GTFO: Reclaiming the Nest
Even though my daughter has another year of high school, I'm already feeling the need to emotionally start preparing myself for the day I'm unsuccessfully holding back tears as I drive away from her college dorm.
We’ve just begun the process of touring campuses and attending college fairs and I know there is still time to give motherly advice and teach her everything she’ll need to know, and yet I also know the time together will be gone in the blink of an eye.
Motherhood has pushed me over the edge multiple times and also filled me with overpowering love that I don’t know how to handle at times. I wonder how she will survive without me and yet I know she will be just fine. It’s thinking about those times when she will fall, and I won’t be there to catch her, that squeeze my heart.
So. As I contemplate that first year without her, I am planning on how I can successfully navigate these uncharted waters...
In anticipation of this transition, these are some of the reminders I tell myself:
Accept your feelings of grief.
First and foremost, I will allow myself to grieve and be sad. I will cry as often as I want and sulk when she doesn’t call me every week telling me she misses me. I will acknowledge that I was devoted to her for 18 years of my life, and that a part of me is gone. After a week or month or so of self-pity, I will begin to think about how I don’t have to wonder what kind of mood she will be in today or worry that I said the wrong thing. I'll take a deep breath and start to celebrate, just a tiny bit, my own freedom.
Do something just for you.
While we are all at different stages in our life when our children leave us, we finally have more time to do the things we enjoy. Whether it be finding a new job, starting a new hobby, or simply spending time reading a good book for an hour every day--we have time for ourselves again. I refuse to use that extra time worrying if my daughter studied for a test or ate 3 healthy meals that day. I made stupid choices in college and learned from the consequences, and I know she will learn from her mistakes and also survive. I will use that time for me and figure out what I need to fulfill and who I am at this stage in my life.
Start dating... again.
While I embraced motherhood to the fullest extent, my relationship with my husband suffered. The kids were my top priority, and he was always at the bottom of the list. We became experts at scheduling and dinner planning while forgetting to be a couple. While habits are hard to break, after almost 21 years of marriage, we both deserve a chance at starting over together again. As a fan of relationship experts, John and Julie Gottman, I look forward to reading their book “Eight Dates” and trying out something fun for a change. I owe it to myself as a woman with physical and emotional needs and to my husband to try each other dating again.
Practice self-care and compassion.
While I might feel empowered with my new-found freedom and time to myself after my daughter leaves for college, I know there will be difficult times, as well. During those times, I plan to indulge in some self-care, whether that be taking the dogs out for a long walk by the river or finally going to that hot yoga class.
While I know this is all part of the journey of motherhood, I am going to give myself time and space and take this opportunity to discover who I am now and who I want to be as a mother of a college student.
I want to embrace this time in my life while accepting the new challenges that may come up. I'm hopeful that the good days will far outweigh the bad days, and that I have fortified myself with the tools I need to carry on and rebuild my beautiful, supportive, and vibrant nest.
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]