Emptying the Nest
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Prepping to be a Solo Mom whose kids have flown the coop
OK. Get out the tissues. Actually, get out a proper handkerchief if you are a Solo Mom preparing to be an empty nester because you might want to have a good cry about this. In fact, in addition to a hankie, you might even need a special back patter. (It’s kind of like those long sticks that help you scratch an itch, but it’s got a lovely soft glove on the end to give yourself some well-deserved pats to cheer you up.)
I’m not saying that children leaving home is a complete tragedy—there are shimmering bright spots in this somewhat gloomy story—but as a single mom, it’s a good thing to look at the bright side first. So let’s start with that.
Your child is preparing to leave, which means he or she has achieved either admission into college or a level of independence that is not only commendable but also amazing. Take a bow, Solo Mom.
Mostly by yourself (or like me, with a little support from your friends), you have helped this other human being learn to cope and excel in a difficult world. We often are told that independent, secure children are products of nuclear families because that “sense of security” comes only when there are two parents. And yet, here you are, waiting to wave good-bye as your child sails off.
Where’s that stick with the glove? Pat your back, and give yourself a lot of credit. You have struggled and fought to provide a sense of security and warmth that now allows your hatchling to venture into the world without you, and you also are done with carpools, schedules, starving teenagers, and—for the most part—laundry. You go, girl!
Now for the bad news. As your beloved offspring extracts himself or herself from the daily life you’ve shared together into the unknown alone, he or she may make you miserable. Your child is anxious. You are anxious. And yet you can’t comfort him or her, or vice versa. You annoy him; she hurts your feelings. Arguments ensue.
That scenario is not exclusive to Solo Moms, and it’s certainly not universal. I know some parents who will tell you that they had no such issue when their offspring left. “Oh no,” they’ll say. “There was no drama, and it was all sweet affection, big hugs, and promises to call once a week,” but I have a sneaking suspicion this is a lot like those people who tell you their child slept through the night at six weeks old. Remember them? Just sayin’.
So envision these weeks (or even months) before the send-off to be a bit like that first year with your baby: exhausting, confusing, and emotional. Do not blame yourself, and do not think this has anything to do with your constant worries as a Solo Mom. Instead, maybe bribe one of your friends to step in and remind your child that “Your mother loves you very much and this is hard on her.” It’ll make you feel better and shouldn’t overly affect your fledgling. He or she is like a jet about to take off, making so much noise revving those engines and thereby unable to hear you. Then, in a whirl of things left behind that will need to be shipped, overstuffed luggage, and several awkward embraces, your child is gone and . . .
It’ll suddenly be very, very quiet when you wake up in the morning. Even if you have animals.
Just remind yourself that this is OK and then get out your handkerchief and have yourself a good cry. Sob your heart out—you deserve it. You’ve poured love and strength for almost two decades into this person who just sailed out the door.
How could all that work and devotion disappear? Why is that room that you could never get cleaned up suddenly so neat and empty? What happened to that endless hamster wheel of chores that gave you that sigh of satisfaction and accomplishment as you fell into bed? Was it really all an illusion? An exercise in being and nothingness?
At first, the feeling of being alone and isolated is almost overwhelming. You want to go to bed and wake up only to eat breakfast cereal—and you can. You no longer always have to be a role model or make sure everyone gets a nutritious dinner. You can do anything you want. One of the blessings of being a single mom is there is no one else moaning around the house hoping you feel worse than he or she does while still expecting dinner (that would have been my dad when I left for college).
So after you’ve wrung out that handkerchief, check for the sparkles in those tears because that’s what we Solo Moms do. Here are two bright spots to consider:
- You’ll have no more anxiety that you are doing it wrong. When it comes to raising a small child, there’s nothing left for you to do.
- Your time is now yours, and you can finally go to that drawing class or off to dinner when someone calls, you can work out when you feel like it, and you can even do absolutely nothing whenever you want.
The trick is to not wallow in the lonely moments: talk to your animals (but not too much), find some long-abandoned hobbies, and look online for a meet-up group with similar interests. You would be surprised to learn how many people have lives that do not involve children.
Actually, now that your time is once again your own, the heck with patting yourself on the back. Go to a spa, and get yourself a nice massage!
Now that your babies are grown, do you have some time to help other Solo Moms? Maybe there’s a Sister Chat question that you have knowledge about and can respond to? Or a Perspective to share now that you’ve been through the toughest stretch?
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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