The road to, through, and during motherhood is infused with so many conflicting emotions. Women do not always feel comfortable admitting to, or even openly expressing, the extreme emotions which surface. As women fall into the expectations of society, family, and friends, most do not recognize their experiences create a significant change, and therefore a need to grieve.
In this fifth, and final entry of the series, we explore the empty nester: a term used to describe a parent whose children have left home. After years spent nurturing and caring for her children, a woman can experience feelings of grief when her children move out. These can include feelings of loss, fear, even loss-of-self, as she adjusts to the change in her parental relationships with her children. Shifting from being the guardian, to a mentor or friend, is a normal and natural part of parenting. However, it can feel sad and lonely as the family dynamics change. Each and every woman will pass through this stage of parenting in their own unique way. There is no predisposed plan for how she is to move forward.
The experience of watching her children “fly the coop” can be accompanied by many conflicting emotions as she celebrates their combined independence and perhaps mourns a loss. Discovering, and expressing honestly, the unique emotional challenges of learning how to “let go” is essential to a woman being able to enjoy her newfound freedom, as she creates a new relationship with her adult children.
This can be one the best parts of being a mother. A time to witness the amazing person her child has grown into, embrace them with pride, and celebrate their successes. To fully accomplish this, it is vital to identify and complete any unfinished emotional business; otherwise, she can remain stuck in her previous role. It is essential to honor the emotions which present themselves, without analysis or judgement; so, she may embark on the incredible adventure empty nesting can be!
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Part Five: Empty Nesting
She will always be ‘mom’ to her adult children but the tasks and duties which have defined motherhood have changed. There are no more diapers to change, skating costumes to sew, homework to supervise, and her taxi duties have been retired.
Learning to let her children stumble and fall is part of this new adult experience. Her role becomes that of mentor, offering advice and support only when asked. There can be a loss of identity which accompanies this shift, a loss of purpose, a feeling of disconnect, and an insecurity of how to move forward.
As she tidies their room for the last time, grief can carry so many conflicting emotions. She may feel excited to have the sewing room she has longed for. Perhaps she can create a home office or an art studio. The excitement of fulfilling a dream for herself can leave her feeling regretful, selfish, and unsure of how to embrace this new experience. It means saying goodbye to something which was familiar to step into something new.
If her child has left for school, she may find herself filtering her child’s reactions through her own school experience. Perhaps her child has chosen to go directly to work, and their career path is not one she would have chosen for them. This can present as unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations. Completing these feelings of disappointment can allow her to support her child without judgement or criticism. It allows her to support their dreams rather than her own for them.
Reflecting on the past few decades can bring up memories of things which she wished had been better, different, or more. She can become focused on the holiday that never was, a family argument, a missed opportunity, etc. all while loosing sight of the positive memories. Completing unresolved emotions allows her to bring their relationship back into balance; to see the good along with the bad and complete any emotions which surface. This stops the rumination, the memory loops, bringing her back to the present moment.
Motherhood is not a job she entered into with training, experience, or a guidebook. It is an intuitive journey where she learned while making mistakes. And then there were the times she knocked it out of the ballpark, knowing exactly what her child needed when they needed it.
We have been taught to work through our grief intellectually. To problem solve our emotional pain. To convince ourselves and others we are okay. This only pushes our unresolved emotions deeper within. Our heart speaks a much different language than our head. To resolve what has been left unfinished, she must look those uncomfortable feelings directly in the eye and heal them.
I have two grown children in their thirties. With a background in early childhood education, a life coaching certification, combined with my grief recovery training, I was certain I had made a smooth transition into empty nesting. It wasn’t until I chose to complete the grief process on my own children that I realized I had intellectually moved forward, while continuing to mother them. Completing the Grief Recovery Method, regarding my relationship with my own children, allowed me to say goodbye to the regrets, celebrate the successes, and totally embrace this new way of being.
Tammy Adams, Certified Coach Practitioner offering support, in-person or online, Canada-wide.
She is certified in The Grief Recovery Method®, Personality Dimensions™, Reiki, Access Bars®, and Mindfulness. To learn more about the services she offers, book a 20-minute free phone consult, or visit her service tab on her website at http://tadams.ca/