I’m Already Dreading the Empty Nest And My Kids Aren’t Even Close to Graduating

A new sadness has caught me off guard: I already miss my kids. No, they haven’t gone anywhere—not yet, at least. But I have recently discovered myself poised at the cusp of middle age, which means my kids are at their own tipping point. My baby boy has headed off to high school and my baby girl is only two years behind him. They’re looking and acting more like the adults they will be before I know it, and I. Am. Not. Ready.

It’s not that I don’t feel like I’ve done a good job with them. No regrets there (so far). It’s just that we’ve reached a sweet spot where my birds have been showing me how well they can fly by my side now. Sure, they sometimes still need my guidance, tips, and first aid after crash-landings, but they’re proving to be quite good at it. I even let them go out on their own now and again. They always come back, excited about the adventure and happy to share every detail with me.

The years of relentless neediness and exhaustive, over-touched parenting are gone. These days, our time together is (mostly) enjoyable. Dare I say it: fun. They are smart, interesting, funny, surprising people. Each has their own interests, ideas, distinct personality. Being around them is a treat, and I know my time enjoying that treat won’t last much longer. I’m mentally trying to slow down time to relish every moment with them that I can, teach them all the things I want them to know before they drift closer to their friends than me—and sniff their delicious heads as often as possible. 

I love who they are growing up to be and am excited to see where they go in this world, but sadness presses against my chest when I look to the horizon and see the end of my getting to spend every day with them. If I thought I was a bit emotional when my youngest was finishing her last days in primary school, that was nothing compared to this.

It’s one thing to learn to let go of your kid’s hand for their own good. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to know they’re letting go of yours on their own accord.

Everything moves so quickly now. I blink and my son’s pants are suddenly too short; my daughter has learned an entire new song for the school musical; they’re having conversations with me about current events at an intellectual level that takes me aback. Panic makes my heart flutter, for I’m missing things I wanted to witness, savour. It used to be about the process: lots of baby steps, slow progress, then big applause when the moment arrives. Now my kids casually mention one another’s achievements that I had no idea about. A certificate of honour appears on the kitchen table. The mum of a friend of theirs mentions some wonderful thing they did behind my back.

It’s good. No—it’s great. Really! They are doing what they are supposed to be doing, becoming the humans I hoped I was growing inside of me many, many moons ago. I’m getting what I wanted. So why am I so often choked up? Why are my happy tears so often followed by sadness?

Parents of adults have said to me many times since the double stroller years to enjoy my kids while I could. I agreed with them (yes, even during the Terrible Twos and the OMG What Is Happening Fours). I thought I got it. I was enjoying them! But now I really get it. Once some of the weight of the relentless parenting little kids lifts off our shoulders, we only get a brief respite before the weight of understanding how short our time is with these wonderful creatures under our roof settles in. 

I know all the lovely metaphors that I should say now, like that it’s beautiful to watch them spread their wings, that it’ll be a gift to watch them soar. They aren’t wrong, but my heart is kicking a can down the street with its hands in its pockets, frowning and grumbling that those words are for the birds. I can already hear the echo of an empty nest, can tell how hard it will be for me, so am sitting with this sadness, allowing myself to feel it. I need to prepare myself, deal with my own stuff so I’m readier for their flights when the time comes. 

Totally ready? Ummm…probably not. But maybe if I let myself feel these things, I’ll build up a bit of resistance to them. Maybe if I work to stay as present as possible with them now, their transition away from me and into the world won’t leave me flailing because I’ll have more memories to cling to.

A mum can only hope.

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