Stop Pretending You’re Sad Your Kid Is Going to College!
Image credit: Magdalena Oppenheimer
Let’s celebrate the empty-best syndrome
This time of year has always been stressful for me and makes me feel like the worst mother in the history of mothers. That’s because for the past several years around this time, my friends with older kids have fallen apart because their babies are leaving home and heading off to college. They’re literally brought to tears at the thought of having an empty nest. I’ve put my arms around them and tried to be sympathetic, but all the while being secretly jealous because an empty nest sounds like one big giant spa day to me. If it were my kid who was going away to college, I’d be dancing the Macarena. What the hell is wrong with me? I tell myself it’s because my kid is still in high school, and I’ll feel the exact same way my teary-eyed friends do when it’s my turn. But this year it is my turn, and all I feel is . . . like dancing that Macarena.
Is it just me? Am I the only mother whose heart goes pitter-patter at the thought of getting my old life back? That, for the first time since their conception, I can do whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want to? Please tell me I’m not the only mom who’s jumping for joy that I can finally clock out of the 24/7 job called parenting. Of course I’ll miss my kid and wonder how she’s doing. I’ll worry that she’ll hate her roommate or feel like a total loser because she’s having a hard time with grades. But there’s nothing I can do about that crap anymore. I can’t set up a playdate to encourage a new friendship or quiz her before a big exam. I’m FREEEEEE!!! Uh . . . I mean, helpless.
So why am I so disconnected with the rest of motherkind? Like all of you, I love my child more than cookie dough and would happily die for her if the need arose. My child has brought me more joy than any episode of This Is Us, including the incredible season finale, and she has made my life worth living. That being said, I’ve been employed since I was 15 and have never had a job as insanely difficult as parenting. It’s constant and demanding and thoroughly exhausting. It pushes your patience, and your relationships, to the limit, and, unlike my paying jobs, there are never any breaks no matter how many hours straight I’ve worked. As difficult as parenting is in general, throw in the extra challenges of being a single parent, and you can understand why the thought of having my life back brings a Julia Roberts–sized smile to my face.
Besides, we always knew this day was coming. It’s part of the grand scheme of parenting, and it’s a scheme that Mother Nature has perfected since the first egg, or the chicken, depending on which one you think came first. She designed it so that babies come out all cherub-like and sweet smelling when they require round-the-clock attention. But then they grow older and become teenagers (cue horror music), and everything changes. All that cherub-ness is diluted with teen acne and snarky eye rolls, and they smell more like feet and cheese. Now the only thing they need from us is an unlimited data plan and an Uber account. Why shouldn’t we be thrilled that they are moving on with their lives?
Why aren’t other moms happy to begin their next chapter in life? Do they really want to drive carpools and clean out exploded yogurt from school lunches their whole lives? Are they really going to miss the endless kid crap lying around the house no matter how many times they ask, beg, threaten, and bribe their kids to clean up after themselves? Will they crave the mad dashes to the store to get last-minute supplies for school projects that were assigned weeks before? I, for one, will not. I’m looking forward to a clean house and a much-shortened to-do list and finding my favorite sweater exactly where I put it instead of buried in a pile of dirty clothes in the corner of my daughter’s room. I’m going to love doing a fraction of the cooking and dishes and laundry and housework. And I’m going to love having control of the remote control again and not being forced to binge-watch How I Met Your Mother for the third time.
I refuse to believe that I’m not alone in my thinking. Perhaps maybe I’m just the first mother who is brave enough to admit this out loud. Well, maybe not out loud. I’m still hiding behind the safety of an anonymous keyboard. I wouldn’t dare tell my teary-eyed mother friends or, God forbid, my kid how I feel. If you’re like me and have a countdown calendar on your desktop marking off the days to your new, empty-nest life, stand up loud and proud and admit it to the world! Or at least state so anonymously via your keyboard. Let’s make it PC to admit that we can still be loving mothers even if we’re ecstatic at the thought of getting them out of our freakin’ house! Let’s drop them off at school, fake a teary-eyed kiss goodbye, and then come home, blast the music, and all dance the Macarena!
How about the rest of you? Welcoming or dreading the empty nest? Have a perspective to share? We’d love to hear it.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.