May 06 2015
The other day I had a timely and wonderful exchange with a stranger on the ferry. She and I started talking about one thing and another until we eventually fell into a meaningful conversation about empty nest syndrome. Her children are still at home with her but are beginning the separation process. It is not an easy time when your kids want friends more than family. I told her that my girls were already on their own and out in the world. She asked me how was it letting them go. My response was, “it was awful!” When it was time to let go, my head was saying that kids moving out of the nest is normal, and it’s a sign that they are well-adjusted and able to handle real life. But my heart was breaking! It honestly felt like someone I loved was splitting up with me. I experienced real grief, and I cried a lot. The emotions I felt were directly related to how well I had bonded with my girls, which is such a beautiful gift to me. But I had to deal with the loss as well. There are lots of books written about how to bond with children so they feel secure and loved, but there is precious little written about how to let them go when the time is right.
Throughout the process of letting go, I talked to other mothers, sharing my grief and tears. As women often do, I received an abundance of good advice, love, and support. A few of my big questions were, “what else can I do in the world that is as significant as raising children? How can I express myself now that they don’t need me as much? What else is going to be as rewarding?” I didn’t know the answers for a long time; I just had to sit with it, sit with myself, and begin to remember who I was before children. I had to ask myself, “what do I love? What do I like to do? What brings me joy?” As mothers, we often put everyone else first and forget to leave time for ourselves and our own development.
Asking these questions and sitting with the process within myself allowed life to unfold in a graceful way. It didn’t mean that I didn’t experience pain or even heartbreak, but it did mean that I was able to be fully present for the mourning process. In situations such as these, “the only way out is through,” and I trusted in my own capacity to find myself again, yet a version of myself I hadn’t experienced before. It reminds me of the process a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. The time spent in the cocoon is completely necessary for the metamorphosis to take place. When the butterfly emerges, she is whole in a way that she intuitively knew was possible, but had yet to experience.
I have come out on the other side and am reinventing myself slowly, learning to put myself first. The somewhat surprising thing is that my adult children are coming back to me, and we have a different relationship that is rich in ways I couldn’t have anticipated before. I am coming to life in a new way, one that is an authentic expression of who I am now, and not based on me solely identifying with the role of the mother.
Joseph Campbell says, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” I feel like this quote applies beautifully to this scenario. When I birthed my children and nurtured them through their early and adolescent lives, I had to let go of ideas of who I thought I was or should be in order to give them as much of myself as I could, in order to be the best mother I could. And when I let go of them so they could continue becoming the people they’re here to be, it took every ounce of myself to stay present in the midst of grief and sadness. Yet each step of the process invited me to a richness and fullness I couldn’t have experienced otherwise. It fills me with deep joy and gratitude to have had this amazing experience of giving birth, loving my children, giving them all I could, and then letting them go. This is not an easy task, but I have learned so much about myself through the entirety of the process and wouldn’t trade the times of struggle for anything. This is what life is about!
Another fruit of this beautiful process is the deep realization that I didn’t have children for anyone else; I had them for me. I wanted this whole experience so I could know myself. They don’t owe me anything. I chose to be their Mother, so the gift of their relationship adds to my life, but it isn’t my whole life. And now that they’re amazing beings in the world, living the lives of their making, I get to watch with a glimmer in my eye and a sweetness in my heart that are the gifts of being a mother. And now I am the butterfly, with its freedom, its fullness, and its deep content.
I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful, amazing women I am so blessed to know! May each phase of your journey be blessed!
By Lori Johnson, RMT & Owner of Soma Studio