03/17/2015 07:04 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How I'm Learning To Be 'Mother' After 24 Years As A Mom

I started as "Mommy" to this little girl

It's that "Empty Nest" issue again -- rearing its head like an unflattering shadow that you can't shake. You notice that it doesn't look the way you want or think it should: following you around looking chubbier, not standing up as straight as you're sure you do ... a shadow that doesn't reflect what you want to see. You try to ignore it, understanding that it is a trick of light and movement, but it continues to follow you -- leaving you questioning what's really there. The Empty Nest doesn't happen all at once, when your last child leaves home; it isn't clearly defined or obvious. It evolves over time, in bits and confusing pieces that cause you to question the life you've lived and are living, and your sense of identity. It follows you -- it's huge!

Each time I think I've got a handle on this evolution of parenting, this transition in my role within my children's lives, and my new place in the world, I find another stumbling block; I catch myself swatting at imaginary boogie monsters. I lose my way for a moment and have to reconfigure the role I fill, all the while trying not to give away the fact that some days I'm distinctly flailing in the water.

I was having lunch with a friend last week. Her youngest son is about to graduate and we were talking about the changes that come with that.

"I was with some other women recently and they were complaining about having to organize sporting events and school meetings, and I realized that this phase is almost over for me," she told me. "He rarely needs me to be there anymore already, but in a few months it will be over for real. It feels so strange to think about not doing those things I've done for so long."

She looked at me, uneasily -- something I remember feeling so often last spring, when my youngest (as well as our exchange student) were transitioning out of the high school.

"How have you moved on so easily?" she asked me. "You seem so busy all the time, I worry that I wont be able to fill that much time.

I laughed. I groaned. It hasn't been easy ... at all.

"Man, it doesn't seem possible that I'm not in the same place that those moms are anymore," I told her. "It changed so fast. I thought that when Little Man (my youngest) graduated, there'd be more of a transition period. Now, I barely see him; he doesn't really need me, and while I like having time to myself, that reality still feels strange. It's like I went from being 'Mom' to a mother, overnight."

And that's when it really hit me. I have stopped being 'Mom,' 'Mommy' -- the person who my kids come to with everything. There are no more Band-Aids to apply; no teachers to talk to; no waiting up; few moments in the car, when I can connect with my kids and share their inner worlds. I do not hear "what's for dinner," every God-forsaken day anymore -- something I thought would be more joyful. These things have all passed ... in the blink of an eye.

There was a time when these guys all called me "Mom!"

Now I'm their mother. I'm the person they call when they want to run something new by me. When they need a modicum of advice or affirmation, but don't want to be told what to do. They may still check in with me when life throws them curve balls, but they lick their own wounds; they figure out their own strategies. They don't need a mom to hold their hands anymore. They need and want a mother- to watch from a distance and provide the slightest echo of the cheer squad I was for so many years, but they don't want me to mommy them.

I get it; I really do. I've been transitioning for several years now, since my eldest, my daughter, went off to college and slowly began making her way to Israel -- where she now lives. Nothing reminds you that you're not needed in the same way you were, like watching your child move 7,000 miles away. As each of my three children have finished high school and moved on to new phases, I've worked on letting go of the roles I've cherished, and that I've been so comfortable in.

I'm grateful that I have good relationships with all three of my kids. We have certainly had our moments, including disagreements about various elements of those transitions. I've had times with each of them when I felt pushed away, and I struggled with that -- not always handling things the best way I might of, and also shining in other challenging moments. And each of them has had their moments to sparkle and show me that they are becoming strong, independent, capable adults who I am proud to know- just as they too have had their moments to not handle these changes as well as they could have.

However, it is these moments, like the one at lunch with my friend, when all of that rises up and grabs me by the collar. How have you moved on so easily ... I worry that I wont be able to fill all that time, she said to me. It's amazing how our own struggles can look so easy to others. How these transitions, that leave me tearful, angry, proud, touched, empty, confused, exhilarated, or a power-punch of all those things at once, can look "easy" to someone else. It isn't easy; it hasn't been and may never be easy. It just evolves and stops being brutal. I find myself increasingly content in a quiet house, without a long list of things to do for others. I am less troubled when I don't know what my babes are doing -- every minute of every day. I feel excited when I find out new things that are about my own passions, my own interests and not just about cheering on others. Honestly, I don't miss "what's for dinner." It's an evolution, and I'm evolving. After 24 years as a Mom, I'm learning how to be a Mother.

Bring it on!

If you'd like to read more of Dawn's work: check out her blog Tales From the Motherland. Follow my Huffington's Post work by hitting the "thumbs up," at the top of this piece, beside my name. Follow or connect on Facebook and Twitter.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

What Do You Miss About Your Children Now That They're Adults?