I have always joked that the birth canal is a one way door–what comes out most certainly can not go back in. Ask any woman who has given birth and she will likely tighten her pelvic muscles at the mere suggestion she should accommodate a “revolving door.” However, those sentiments change, just a little, as a mother approaches the days of an empty nest. In some ways, the journey toward the days of an empty nest parallels the journey down the birth canal; both are dark, at times so painfully restrictive you want to give up, are transformative in the process, and result in the emergence of a new life.
It’s easy to joke when the little bundle you have dreamt about, talked to, nourished with your body, and nurtured with your soul has just emerged into the world and been placed into your awaiting arms. In that moment, all seems right with the world. The road ahead appears full of promise. The road ahead is full of promise, and is also filled with sleepless nights, doubts, guilt, tears, misunderstandings and frustrations. With a child come diapers, birthday parties, crushes, disappointments, academics, friends, and shared family memories. There is also a lot of joy, laughter, tenderness and love, that bolster the transition of a husband and wife from “couple” to “family.”
I remember being warned, like every new mom, “Don’t blink because she’ll be grown and gone before you know it.” And like every new mom, I did not–could not–fully appreciate the truth in those words. That was until I found myself facing the inevitable reality of a fast approaching empty nest. The “transition phase”, considered the shortest and hardest phase of labor, in may ways epitomizes the teen years that prelude adulthood. Both are typically filled with physical and emotional exhaustion and, in the absence of an epidural, a heaping dose of physical pain when the time comes to push them out. Through the breathing, some fast and shallow, some deep, and the fear, there is also the excitement of a new beginning for both myself and my children.
However, new beginnings are endings, and endings are new beginnings. The passage to the empty nest is certain to be filled with the tears of an ending and the excitement of a new beginning.
I learned a painful lesson when I switched from being a “corporate career woman” to a fulltime, stay-at-home mom; I had unknowingly wrapped the bulk of my identity up in my job. Although I was married, had friends, and hobbies, my job is what gave me real “value”–or so I thought. Like many, I had read the “What to Expect” books during pregnancy and felt fully prepared to handle diapers, breastfeeding, and teething. However, I was completely unprepared for the pivotal transition from career woman to stay at home mom. I had not anticipated the impact of the abrupt changes to my daily routine, let alone the new wardrobe requirements. (Outside of maternity wear, I think 85% of my clothes were dry clean! Are you laughing with me moms?)
Although that was over 16 years ago, the importance of that lesson has stayed with me. Parenting is a non-stop series of small transitions: from breast or bottle to solids, crib to toddler bed, diapers to panties, high chair to table, and so on. We call them milestones. Mixed in are the bigger milestones that pull harder at our heartstrings and our imaginary, not yet cut, umbilical cords: the first step, first lost tooth, first day of school, first date, and more. In essence, every step of the parenting road has been in preparation for that big leap to independence.
I have thought long and hard about the mother and woman I want to be during this transition to the exciting next chapter in life. I figure I have a couple of options when that inescapable day of “moving out” comes. I could resist–be the mother desperately holding my child back so that I still have “value”. However, I choose to be the mother that will give wind to their wings and celebrate as they take flight. Only by encouraging their flight, can I allow myself to rejoice in the visions I have for my next chapter.
So come on moms–don’t be afraid to shout out with me, “TOWER, REQUEST CLEARANCE FOR TAKE OFF!” Join me as the adventure unfolds and the metamorphosis begins.