his own -- for the most part. There was very little nagging or checking on his progress (except about cleaning his room -- a futile battle), and we were thrilled when, a few months after he had returned, he made the very adult decision to go back to the university he had left the previous May to finish his college education.
I think it's partly because I don't cook as often as I used to.
This time around when my nest was empty, I felt no sense of confusion or fear about what to do next. My definition of who I am had drastically shifted during the two years when we were empty-nesters the first time around -- I had gone from being a full-time mom to being a blogger, writer, and now a businessperson. After the initial discomfort of adjusting to having my kids here again, I grew to enjoy my son's company and looked forward to when he would return each day- other than the noise of ESPN Sports Center.
The truth is, adjusting to the empty nest the second time around has been easy. Having found my new passion, I was able to let my former self -- the full-time mommy of 20 years -- go peacefully, replaced by a mother of two grown people. I'm ready for anything now. And if the kids come home again -- which I doubt they will -- I'll be ready for that, too. Because no matter what job I have or what direction my life takes me in, I'll always be their mother.