Positive Featured Inspirational Story - September 1 to September 30, 2008
It seemed like I was always tired when my three daughters were young yet I also felt absolutely alive with a dedication and purpose that can only be understood by other moms. The paradox is that kids are the secret to youthfulness even when we're feeling worn out.
When my girls were born I had made a promise to them, the heavens and myself to guide and teach them well so they would be happy, healthy and fit into society. After all, like all important jobs, I knew I'd be accountable for the final product.
I had many titles and posts that I hadn't expected like chauffer, seamstress, judge, jury, and nurse to name a few. I was persuaded to act as an adolescent playmate (kids voice and all) when there was no-one else to play with and there was even shift work! I was a friend and foe, indispensable one minute and considered non-essential the next, yet through everything, I remained dedicated to my purpose . . . being a good mom.
My young children accompanied me everywhere because I believed that each experience would be beneficial to them somewhere down the line. You can imagine the excitement when I'd spring them from school a week before summer vacation and head north tent camping for the next two months, returning late the night before school started.
Life was great but it changed when our youngest daughter went to kindergarten. My role was changing. I remember a cashier at the grocery store observing that I 'looked odd without a child hanging off of me.'
I felt naked without my kids and the cashier thought so too!
Eventually when I got used to my girls being at school all day, I immersed myself back into my work as a youth motivator. I made sure to organize my workshops around their school hours, always balancing my day around their busy schedules.
At 3:00 when the girls got off the school bus, we'd spend 30-60 minutes each day totally immersed in excited chatter about our day. It was a hard adjustment to their absence of 7 hours a day, 5 days a week - 35 lonesome hours total. One day, while talking to another mom about it, she used two odd words - 'empty nest' and warned, 'you'll be a basket case when that hits!'
At first the idea of all my girls leaving home seemed too far away to worry about but it wasn't long before my house filled with rampant hormones developing in triplicate, graduations and the girls making plans for futures beyond the walls of our home.
I am an organized soul and a creative problem solver so the only option I could see was to put a plan in place to ensure I wouldn't fall to pieces when it happened. Just thinking about not hearing or seeing my girls on a daily basis gave me an emotional ache that seemed unreal. I decided to initiate an endurance plan to get through it without feeling pain or looking too pathetic.
As a former newspaper reporter I thought it would be smart to ask questions and find out what the mom's who had been through the 'empty nest' event had to say about it. Could it be that bad?
'I wanted to die. I looked to my husband for help but all he wanted to do was make up for lost time . . . if you know what I mean?'
'It was very hard for me because within one year my daughter left to live in India and my son joined the Navy. I kept telling myself to get over it and finally, after crying every day for a whole year, I did.'
'I sought the help of a psychoanalyst and soon I wasn't thinking about my son's leaving home because I quickly discovered I had much bigger problems!'
One energetic mom summed it up in one word, 'borrring!'
Many years ago I learned that a smart reporter will let the story tell itself but I had heard enough painful empty nest stories so I kept asking until I got a story I wanted to hear:
'I never really went through it because my kids never left!'
'I am going through the empty nest in reverse since my daughter seems to be craving me for the first time in years: It's lovely!'
'My daughter is experiencing an 'empty nest' of her own as she too became more independent.'
'I couldn't wait to get rid of them. Freedom was finally mine!'
'Empty Nest Preparation' was my new mission. I wanted to convince myself and my girls that I was happy and I could even be cool about it.
The first assignment I gave myself was to adjust my attitude. Then I used reason to figure it all out in my head . . . let's see . . . I did a great job of bringing up independent, emotionally healthy daughters, so why would I hold them back and ruin all my hard work?
Right. That made good sense. Then I told myself that I simply wanted it to last longer, that's all. But then again, how could it when they had a definitive date for school? Right. Would I want to interfere with their destiny? Um . . . No, of course not! Right! The new dichotomy was that although I needed to become busier, I also needed to slow down and enjoy the moments before my babies were gone.
When we dropped our first daughter off at university on induction week, I got quiet . . . very quiet for the first time in my life and I stayed that way for a few weeks. Most people who knew me thought I'd be crying for days on end and they were impressed that I had come through with such resilience. Right! What they didn't know was that I was silently repeating a persuasive mantra hundreds of times a day:
This is a good thing . . . this is a good thing . . . this is a good thing!
It was self-hypnosis that turned out to be pretty good first-aid for a broken heart.
A mere 12 months later, our second daughter was excitedly preparing to make her new home a dorm room at The University of Guelph. I behaved convincingly right up until we headed out of the university parking lot after a stoic goodbye.
Through puddles of tears I asked my husband if he thought she knew I was falling apart. 'You did ok, but telling her that you were thinking of applying to the same university and the same program was a bit much,' he said.
Over the next year, I worked even harder on subduing my feelings so that a few days before our youngest was to leave the nest, she hugged me tight while crying and telling me how much she would miss me. I consoled her and hugged her back with the special mom hug that says, 'don't worry - all is well in the world.'
But ultimately she asked, 'Aren't you going to miss me too?'
'Of course!' I said bravely,' . . . but I'm trying to be strong.'
Through her sobs she said, 'Well you're sure doing a good job!'
Ha! I wanted to dance with joy that I had accomplished the 'fake it till you make it' skill; instead I was hit with a moment of clarity.
It wasn't about hiding what I was feeling. It was about realizing and appreciating all of it from the promise to my purpose to the emotional pain we were feeling, the enormous pride and especially the joy I felt from a job well done.
More than anything I wanted my girls to feel that spreading their wings was a normal part of life. I really did want them to go forward with confidence and certainty and to know that mom and dad were going to be ok even though we'd really miss them.
The truth - well ok, it still hurt a ton even after all the mental preparation, reasoning and conversations with myself but with the right attitude, I found that life becomes interesting again in lots of new and exciting ways.
I'm really having fun but in a different way and finding that I don't miss them too much because lucky me, they're visiting all the time! Things are great and everything has worked out.
Didn't Bill Cosby become famous for his ominous words of warning that they never really leave because they always come back?
Well, it's true. I just got a call from one of my daughters who asked, 'Is it ok if I come home for a year or two? I need to save some money.'
This is a good thing . . . this is a good thing . . . this is a good thing!
Written by Monique Howat
Monique Howat is a youth motivator and the founder of Confident Girls and Guys. She presents self-esteem and character building workshops at elementary and high schools in and around the Toronto area in Canada. Monique offers training on the principles of self-esteem, public speaking, coaching for parents or teens, leadership for women and consultation services for at-risk youth programming.