May 10, 2024

The One Thing I Wish I had Known Before Becoming a Parent.

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* The words in the image come from a Khalil Gibran poem, which can be read at the bottom of this post. 


Leading up to mom-hood, I was told by many how utterly magical parenthood would be.

I was also cautioned about the terrible twos and other potentially challenging milestones like the tornadic tween years, punishing puberty and oh-boy-watch-out for those turbulent teen years. Not to mention the pitfalls of peer pressure.

When I finally became a mom, those same people, plus well-meaning strangers, would gaze nostalgically at my son and, without so much as a glance back at me, say, “Time’s going to fly. Fast. Savor every moment!”

There was one important thing they left out and I’m here to tell anyone who plans to be a parent or already is one that it’s potentially worse than all of the above. At least it was for me.

Being a mom was something I had wanted to be from as far back in time as my memory goes. I cherished my first doll, Meg, and fantasized about having a family one day. This family would include a little girl like Meg, only real. Meg, whose hair I chopped off to match the pixie cut my mom gave to me after she grew tired of wrestling yet another wad of gum that had become mysteriously knotted in my hair during the night.

When I was a bit older, my collection of Barbies—plus Ken who had to fight over them all—took on Mom roles with Dam Trolls (look it up) as their somewhat awkward and not-so-popular, always bare-naked children.

I had to wait until I was 36 to become a mom due to issues with my fallopian tubes, but it was well worth the wait. As advised, I savored many moments of mom-hood. I read Time Magazine and heaps of children’s books to my son; created houses out of big boxes; partook in countless games of hide-and-seek; sorted through mountains of LEGOs (cringing about how they seemed destined to litter our floor forever, and now sad how they’ve vanished into a giant bin now located in my attic); danced to the beat of our giggles, shot down public pool slides! Years were marked by Halloween costumes and increasingly more difficult LEGOs kits at Christmas. He took a stab at all the sports from t-ball to basketball to tae kwon do, but nothing really stuck. (When he was in high school, my boyfriend-now-husband taught him how to ski and it turns out, this kid is athletic after all. He just hadn’t met his sport yet). He experimented with cooking from an early age, which has since evolved into a passion.

I cried when the bus stole him away for his first day of kindergarten. Suddenly, it was time for his fifth then eighth grade graduations accompanied by more mom tears. Sadly, his dad and I divorced when my son was in high school (definitely not part of my Barbie and Ken fantasy) and we moved away from the idyllic, wooded neighborhood into a small townhome, where commuter and freight trains chugged within 200 feet of our back door. The good news was that he had always wondered what it would be like to live where there were sidewalks. He could walk to school and, eventually, to his job at the auto body shop.

As a mom, I was able to witness my son, who would wear the same sweatshirt to school every day if I allowed it, wake up one day with a database of knowledge about luxury sports cars and an interest in wearing spiffy clothes that I couldn’t afford. Both turned into obsessions. He could identify fancy speedsters by their engine sound or headlights and would have me follow them. If the opportunity presented itself, he would talk to the speedster’s owner while I waited in our car.

Around that same time, he stopped watching “Seinfeld” reruns with me and instead retreated to the basement to do “homework” and play video games via Skype with friends. He didn’t want to eat the food I made or be seen with me in public.

Yet, this same kid, I would like to mention, picked up the check after one of our first dinners following the divorce. “I got this,” he said. He continued to treat me to nice, increasingly pricey dinners to celebrate Mother’s Days and my birthdays (mostly not in our own town, lest he be seen with his mom!). He gave me thoughtful gifts for Christmas, one of which is a beautiful “olive leaf” silver ring that wraps delicately around my finger. This same kid took meticulous care of the Mini Cooper we shared, without being asked.

Time seemed to catapult into quadruple speed fast-forward.

It was suddenly the end of my son’s senior year of high school. Not wanting to attend the local community college and live in our basement, he decided to join the Navy. I began to get used to my revised identity of Proud Navy Mom. My eyes were frequently transformed into waterfalls, sometimes at inopportune moments. I began to realize and work at accepting the fact that he’d be leaving home. I didn’t know where he would be stationed or how often I would be able to see him.

I went two months without seeing him when he was in boot camp. Then got to see him for a few hours on the day of graduation. Saying our good-byes at the Navy base gate, I hugged him close and could hear my tears thud-thudding onto his uniformed shoulders. He chuckled a bit like he always does when I cry. Then this son of mine, who I swear just hopped on that kindergarten bus, walked through that gate, and didn’t look back.

COVID-19 hit that year and I didn’t get to see him again until Christmas. One full precious year passed by with only a handful of hours seeing my son in person.

I’m happy to report that I’ve seen him much more frequently since than I would have ever expected as a Navy Mom. Yet…

Here’s where I must mention again those damn people who told me about all the magic and terrible twos through teens and how it would be over in less than an instant.

These same people failed to mention this other part of mom-hood that would settle in like a heavy blanket one day—when or how was impossible to know. It would have been nice to be prepared.

It happened for me during my son’s last visit home earlier this year. He casually told me there wasn’t a reason for him to live to Illinois. There are no mountains, no oceans here. Before this announcement, I simply missed my son. This triggered an entirely different emotion.

This was not part of that little girl dream. I grew up on shows like “The Waltons,” where families stick together forever.

This thing that nobody warned me about didn’t just settle in, its tornadic turbulence knocked me off my feet and I am still shaking it off. But I am a survivor and here to tell all of you current and wannabe moms (and dads) that this painful adjustment known as Empty Nester Syndrome (ENS) is just part of the territory that is parenthood. If you’re lucky!

ENS can be painful. But its effects may be reduced if you’re prepared.

It’s part of our parental job description to end up with an empty nest. We want those kids to fly into their adult lives, motivated to achieve independence and be healthy contributors to our kinda messed up society. We need these young adults to keep our world moving in a positive direction! We then get to congratulate ourselves for our promotion from caretaker to one who offers moral support, gentle guidance, and unconditional love to our kid(s).

We can’t expect them to want to live down the block. We may not see them or hear from them as often as we’d like. Don’t despair! This is normal and healthy! Plus, be grateful: we now have things like FaceTime and Zoom, so we can see those precious faces when we finally do get to talk to them. There’s also texting for sending quick notes, which is less than ideal but what today’s kids are used to.

As painful as it might be at first, being an Empty Nester doesn’t have to be a “Syndrome,” where we wallow in misery. It can instead be an exciting time to rediscover old hobbies or reinvent ourselves like Lady Gaga! Dust off the paint brushes. Take a writing class. Learn a new language. Get involved in the community.

For me, this Empty Nester thing may have started as a sufferfest, but I have turned myself around and am embracing this time as a period of growth and learning to let go. I am still a mom and I will always be one. But I am also Lynn and I could have 20 to 30 (or more ) sunrises left. I’m told it’s gonna go super-fast. Faster than ever. There will be other types of losses (yikes!). But I’m prepared to make the rest of this wild journey worthwhile, dammit.

An empty nest is the ultimate goal of this whole parenting thing; the “syndrome” aspect is not inevitable (or won’t be as painful) if you’re prepared with making time for interests outside of your children while your raising them. We’re in this together and we can do it!

Please share this up so others don’t have to be blindsided like I was.

And share your own experience and tips in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you.

Enjoy the full Khalil Gibran poem:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.


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