The invitation arrives when you least expect it, folded neatly like fresh towels still warm from the dryer and it wraps, unexpectedly, around your heart. The invitation reads something like this:
You are cordially invited to a party. An After Party.
Your children are growing up. They’re heading out of the nest soon and all those years of love and sacrifice, cooking and cleaning, disciplining and discipling, yelling and listening–are coming to an unceremonious end. This is your invitation to Act 2, to Motherhood: The After Party. Because ‘mom’ isn’t your only name.
- Date and Time: After your children leave the nest.
- Place: Wherever dreams can go.
- Dress Code: Come as you are.
- RSVP: Attendance is mandatory.
When I got my invitation, the mom of an only daughter, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
So this is what an empty nest looks like.
At the time, the only words resounding in my brain were the words of an old Peggy Lee song my parents used to play at their parties.
“Is that all there is?”
Thoughts swirled in my head. “Is this it? Seriously? They just pack up and go and that’s supposed to be okay? What am I supposed to do now? You pour out every ounce of yourself for years on end and this is what you get? A silent house? Nothing to do? No purpose, no point….no noise??”
I felt like I’d hit a brick wall or a dead end. I didn’t plan for this.
But let’s be honest for a sec, how on earth can you plan for the future when mothering takes every ounce of everything you’ve got? Each day filled with all we do, day in and day out. It’s hard enough planning meals for the week or activities for summer vacation or homeschool lessons to even think about a time when they won’t be around to plan for anymore. It’s difficult when you’re in the trenches and trying to imagine a time when they’ll be grown. And gone.
Guess I should’ve thought about it more but you can’t fully prepare for this kind of life change. It rushes headlong and overwhelms completely, like menopause or childbirth.
And I’m not gonna lie mama. It’s hard. At least it was for me. Maybe that’s the hardest part of having an only child. There’s no back-up, no siblings to keep you busy and lessen the feelings of loss. Heck, there’s no busy-ness! Oh how I longed for a load of laundry to fold or a teenage crisis to avert! Tears flowed easily and I was ever so grateful for daily phone calls with my girl. At least she still needed me!
The other thing I never planned for was having so much time on my hands. I’d been a stay-at-home mom so my time was now completely my own with loads of time and the freedom to do whatever I wanted. My husband, who most of our marriage worked from home was working out of the home during much of this time, so I was alone a lot. Trust me, shopping is not all it’s cracked up to be. I know this sounds like heresy but after awhile, even Target and TJ Maxx lose their appeal!
I tend to wallow in self-pity or what my sweet husband refers to as ‘my favorite bad feeling.’ He’s completely right but I wallow anyway from time to time. And I was deeply wallowing back then until I knew I had to leave my pity-party and do something, anything.
So, I started volunteering at a single mom’s ministry a couple days a week. And I started a little food blog called The Kitchen Princess to share all my favorite recipes in one place. I started it mainly for my daughter, who also loves to cook. I wanted her to have easy access to recipes for my homemade chicken soup or chili or carrot cake or whatever, whenever she needed them.
The blog was God’s sneaky way of getting me to write. I always knew I could write I just never felt compelled to. But a few years later after Franny had gotten married God actually dared me to write a book. So I did. And I got it published and everything!
What they don’t tell you about the early part of the empty nest years is this:
- It’s hard.
- It’s quiet.
- It’s lonely.
- It’s time to find out who you are. It’s an opportunity to rediscover yourself. It’s the time to dust off the dreams and visions you buried in order to bring your children’s dreams to pass and give them wings. Time to dust those babies off and plunge in.
- It’s a beginning.
- It’s Act II.
I’ve learned a lot in the years I’ve been an empty nester and I want to give you some tips to help prepare you better than I was prepared, for Motherhood: The After Party.
- Pray. Pray now, before the kids are gone. Ask God about what He wants you to do when you have time on your hands. ‘Mother’ is just one of your names, it’s not your only name.
- Dream. You have gifts and talents, abilities you might’ve buried over the years. It’s time to begin thinking along these lines: what if? What if you write a book? Become a triathlete? Start a business? Go back to school? Go back to work? You are only limited by your imagination.
- Practice. What can you be doing now to prepare for then? You might feel called to write and you know there’s a book in you but this isn’t the right time. (There is a perfect season I promise. God is all about timing.) Write what you can. Keep a journal. Write a bit everyday. Work on your skills, take a class if it’s in the budget. Do something to prepare for your future.
- Don’t neglect your marriage. You two likely picked each other before there were children. Work on your relationship now to keep things strong when the children move forward into their separate lives. You were called as a wife first, second as a mom. Illustrate to your children what a healthy, romantic marriage looks like. Go on dates. Make your husband important in your life because he will still be there when the kiddos are long gone.
- Trust. Know the Lord has a plan for you beyond children and parenting because of this: God is always in our future. He’s lining everything up for when the time is right.
- Learn. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a language. Or a skill. Or a craft. If it’s possible, start now so when the time comes, you’re a little bit ahead of the game.
- Volunteer. I love volunteering because it takes you out of yourself and your cares and worries and puts your focus on others. If your kids are old enough, they might want to volunteer with you. If it fits into your life right now, you will find it deeply rewarding and I promise there are countless organizations who would be most grateful for your help.
- Take care of your health. It’s never too early to start exercising, eating well, maintaining a healthy weight and modeling the importance of a healthy lifestyle to your kids. Our body really is a temple which means we don’t get to bring any old thing into it. You want to stay as healthy as you can so you’re able to go to the After Party for this primary reason:
- Grand children! This is your reward mama! You raised their parents, now, if it’s part of His plan for you, you get to have the joy unspeakable of being a grandmother. It’s the world’s best payback ever!
- Find a mentor. I know how hard it can be for younger women to find an older woman willing to speak into their lives. Sadly, it’s a neglected area in the church and I talk to so many young women who have no one older to mentor them. Women in my generation have dropped the ball for the most part and I’m not sure why. Either they simply don’t want to bother or they don’t feel like they have anything to offer, which is unbiblical at best:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Titus 2:3-5
The most amazing thing I’ve noticed about Motherhood: The After Party is this: It gets better with each passing year! It’s nothing to dread but it’s something you do want to be preparing for. For many of us, it’s the time when God will dare us to more than we ever believed possible. If you’d told me ten years ago I would be a published author and writer and recipe developer with my own food and faith blog I would’ve said you were were crazy. But God has a great sense of humor, don’t you think?
If you’re a mom with young children, it’s hard to wrap your brain around the thought of them ever leaving home. But I’m here to tell you, there will come a day when life is more than potty-training, discipline and laundry. You really will have an opportunity to dream. In the meantime, enjoy this season even though it feels like it will never change. It will.
Begin now to prepare for the after party because if we’re doing it right, we’re raising them to let them go. I wrote a post called Catch and Release describing the time of letting go:
If we’re doing it right, we’re raising them to leave. We’re training them to live on their own, cheering them on from the sidelines when they go. And that’s the hardest part.
Because they do go. Because mothering is a journey of letting go.
A holy release made possible only by holding on to the One that matters most….