So, it happened. My youngest son just graduated from high school. I didn’t think this would be a hard day for me. I mean, my older son graduated three years ago. I’ve been there, done that. Or so I thought.
I didn’t expect to tear up upon seeing so many familiar faces that I haven’t seen in 12 years: All those parents and students that I’ve known since Noah started kindergarten. Some of the parents I barely recognized as the hair color has changed or the hair is no longer. Wrinkles have set in. Time has taken its toll. The students, on the other hand, are mini-adults, about to start their new journeys. Yet, beneath the wide smiles and bright eyes, I sensed a bit of fear as leaving a tight-knit community and making your own way in the world is well, scary.
As I sat through the graduation, I realized that I too was feeling fearful of the unknown. Noah’s graduation didn’t just mark an end of an era for him.
It is the end for me. It is the end of parenting as I know it. And that scares the crap out of me.
Where Have My 40s Gone?
Last week I asked my husband in all sincerity: “Where have my 40s gone?” As my 50th birthday fast-approaches, it occurred to me that this decade has flown by at light speed. It seems like just yesterday that I turned 40 and dropped Noah off for his first day of 3rd grade. He answered without missing a beat: “You were raising your boys, driving to dance classes, on the road with Noah, going to improv shows. You were being a mom.”
Yes, I was. I mean, I am. Right? But wait. Yesterday, as I sat there watching the graduation ceremony, the past 21 years of collective parenting for my boys sort of flew by me at warped speed. At times I teared up and couldn’t even pay attention. And then, at the end of the ceremony, as I hugged my son and congratulated his friends and the other parents, it hit me square across the face: I just graduated too. I’ve done my job. It’s time to move on. Huh?
I get it, you never really move on from being a mom. But yet, you do. Your parenting role
changes the second your youngest child graduates from high school. You might think it changes when your oldest graduates and you creep closer to the empty-nest stage. But that’s not the case. It really changes when you recognize that the curtain has closed on the last two decades of your life. You’ve done the best you can do to raise your children and lead by example. Now it’s their turn to make their mark on the world. Sure, you may be there to offer guidance, pay tuition bills and even let them move back into your basement when they can’t afford to live on their own (or can’t get a job). Yet, it’s not the same.
What Happens Now?
When your youngest child graduates high school, not only is it his turn to craft a new life. It’s your turn, too.
Yup, all those speeches delivered yesterday drilled home the importance of living an authentic life and following your own path. But what happens when your path as a mom just ends and so abruptly at that? Why didn’t anyone make a speech about this? Oh yeah, graduation is not about the parents, it’s about the kids. Or so I thought. Until it became about me too. And then I thought, “I’m being selfish.”
Then this occurred to me: I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life wrapped up in my boys’ lives, intertwined so tightly in their daily activities that there was no time to be selfish. So, now I’m feeling guilty as nothing is ever supposed to be about me. At least that’s what I thought.
But what about NOW? Is it finally ok to be a bit selfish? Isn’t the graduation of your youngest child as much about you as it is about him? I know this is turning the whole graduation life cycle event upside-down and inside-out. But, I have to be honest: I am deeply pondering where I go from here. And this can’t be much different from what’s running through my son’s head right now.
Graduating and Moving On
Moving on for me isn’t just a matter of downsizing and moving closer to the city (I did this last year). It’s a matter of emotionally figuring out how to live life on my own two feet, without my children. Huh? Just like they need to learn how to live outside the nest, I need to navigate life in an empty-nest. At the outset, this is exciting and I can’t wait to travel more, work on projects around the house, hang out with friends, go to museums, and navigate a new professional path.
Yet, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit the fact that I just don’t know what to do next.
For the past 20 years I have run my own small businesses: First a freelance writing business, then a yoga studio, and now Pretzel Kids along with The Write Move content marketing business. I do it all from the mother ship, aka my house. This was a great way to balance working while raising my boys. But now the mother ship is empty and lonely. I’m not sure whether I want to continue working solo without anyone home to interrupt me or ask for a ride. I also don’t know what else to do. I could get a job, but I’m not sure I want to give up my work flexibility and ability to travel at the drop of a hat. Secretly (and now the cat’s out of the bag), I also want to be available at a moment’s notice to help out my boys – even if it’s only once a month. I’ve toyed with starting yet another business. I have several ideas that have been floating around in my head for the past few years and I’ve had no time to execute on them. But, then I think better of this as I’m busy enough with my other two businesses. On another note, maybe I’ll use this empty space to get in kick-ass physical shape, meditate an hour a day. Or, maybe not.
Then it struck me: Parents have to forge a new path, just like their kids. And, it’s not selfish to think graduation marks our own personal milestones. We too have to figure out where we’re headed and follow our own internal compass – that is if we can figure out how it works.