“Mooooom! Can I go to the mall after school?” “Mooooom! Can I go to a sleepover tonight?” “Mooooom! Can I go anywhere but here?” Ok, so maybe my kids have never asked that last question, but as they get older, they are spending less and less time at home.
My two middle school girls have blossoming social calendars, not to mention extracurriculars like dance, soccer, and gymnastics, and while I’m the permanent Uber driver for my kids, I’m also finding myself with more and more time alone— from short enough to make a solo Target run to long enough for a Hallmark movie marathon. We used to do everything together— watching movies on Friday nights, making slime any chance we could get, even going to the bathroom together. But their interests have changed, and even if it’s bittersweet, it’s okay.
We’re in the phase now that they don’t need me in the same ways they used to. They need time away from me to figure things out and learn who they are. They need time to be with their friends and explore life without me hovering. They need time that belongs to them, where they decide what to do and how to do it. And so do we, as moms. We need this time to reestablish or strengthen our own identities in relation to and separate from our kids.
At first, this extra free time felt strange–hours to fill while my kids went to Fright Fest or dance classes. I would wait for them to get home, thinking that was my job as a mom, but the time began to stretch on. Later, I felt guilty for making my own plans without including them, worried that they’d need me and I wouldn’t be available. And then an interesting thing happened … my girls began to encourage me to get out more and do things for myself. It took a little while, but, like my children, I began to embrace the new independence I had.
Now, instead of setting up playdates for my kids, I find myself having more dates with friends–brunch, coffee, wine tastings. While they’re at practice or gymnastics class and I no longer have to watch, I am getting back to a workout schedule or catching up on my to-be-read list. Now I play sand volleyball, which are words I never thought I’d say. And I’m having fun! My girls and I still have time together, and it’s almost better now because of our time apart, because we have given each other the space we need to develop into the people we are supposed to be.
As moms, we need to give ourselves permission to grow, just as we encourage growth in our kids. We need to take time for our interests and friends that often get put on hold when our kids are young. We need to let go of the idea that all of our time belongs to our children, because they need to see what it looks like to lead a more balanced life.
So, with our extra free time as our kids get older, it’s important to begin practicing for those empty nest days. Before our kids get bigger and our time begins to open up, we need to consider our own growth and independence, as well. What will we pursue? How will we spend our time? I have a friend who loves to ask this question. “But that’s six years away …” I say. But while I do have six years until both of my girls are off and hopefully out of the house, the beginnings of having an empty nest are starting even now.