In just a blink of the eye, my youngest child went from being a newborn baby to being a high school graduate. No doubt, you’ve heard people say that before, but it is true. It really happens in a blink.
While Katherine was a toddler, it seemed that graduation would be at least a millennium away. But oh how the years flew by. Toddler years turned to preschool years turned to elementary school years. Then she was a preteen off to middle school. High school began and now is coming to an end. And I am as sad as I am happy about it all.
Seeing Off My First
But let’s back up a moment and fill you in on a few details. Katherine is the youngest of four, so I’ve been here before. But each time I arrive at this place, I am shocked, amazed, saddened, and gratified. My oldest son, Matthew, graduated from high school at 16, went to community college, and headed off to a 4-year college when he was 18. Being my first, I was more elated than anything else. I mean, I had done it, hadn’t I? I had gotten my firstborn to adulthood in one piece. He had a plan for school, and he was happy.
But as proud as I was, it was still tough letting him go. I even have to admit that I shed a few tears after dropping him off at his new apartment. I felt like a small part of my soul was missing. But I watched him thrive, and I still had his three sisters at home to keep me occupied. When you have daughters aged 9, 12, and 15 at home, there isn’t a lot of time to mourn the loss of the oldest out of the nest.
Each Goodbye Always Feel Like the First
Then it was Kimberly’s graduation time. I was elated once again because though she had never been my scholar, she was now a successful graduate. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about her leaving the nest yet, because, unlike her brother, she didn’t have a plan. Maybe that should have worried me, but I just enjoyed having her around for a while longer.
When she did head off to college, having her leave home was much harder than I expected because I had really begun to rely on her as my second set of everything. She drove the younger girls places, picked up items at the store, cooked dinner. She was a mini-me, and I loved having her around.
The day I dropped her off at her apartment, she looked like such a lost little girl. I almost couldn’t bear to leave her there. But I did. And I came home and shed a few more tears. The goodbyes just didn’t get any easier.
The Nest Empties
At the same time, my third child had graduated high school and was not going to live at home one moment longer than necessary. Rebekah has always been my pistol. When she was younger, I used to say that she would eventually be a great adult, if she survived that long. But so she did, and off she went. I actually felt a bit relieved. Her abundance of energy could be quite draining. I felt guilty over that thought for a while, too. It seemed wrong to be relieved that a child had moved on.
However, the relief didn’t last long. That year I turned 50, and slipped into a bit of depression. At first, I thought it was the whole age thing. But, as I look back now, I realize that I was experiencing the first stages of an empty nest. I had never believed in the empty nest syndrome and even scoffed at the idea. I believe in it now. Sure, I still had one child at home, but she is introverted and very content to spend huge amounts of time alone in her room, especially when she doesn’t have her sisters around for interaction.
So, in a matter of weeks, I went from having three lively daughters and a son, and all that accompanies them, to having one caving child and a 50th birthday. I didn’t know what to do with my spare time, how to cook for three, how to coax my daughter out of her room, or who I was if I wasn’t a full-time mom. All the joy I had felt about graduations was gone, and I felt miserable.
Getting Your YOU Back
Over the next three years, I came to realize that while I had been mothering full-time, I had let a big part of me lay dormant, simply because I didn’t have time to be much more than a mom. But time was something I now had, and I began to embrace it.
My first big change was taking piano lessons. This was something that had been on my bucket list for years. Next, I took a few online classes in social psychology just because it interested me. I began volunteering for a few local nonprofits by writing grants and newsletters. And I expanded my freelance writing business. Before long, I felt like me again, only more centered and focused.
And that brings us to today – just mere days before Katherine leaves, and I’ve become a true empty-nester. You’d think that after three graduations and seeing that they all survived – and that I survived – this would be easy. But it isn’t. I seem to be more worried this time than ever. This was my very last chance to get it right. What if I didn’t teach her enough? If she can’t do the adult thing? I miss her too much?!
Intellectually, I know she will be fine and she will find her way. So far, each one of my children has taken their own unique path, but, so far, each is coming out the other side as a happy, productive adult. I know that Katherine will, too. I’m sure that I will marvel at all she becomes…in time.
But right now, emotionally, this one is going to be tough. I will no longer have any children at home. They will all be off doing their own thing and creating their own lives without me. My oldest son is now married. Soon, he will start where I was just a blink of an eye ago and in another blink, he will be sending his children out of the nest and wrestling with his own feelings of happiness, sadness, relief, and anxiety.
Here’s What You Should Tell Your Children When They Are Graduating
So, to Matthew, Kimberly, Rebekah, and Katherine, I’d like to offer a few words of advice to tuck away for a later time, a time when you find yourself watching your own children graduating and moving away.
- Everything will be okay. They will be fine and find their own way. You’ve given them the right skills. Watching them navigate adulthood is very rewarding.
- Reach out to friends. You are not the only one that has experienced this. Find a friend that can understand what you are feeling. Be happy and sad and everything in between. Listen to what has helped them in similar situations.
- Find a focus. If you aren’t working, consider going back to work or finding volunteer work. Or go back to school. Take a few classes. Sharpen up your skills. Start a home business. Become a community advocate. Find a way to use all your parenting skills for the benefit of others!
- Stop moping and do something. Make a list of things you put off because it wasn’t practical with children. Then pick something from the list and get started.
Yes, watching your sons and daughters graduate and leave home is wonderful… terrible… inspiring… heartbreaking… It’s life!