Life moves through seasons and motherhood has seasons, too. Just as we adjust to the hot summer or cold winter, we need to adjust to the times of having young children and sometimes feeling that we are being pulled in too many ways; to the teenage years when our children may prefer their friends and it seems that we cannot say or do anything right; to the season of their young adulthood when they are finding their identity, purpose and becoming independent; to the sweet spot of mutual love, respect and simply enjoying a relationship of sharing thoughts and good times together when we can.
I have now journeyed through each of these seasons of motherhood to my new place in an empty nest. This has led me to reflect on the meaning of motherhood and a mother’s love. As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a mother. As a young woman, I considered it to be an honor and a privilege to have babies. I realized that men cannot carry, deliver or nurse a baby- only a woman can. I made a deliberate decision to avoid a career choice that might take me far away or make it difficult to balance it with being a wife and mother.
I attended college, got my degree, married my high-school sweetheart and worked as a social worker while my husband completed dental school. When he graduated, we decided to “try” to get pregnant and were shocked to find that we conceived the first month we tried. I was excited about the baby but felt a twinge of guilt because I knew that I would leave the new job that I only been with one year. My husband and I agreed that I would be a stay-at- home mom. I am grateful that I was able to be primarily at home with all four of my children. I also did volunteer work, counseled other new moms about breastfeeding, and later worked part-time, usually in a job that was flexible.
I enjoyed being with my children and taking them to swimming and parks in the summer; being a ‘homeroom mother’ and chaperoning field trips. I had many friends with children and we would all hang our together – the moms would chat and the children would play. We carpooled for pre-school and I will always treasure the weekly breakfast with two girlfriends after we dropped our children off at school. I became aware that I do need some “me” time- I would get grumpy if I could never read a magazine article or go to the bathroom alone. For me, it worked the best to space my children two and a half to three years apart so that I had some breathing room between pregnancy- nursing – and another baby. I feel very blessed that I was able to have this type of motherhood experience. Looking back, these were golden years of motherhood. Some days felt very long but the weeks, months and years passed quickly.
My first husband died in an automobile accident when my daughters were six and nine. A few years later I married again and my second husband and I both wanted more children, even though I was already 37 and my girls were junior high age. Several friends asked why I would want to start over when my daughters were nearly independent. But I had always wanted more children and this husband had never had any of his own.
Deciding to have more children is one of the best decisions I have ever made and I have no regrets about it. Five pregnancies and three miscarriages later we were blessed with a son and then a daughter three years apart. I was forty-one when my youngest was born and I thought it would either make me old or keep me young. I opted to aim for the latter.
Mine was not a fairy tale life by any means. Besides the death of my first husband and the tremendous impact that had on my daughters and me, we also experienced years of financial stress; some years that I had to go back to work full time; a daughter who became pregnant in high school; and the general challenge of a blended family. I have said many times that blending a family is one of the most difficult things we can do. Our family is far from perfect, but I now have the gratification of watching four grown children follow their dreams, begin their careers, find the love of their life, and become parents themselves.
My goal as a mother was to make sure my children knew they were loved and accepted as they are. I come from an affectionate family and I showered my children with hugs and kisses and told them “ I love you” countless times. I tried to attend their school programs, sports games, field trips etc as much as possible. I did my best to be open and honest with them and expected them to be that way with me. I learned the hard way that is not always how it works.Each child has a distinct personality and some are more strong-willed, rebellious or tempted than others to not follow the rules. But we did our best to teach our children to be honest, respectful and kind, to have integrity, to be responsible and to work for what they wanted.
My experience leads me to believe that it is important to both teach a foundation and model the way we hope they will live life.
It is also important to help them make right decisions because whether we recognize it or not, we fool ourselves if we think we can control our children after a certain age. They will make decisions right and wrong and find a way to pursue what they want to do.
After thirty-three consecutive years of having children at home, I now have an empty nest, a large home with just my husband and I living in it. Many times after hearing “Mom” “Mom”, I thought how wonderful it would be to not hear that all the time and to be able to have a thought or talk on the phone without interruption. While that can be nice, what I have found is that our home is often too quiet for me and for my husband, and I would love to have one of our children still there.
The empty nest has been a difficult adjustment for me. I love my husband, have a full -time job, am active at my church in leadership and women’s ministry, just authored my first book and have many dear girlfriends. We travel, go to movies, out to dinner, and attend concerts. But I miss my kids! All three of my daughters married and moved to where their husbands were: one, three and five hours away. My son is only five miles away but bought his own home recently and between his work and activities, I only see him a couple times each month.
Going from over thirty years of revolving my life around my children to being now alone with my husband, has been a huge adjustment and much harder than I anticipated. My experience was that my siblings and most of our extended family live with a half-hour radius and for the first sixty years of my life, every holiday was celebrated with family. Spending Christmas alone as a couple feels weird and lonely to me.
This has led me to reflect on what God’s plan for mothers is. I haven’t totally figured that out yet but I have reached some conclusions. The main one is that a mother’s love is the closest thing there is to God’s love. God has so many facets to His being that we will never comprehend them all. But man and woman are created in His image, so we incorporate and reflect characteristics of God. Man has been strong, a provider and protector through all civilizations. Women were created with the ability to carry life, to nurture it through breastfeeding, to be the ‘heart’ of the home. Many women tend to be the more tender, loving, affectionate, and empathetic parent (although not always).
Mothers give sacrificial love without even being aware of it much of the time. We give our bodies to carry and nurse babies, we give up our privacy and sleep to tend to them. We may sacrifice some of our own interests and desires in order to provide opportunities for our children. We try to love, as God does, unconditionally and without end, with patience, kindness, gentleness, and joy.
But now I see that part of that sacrificial love may also be releasing our children to be who they must be and go where they must go. We did not give all these many acts of love with an expectation of what we would get in return. We cannot require our children to stay close by and they may not be there to care for us when we are old. But when we signed on as mothers, it was to give- to give life, love, and the freedom for our children to fulfill who they must be. This is not easy, it may be harder for some mothers than others. But just as the mother eagle pushes her baby out of the nest to fly, we must nurture, prepare and then release our children to fly also. Let us not be clingy; but rather find ways to fill the void in our hearts and homes.