When I graduated college, I married my husband and we had children right away. I’ve been a mother half my life (and of course I’ll never stop being one) but now my kids are grown up, and they just don’t need me as much. I’m at the beginning of my “next phase” in life, and it’s a little bit scary. I liked my old stomping grounds, Motherhood, and all its familiarity. But, now it’s time for me to navigate Otherhood, a mysterious place where I get to be first.
Recently, my son moved to California. He quit his job, and drove across the country to live with his long-time girlfriend. And while it fills me with some fear and trepidation, I know he needs to do this, and he will be just fine. He’s young, smart, and ready. He worked hard to put himself into a position to take a risk. The challenge, as it pertains to me, is about really letting him go. Letting him find is own way, and do what he needs to do without too much meddling. However, now that he’s gone, it’s impossible to not feel a bit empty. And feeling empty, for me anyway, requires “filling.” An empty nest requires filling, even if I can’t fill it with babies.
Motherhood will always be the biggest part of me, but Otherhood is waiting, and it’s new.
Let’s talk a bit about this magical place. It is an unknown, worrisome territory where we wrestle with our feelings about not being needed anymore. And because we can finally do our own thing all the time, a sense of complete freedom washes over every part of our lives. We may feel a bit guilty at first, but that feeling dissolves as we learn to have some carefree fun again. We eventually stop yearning for the way things were. It’s our time to explore, and why not? We have tons of time. But, it’s indeed an odd little neighborhood, packed with lots of “others” doing the exact same thing – trying to fill themselves up.
You’ll see us at yoga. Maybe we’ll take a painting class. You’ll see us writing our memoirs and traveling. We’ll be out in big groups for dinner, or away on couples weekends. Hiking up mountains, and cycling rail trails. Drinking lots of craft beer because we think we’re cool now. Basically you’ll see us out in the world trying to feel young again, trying to recapture the lively, fun essence that made us tick as individuals before we had kids.
At first it feels like a betrayal, and it’s weird. It feels like we are doing something wrong. We stop asking our adult children so many questions, which works to keep us from remaining ingrained in their everyday lives. And when we turn the corner and embrace “being in the dark” about what our kids are doing all the time, the weirdness subsides. It’s only then that we can forge new relationships with our adult children on a different playing field.
Just as nothing prepares us for the awe and love we feel looking down at our tiny babies, nothing prepares us for the absolute melancholy of the disconnect we feel when our grown children no longer need us. For years we care for them, we wrap our whole lives around them, and then suddenly, poof! In a cloud of dust they leave us coughing and twiddling our thumbs…in our empty nest. But, while it’s indeed sad, it’s only heartbreaking if we have nothing else to do.
I know I will never stop worrying about my kids, and I will never stop being their mother. But, I have to believe that it’s possible to take a break. I would like to do something else, something personally fulfilling that solely belongs to me for a while. It feels selfish, but it isn’t, because I was a person before I became a mother, and because it’s time.
My kids used to live inside my Motherhood, but now they have to visit me at my new place, Otherhood. It’s weird for them. They need to adjust to my new life, just as I have to adjust to theirs.
We want our adult children to detach from us, and become independent, self-reliant people. But if I’m being honest, it still hurts a bit when they do. It’s essential to redefine ourselves by allowing as much space as we can bear.
We mothers must venture out onto the slippery rocks of our own independent lives. Rediscovering ourselves can make each new day feel fresh. And after years of being in the trenches of Motherhood, Otherhood is indeed a welcome change. We, too, can become interested and interesting again.
But we can only do it if we believe in our hearts that our children will eventually come back. A mother will always seek her babies, that is the way of the universe. But, there comes a time when grown babies seek their mothers again. When they do, they may find us happily traversing Otherhood, with other things occupying our time.
The one poignant truth that surfaces though, (the one that no one really talks about when we’re out having fun), is that navigating Otherhood has a lot to do with waiting. For mothers especially, it’s about quietly and patiently waiting for our children to need us again.
Which is okay because waiting is something we have always been good at.