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May
18

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my baby just graduated college. what do i do now?

Graduation

I never thought of myself as someone who defined herself by her children. Whose life was so closely intertwined with theirs that I would feel lost once they left home.

But apparently I am.

Although I love traveling around the world, hanging around the house pantless with my beloved hubby and not getting up in the middle of the night worrying whether everyone’s home yet, the nest isn’t the only thing that’s empty. There’s a void deep down inside me that is always there, that I can’t fill with anything else, no matter how great it may be.

Because there is nothing that can take the place of my kids.

My youngest, Sara, graduated college a couple of weeks ago and when she drove away yesterday to start her real life (meaning, her life in which I have been demoted to a supporting role), I unexpectedly burst into tears. This totally surprised me because I was totally behind her (well, not literally, although, trust me, I was tempted), encouraging her choices and even singing the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” with her repeatedly.

At her graduation ceremony – and at my son, Alex’s, two years ago – I was actually pretty composed. That was not the case when we first left Alex at college and I sobbed like a baby in the parking lot. I sensed that was the beginning of the end and now, six years later, with Sara graduating, I know my kids’ childhoods are officially over.

As a mother – as their mother – that just makes me sad.

Of course, I’m happy that they’re doing exactly what they should be doing now – which is leaving home to start their own lives and doing whatever makes them happy. Honestly, I wouldn’t want them to be home at this stage. I genuinely want them to go out and have big adventures, fall in love, see the world, make their dreams come true.

I just want them to keep sharing all of that with me.

So I guess I’m really feeling more nostalgic than sad. I can totally relate to my friend, Lisa Heffernan, who so eloquently wrote that the hardest thing about having your kids leave the nest is that you start to know them a little less.

When Lisa and another friend of mine, Sharon Greenthal, were on Katie Couric’s show last week talking about how to deal with an empty nest, Katie quietly admitted, “I think part of the reason I’m having a hard time with this is because it makes you profoundly aware of aging.”

That made me gasp because it was a big “aha!” moment. Was this really all about me and not about my kids? Was I missing the old – well, young – me more than I was missing them?

I think it’s probably a combination. Kind of a perfect storm of life stages.

My kids have left the house, my husband has retired, my parents are elderly and my dog is gone. Whose bright idea was it to make me go through menopause during all of this?

My hormones have no idea what to react to first.

So, tonight, I will get into the shower, try to figure out which shampoo might possibly have a remotely positive effect on my newly dry/oily hair and have a good cry over the children my kids are no longer. Then I’ll text them (I wait for them to do the actual calling) to tell them how proud I am of the adults they’ve become.

And, as they move on with their lives, I’ll move on with mine. I’ve been exploring and playing with the tools on Life Reimagined, and can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with you.

Lois and Michael graduation

I may no longer be that 21-year-old girl who has her whole life in front of her.

That would be my daughter.

I’m that 55-year-old woman – you know, the one with the dry/oil hair and the raging hormones – who is gratefully looking forward to the rest of hers.

This post is supported by Life Reimagined, your guide to rethinking what’s possible and seizing your “what’s next” in work, relationships, health, personal finance and more.  All opinions are my own.

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Comments

  1. Ahhh Life begins anew! I am there with you! Enjoy this new chapter in your life.

  2. I am not going to be there for 10+ years. How blessed that you child has made it this far and is starting a new chapter. Kudos to both you and your kids!

  3. Awwww, that’s very bittersweet. My boys are still little, so I have a few years ahead of me, but I think I am going to be very sad when they graduate college and move on without me.

  4. Congrats!!! I know the feeling…so happy but then also sad that they are all grown up. Now that my daughter is a Mom – we have the bestest relationship! Kids just keep on giving so much love!

  5. College seems so far away for my kids but I know that I will blink and they’ll be there.

  6. lisa jones says:

    Congratulations To You BOTH!! You Will Not No What To Do With Yourself You Have So Much Time On Your Hands!! LOL!Try & Keep Busy!! XOXO

  7. Enjoy this new phase of life!

  8. Yup, texting is our friend. Also Instagram…and Wide Open Spaces. And wine. And I have found that if I show up with my credit card, I am always welcome in their lives!

  9. Wonderful Post, Lois. Such bittersweet moments. Sharing this now,

  10. This is beautiful and true, Lois. I used to want to just SHAKE the other mothers whose kids had left yet the moms all looked normal on the outside while I was screaming on the inside, crying on the outside and just wondered how the hell they were managing it so well. Now I know that they weren’t. None of us do, regardless of whether we were working moms or stay-at-home moms or moms who thought we’d do just fine when the nest emptied. We don’t do just fine… at all… at first. But slowly we inch closer to fine. I think I’m there most days (until I ready revealing posts as this, then it all comes back). Hugs to you and your partially empty heart.

  11. Each stage brings new realizations about how quickly time is passing! I have to say, though, I love having adult children – it’s so fascinating to watch how they move in the world on their own. And I still enjoy when they come home to visit and nap on my sofa 🙂

    Thanks for the shoutout. xoxo

  12. You got me on this one, especially that last photo. Your kids are awesome, like their folks, and after a good cry and a few pounds of chocolate (well,that’s why I would do) you’ll be up and running in no time.

  13. Every new beginning is just some other beginning’s end. We’re all just following the plan…a little blindly at times, but one foot after the other, and you’ll be fine. xox

  14. Beautifully written. I am right there with you. Still have one in college but son just graduated and started his real life. Time goes too fast. And there definitely is a hole that cannot be filled with anything else.

  15. I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine! This was a beautiful post.

  16. With my oldest 2 years away from going to college (and two others behind him), I am still some years away from the empty nest and yet, I am understanding these feelings already. I suppose we can never fully prepare for letting our kids fly the coop, but simply by acknowledging our feelings (with both sadness and humor) seems to me like a step in the right direction. Great post!

  17. Life Reimagined looks like an interesting idea; will check it out! And, I have to say that I am finding this time of live (I’ll be 53 in 4 months) is the best ever! I miss my kids, but we have such great relationships and I am having so much fun with the freedom I have these days … I wouldn’t change this time for anything.

  18. You helped raise fully independent people who will be positive contributors and influencers to you and society. Say that over and over and it may help a bit knowing you are just a text away from a glimpse into their lives.

  19. Oh my, this is something that I’m not looking forward to. Best of luck to you while you’re adjusting for your new adventures and a quieter house 🙂

  20. I TOTALLY knew that I was defined by my role as a mom and I was completely and utterly lost without it. It was the hardest part of my life without question. I still struggle with it, but since I’m full-time blogging, it’s a distraction. Hugs!

  21. I’m feeling your emotions. I just wrote a post about what these grown people’s friends should call me. But at least I still have one who occasionally calls me “mommy.” When he wants something expensive, usually. 😉

  22. Jessica @EatSleepBe says:

    I have been thinking about this day a lot lately, the one where my son will go off to start his life without me. Just thinking about it gives me anxiety – and he’s only 10! Though I don’t thin of myself as the helicopter parent, it is so hard for me to imagine that day. I will just trust that if I do my job right, everything else will fall into place as it shall. Someday.

  23. I really loved this piece. I know I will feel the same way. My oldest leaves graduates high school in three years and my youngest is still only 3. I have many more years to go and yet I am fully aware and fearful of that moment. The one when you realize there is no going back. When you realize that their future is in their hands, not yours. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    It is a humbling moment, isn’t it? Although we were glad when the last tuition check was written, it’s sad that their lives are now completely their own, with us relegated to the sidelines. I totally understand what you’re feeling right now: joy, sadness and a million things in between.

  25. Congratulations, kids grow up so fast it’s unbelievable. I remember when my daughter was only 2 years old and now she’s got a daughter of her own.

  26. Enjoy your life pantless! This is a major milestone for your daughter and I know you are proud!

  27. I loved this post! Even though my kids are still at home and fairly young, I KNOW that my time is coming and they will be grown and gone before I know it.

  28. I think the thing you don’t “get” before it happens is the fact that, no matter how connected you are with your kids, there is that deeply humbling feeling that they now have their own plan and their life path is now their own — with you in it but uniquely their own. Know that your path can change without shifting away from your launching children, your aging parents, and those (furry and non) that are no longer around. The need to re-invent does not have to change how your relationship with those things you hold dear — it just lets you embrace, remember, and re-frame them all in a new light….

    If all else fails, come over — I have so many pairs of rose colored glasses that we can wear together :)!

  29. Congrats to her! I dread this day myself. Thankfully I have time. My oldest is 9.

  30. Congrats to you on your daughter’s graduation! I was a mess at my son’s pre-K graduation—ridiculous! I’m sure you will find what is next for you and it will be awesome!

  31. Oh boy! I can only imagine how hard that is. I’m not looking forward to that day.

  32. How bittersweet! My daughter is only three and anyone I know who has a child in college tells me to enjoy these years so I’m doing just that!

  33. Maria Oller says:

    I’m only 33 almost 34 and my oldest is going college. I couldn’t stop crying I sorta left everything behind to be a mom now my baby girl is leaving us behind and soon my son will follow. So my husband decided if he couldn’t keep them at home we need a little baby to make us feel mommy and daddy again =)

  34. What a beautiful post! I don’t even want to try to imagine my life with my kids having moved out and on with their lives – yet. But I do think about it – a LOT. Had a chat with a friend of mine yesterday that thinks she may be approaching menopause. She is in denial about it though, as there is such finality about it all.

  35. In 5 years my youngest leaves for college. The thought of it fills me with dread and glee – talk about a conflict! I feel like I have my whole life in front of me since I had my children at a young age. I can’t help but reimagine my life at this point. I’m a list maker, goal setter type of gal so this is a must. Thankfully, Life Reimagined has provided me with ideas!

  36. One of my favorite forever girlfriends sent me your column because she knew I’d relate. My third son is about to leave for college. Thankfully all three boys/men are doing exactly what anyone would want their sons to be doing–thinking, exploring, being in college (two) and self-supporting (oldest). And best of all, they are all HAPPY. BUT it is very hard to ‘retire’ from full-time mom-ing when it is what I have always wanted to be/do. Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of hobbies, some wonderful girlfriends, a part-time career as a photoartist, rewarding volunteer work and a husband I still love. With the deepest gratitude, I know how blessed I am. And as you wrote, there is this empty pit in my belly. I don’t know when it will subside but I am moving forward with gusto (travel, new experiences) and doing some of the things I used to enjoy before my kids interests/tastes came first. And thank goodness the sun keeps coming up!

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