Well, now what?
Ten seconds ago, you were knee-deep in diapers. Five seconds ago, you were confused by new math and a calendar that required color coding. Two seconds ago the day your home would feel so big and empty was still far, far into the future.
And now? That child (or children) are gone. Dropped off at college. Moved into a new apartment. You spent eighteen years preparing your tiny humans for a launch and, in the process, somehow, you forgot to prepare yourself.
The truth is, as those not-so-tiny humans approach the launchpad, parents should be preparing for their own takeoff. We are humans, too, after all. Here, in my home, we have one child two years into college and another child two years from starting. And, yes, we will call them “our children” forever. We know they are adults (baby adults, really) but even at six feet tall or with hair dyed a horrible shade of something, they will always be our children.
When our eldest shifted to a part-time member of our household, something quite shocking became obvious almost immediately. In the process of raising our tiny humans, we had forgotten how to do things that were not about raising tiny humans. We had forgotten how to spend carefree time with good friends, whether it be a simple night out or a weekend away. We had forgotten about old hobbies, tossed to the side ages ago in place of carpools or play dates. We had forgotten how to have date nights that don’t involve chatter about the younger set.
By the time our children left our homes, we had forgotten that we had had fulfilling lives before they had ever arrived. When the first moved out, we were left with a space that we had forgotten how to cultivate. We were lucky, however. Because it hit us after the shift in status with our eldest, we have had time to prepare for the departure of the second.
So, now what?
Now is the time to prioritize you. It will feel strange after nearly two decades of putting your own wants and needs in the category of “afterthought” but it is so important. It is also okay. Whether your baby adults are already out to door or have just begun to knock on it in search of their independence, now is the time to rediscover your own.
It won’t be easy. It will feel unnatural and possibly even spark some good old-fashioned guilt. Heck, you may even get an accusatory response from a grandmother wondering how you could possibly forget your child that quickly (ask me how I know). This isn’t about forgetting your homemade humans; this is about remembering that you – you are a human as well.
My husband and I were told that we needed to start dating again. That sounded super exciting until I realized the advice was for us to start dating each other again. Didn’t we already know all there was to know about each other? As it turns out, no. We had both changed so much in the years of heavy parenting, yet we really never had time to enjoy these new versions of “us.” We were tasked with introducing candlelight back into our dinners in place of kid-friendly menus or coloring books. We revisited all of those first-date, “getting to know you,” questions to see if the answers have changed since we’d last asked them (they had). We invested in Conversation Cards to help push our dialogue back to being interesting and fresh and not about our children.
It sounded crazy until we discovered how it was not to talk about our children, at which point we understood how critical it was to hone this skill. That’s when we really started building back the relationship that was full of sparks and promise and excitement from way back when.
Today, we are intentional about discussing a full child-free future. We map out what a new home might look like or where we might move when the opportunity comes. We talk about travel, from quick trips to an around-the-world cruise (that we know we’ll never take but, still, it’s so fun to research). We talk about how we will use those two extra rooms once devoid of clothes tossed on the floor and crooked posters advertising bands we’ve never heard of. Will we add a library or a craft room or a home theatre?
This is not always a popular topic among the younger set (ask me how I know).
Still, our baby adults need to understand that we will also have an “after.” Once they fully transition from our home we will be sad (so sad!) but we will also keep moving forward. We will miss them and we will be motivated. We will feel nostalgic and also excited.
Now, we will be okay.