Yesterday, my oldest daughter left for her second year in college. Watching the babies you’ve diapered move on to their adult lives is a mixed bag for any parent. On one hand, we’re patting ourselves on the back or giving each other high-fives for getting our kids through childhood towards their path to adulthood.
As a friend of mine used to share, “Your job is to raise adults, not children.” On the other hand, each milestone we’ve watched our children pass, from that very first step to the first day of kindergarten to high school graduation was just a dress rehearsal for the four years of college and beyond.
Divorce and shared custody are like a trial run. You’ve already gone through the growing pains of weekends and even weeks away from your kids when they’re vacationing with their dad. Those first few nights are almost unbearable. You’re missing your children and unsure what to do with the free time.
Married couples get the breakaway when preteens or teens start to spend an increasing amount of time with friends but they have each other. We single parents have to construct our own support systems for those quiet nights or weekends. And on top of that, the Christmases, New Year’s, Easter, Passover, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, etc. when we’re on our own.
One daughter in college and the other in high school, I’m aware of the empty nest clock ticking away. The end of an era has always been a challenge for me. I look through photo albums and each walk through my home reminds me of when my kids were little. I think about holding my babies, breathing in their scent and never wanting to let go.
I’m immensely proud of the young women my daughters have become. We’ve worked through some challenges, which they say have helped mold whom they are today. All mothers, especially those of us who are divorced, may sometimes lament that things hadn’t turned out different but for each obstacle crossed, our children and we are so much more resilient and maybe better equipped to deal with what life throws at us.
The bond between single mothers and kids can be incredibly strong. As a single mom, one of my biggest fears was that my children would feel responsible for me instead of the other way around. I now realize we’re there for each other and have each other’s backs.
Change is hard no matter what the situation. I listen as friends recount post-empty-nest plans with their husbands, a sort of after the fact honeymoon period with more travel or a new place at the beach. Those of us who are divorced won’t get that experience. We need to allow ourselves to be sad from time to time. The empty nest propels us to further develop our own independence and create our own lives.
Without a partner, it can be more challenging to make a definitive plan. I don’t really know where I’ll end up. There’s a fly by the seat of your pants aspect to single life that can be exhilarating, albeit terrifying. There isn’t really a comfort zone other than running into a familiar face in the market because so much is up in the air.
Single moms go through a parallel experience to our kids. We face life without limits – and with plenty of new opportunities if we take them. There’s no set road. We can live life on our own terms. Maybe that means travel or moving to a new neighborhood, meeting new friends, learning new skills, starting a new career.
So, when I feel those pangs of melancholy when I think of children moving on, I try to focus on how proud I am of their accomplishments and how excited I am for their futures. We’ll always have each other.
Change is never easy, but the other side can be intriguing.
For all parents, single or married, watching our kids pass through childhood brings joy and sadness. We’ll never get those baby or toddler years back, that first night sleeping till the morning and that first lost tooth. When I graduated high school, I chose a quote for the yearbook that still rings true today. “From the end springs new beginnings” – in this case for our children as well as ourselves.
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