Empty Nest · Parenting · Parenting adult children · Spiritual

Mom, Re-purposed

birbs

By: Jana Greene

On my youngest daughter’s last high school theater performance, I sat in the front row to watch her take her last bow and had the sharpest pang in my heart. My husband and I had sat in that same theater through the band, chorus and theater productions of our three daughters seemingly hundreds of times through the years. On this last event, I had come by myself. As the crowd filed out of the theater, I just sat in the chair and felt tears well up in my eyes. The Drama teacher and her troupe of performers were packing up the last prop in the darkened room when I finally stood up and – much to my own surprise – loudly questioned to the empty theater, “What’s a helicopter mom supposed to do NOW!?”

It was a very sincere question, one that I would wrangle with for the next few years as the kids left the ‘nest’ one by one to pursue their own lives. Just as they should.

Being a Mom is a full identity, right? RIGHT!?

Except that it really isn’t and never should have been in total. When God created us and poured the emotions and and love into us, I’m not sure anymore that he expected us to pour every drop of it back out without leaving anything for our own spirits. I don’t think ‘wife’ and ‘mom’ is our only identity, even those roles are a huge part of who we are.

It’s not that we didn’t want our kids to grow up. Oh how we did! During the teen years especially, God prepares you to let them go by allowing the obnoxiousness and rebellious quotient to replicate exponentially in your child. Yes, they ‘grow up so fast’ but NOT FAST ENOUGH when they are full of attitude and angst. But what they say about kids ‘coming back around’ on the other side of the teen years is SO true, I am happy to report.

I am not asking them to move back in. PLEASE LET ME BE CLEAR ABOUT THAT.

I am just asking God to re-purpose me as a 47-year old woman whose kids have become awesome and independent young women.

Mother Identity Crisis is also known in more polite circles as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” The subject doesn’t get a lot of play in the media because it isn’t a hot topic. It pertains to middle-aged women and the grunt work they did with hearts a-burst with love who have lost their some of their purpose as the children grow up and need them less.

It isn’t a subject that graces magazine covers. It’s not the subject of Lifetime Channel movies.

It isn’t ‘sexy.’

But it needs to be addressed because the women who make up this demographic are a huge part of society and are walking around like shells as they try to explore who they really ARE now. All we really hear about as we near our fifties is the message that we are past our prime, and too many of us believe that.

I flatly refuse to be past my ‘prime.’

I had many ‘jobs’ when my kids were growing up, but never a ‘career,’ and that was purposeful. I wanted to pour all of my emotional energies into my kids and did so as I do every other thing – obsessively. Who needs hobbies when your whole life is about making sure these offspring have dance lessons to chauffeur and field trips to chaperone? Who has time for exploring interests when the 2nd Grade classroom needs a “Room Mother” (now THERE’S a calling for you!)

I just kind of lost myself in fray, and it seemed a noble thing to do at the time.

It WAS the noble thing to do at the time. Nothing makes one feel successful like cutting peanut butter sandwiches with heart cookie-cutters and packing a lunchbox with a note that says “Your book report will go great! I love you!” I’m not being snarky…things like that did indeed make me feel successful. Making my kids happy was tantamount.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

But mothers of youngsters take note – you will need to remember who you are at your own core one day. Take that pottery class. Pursue that degree, if you wish. Read books that aren’t only about Very Hungry Caterpillars and the adventures of Junie B. Jones. Listen to music not sung exclusively by puppets and cartoon characters.

Super importantly, go on date night with your husband. Your relationship with him needs to stay fresh for the day your children take up residence in their own lives.

A dear friend of mine has four children, all of whom are peering over the edge of the nest – the nice, fluffy, safe nest their mother has feathered all of their lives.

“So here we are,” she says. “And my life is still revolving around planning my celebrations around the fleeting loyalties of my offspring.”

She and I often compare notes about MIC and the challenges of this new season. Mainly, figuring out who God created us to be outside of the “mom” role.

“God is doing a new thing in my life. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING,” She recently mused. “Maybe I need to stop doing the old things and expecting them to fit in my new life?”

I think she is on to something there. Our kids still need us, but in brand new ways. They need us to do the new things, and  to trust in who they grew up to be.

But Lord Jesus, help us with ALL OF THESE FEELS!

Letting go is HARD.

Lord, help me to consider things not from the perspective of an ‘Empty Nester’  (with the emphasis on loss and hollow space) to being FULL and purposeful.

I’m not sure what that fullness looks like yet, to be honest.

But I know that I want to set a precedent for my grown daughters to know what a fulfilled woman in mid-life can be, just in case they have daughters of their own to pour into, who will – as it should be – leave their own nests one day.

I know that the Lord wants abundant life for us in this season. He wants His daughter to know her own interests and ministries outside those of her children. He wants us to be able to enjoy our marriages, which were so often put on the back burner in the interest of feathering those nests.

Re-purpose me, God. My kids are grown but you are nowhere near done with using and blessing my life. Take the front row seat in my life.

In each new season, re-purpose me.

Inspirational

The Last First Day of School – a minor motherhood identity crisis

By: Jana Greene

Today is the last “first day of school” for my youngest child.  She is nearly seventeen now – a senior in high school.  Before I dropped her off, she and I said a quick prayer together – Dear Jesus, please give her a great first day and a great school year.  Now that she is in 12th grade, she has a lot to look forward to.

But as it is the last day I will ever drop a daughter off for her first day of the new school year, it’s a little bittersweet. As I watched her walk into the building, my eyes stung for a moment. Wasn’t she only a kindergartener clinging to my legs a couple of years ago? Now, she is a beautiful young lady carrying herself with confidence. I am so very proud of her.

Driving my kids to school in the morning is one ritual I’ve tried to keep constant through the years. They rode the bus home in the afternoons, but morning trips were mine. It usually felt like quality time (in 20 minutes or less), except for when they were thirteen and fourteen, and then it sometimes felt like a root canal (what with snarky attitudes and slammed car doors).  But mostly I remember a lot of laughter, and singing to the radio, and really good talks about the deep and the trivial.

A happy morning ride to school made me feel as though my kids would be okay. I would remind them to “make good choices” and get a feel for what was going on in their little worlds. On the mornings all went well, I felt born to be a mom. I didn’t know that they would grow up so fast.

You hear a lot about empty nests but my husband and I can’t really relate to that concept yet.  In our blended family, the children are twenty, twenty and seventeen respectively and all three are still living at home. None of them seem in a particular hurry to fly into the world without us.  He and I often groan about not having FIVE MINUTES alone in the house; we joke that we will have to move to an island in the middle of the night and leave no forwarding address, just to get five minutes alone. We have a bit of empty-nest-envy sometimes, in truth, because I was also born to be his wife and now in our mid-lives, he deserves to be the center of my attention as well.

This morning, the milestone of my youngest daughter’s last first day of school generated a tiny little identity crisis panic attack in my heart. I think that’s normal, but then I remind myself that “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine.

The truth of the matter is that we Moms – having devoted ourselves to our kids – have to learn what makes us “tick” all over again when they grow up. There is so much purpose in motherhood that I forgot it might not be my sole purpose. I’m still figuring out where God’s plan places me in the scheme of my identity, but many times His plan places me nowhere near who I’ve understood myself to be. He knows I will always be “Mom” to my beloved daughters, but His plans for HIS children are grander still.

Enjoy the full nest! my empty-nester friends tell me. Enjoy your kids…they fly away soon enough!  And it’s true – mine is a SENIOR now! If I get teary now thinking about her being in 12th grade, how will I fare when the kids really DO move out?  If I worry about them so much now while they are still under our roof, how much more will I worry when they are out? What will I fill the space with – the space that is feathered now with clutter and noise and drama?

And the small, still voice that I recognize as family, too, says “Trust. Fill it with trust in me. I’ve got them now.” So I have to try, because my Father knows best.

For her last year in high school, I hope circumstances allow me to take my youngest to school each day.  We will laugh and sing to the radio and talk about subjects deep and trivial in twenty precious moments or less, and pray together quickly before she leaves for class. God has fresh ideas for her life, and she has the whole journey ahead of her.

Born to be God’s child, too….