All By Myself: Facing the Empty Nest Alone

A woman on the Choice Mom Over 40 discussion board posted recently that, now that her twins are teenagers, she is beginning to recognize the day is coming when she will be Alone again. She wondered whether we could create a new Choice Moms resource for those of us on this journey who are feeling the pangs of being alone. As I wrote in my response to her, it is hard work for us — being self-sufficient all the time.

When our kids are small and dependent, we are too busy to reflect on it much. But every day is a new step in their own self-sufficiency. They learn to feed themselves. They don’t want to hold our hand when we cross the street. They stop rushing into our arms when we pick them up from daycare. They don’t wave from the window anymore as they leave on the schoolbus.

My 14-year-old recently flew to D.C. (without mom for the first time!)

My 14-year-old recently flew to D.C. (without mom for the first time!); the first of many times I will see her depart with suitcase in hand

“All By Myself” is their mantra, starting in toddlerhood, when our DIY Choice Mom strength segues into our prodigy learning how to do the same. The yin/yang of “All By Myself” is both powerful — we CAN become mothers on our own, our children CAN learn to tie their shoes, they CAN fly on an airplane alone — as well as frightening and lonely (“wow, I’m in charge of this little being all by myself,” “wow, he doesn’t need me as much anymore,” “wow, she won’t be living in our house again”).

And one of many occasions, I'm sure, when she will be surrounded by young men (probably less frequently in the company of Sen. Al Franken!)

And one of many occasions, I’m sure, when she will be surrounded by young men (probably less frequently in the company of Sen. Al Franken!)

My little girl at four asked if we would be together always in our house, and burst into tears when I said that someday she wouldn’t live with me anymore. Ten years later, she is both nervous and excited about her independence. Loving the fact that she can take her school’s high school city bus pass anywhere, and worried that she’ll make a mistake.

I’m worried right alongside her, of course. Trying not to seem overprotective. In that awkward phase of having her resent it when I do too much “mothering” yet wanting her to know that I’m really still here for her — as more than a chauffeur and cook — when she needs it.

For 5-6 years now I have made connections with young musicians who are now nearing the age of 30. I’ve seen them “grow up” as people who were in the early stages of adulthood, living on their own, paying bills, far away from parents, sometimes a little lost about relationships and finding meaning in life. Now they are finishing college degrees, having babies, getting married, buying houses, moving out of state, starting businesses.

These are not my children — though technically they could be — yet, they are my children. And they are me. We all grow up, move away, change, make mistakes, seek purpose, want deeper connections, feel loss. It is an ongoing process. We see it in our toddlers, our teens, our young adults, ourselves. We like to perceive the young people in our lives as young men and women who will seek our advice and help always — but… they make their own choices, tie their own shoes, have “grown-up” conversations we never know about. And… we let them go to make their own decisions… just as we let go to make ours. (“Mom, dad… I’m going to have a child on my own.”)

In the process of living, we are “All By Myself” — growing with and apart, tangling and untangling, seeking and finding and losing and finding.

But, we are also “All By Myself” with others alongside us. Sometimes it’s hard to see them, or find them, but we are surrounded by community.

Welcome to the next step in the journey!

Related Resource: An interesting post from Emily about her thoughts, now that her son has left for university and she really does have an empty nest.

— Mikki

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