The Best Is Yet To Be: Thoughts From A Mom With A (partially) Empty Nest

File Aug 17, 12 10 12 PMWhen I dropped my daughter off at college – 7 hours away from home – last week, I was overwhelmed with emotion.  Pride – about all that she has accomplished in her short 18 years. Sadness – about the change that we are experiencing. Excitement – about all that she has in store for her in the next 4 years and in her lifetime. Worry – about whether she will be ok and make the right choices.  Joy  – about the choice that she made about where to attend college being the perfect choice for her. Fear – about the unknown. Panic – about whether I’ve taught her enough, so that she can survive at college without me. All these emotions have been building over her last months of high school and this summer. I’ve joked with a few of my friends who are also sending their first-born off to college that there should be a support group for this situation.  We are all so emotional and nervous and, really, just sad.  About little things. About big things. About giving up control. About whether we have taught our kids enough.

What is she going to do when she’s sick? One of my favorite things about being a mom has been when my kids are sick.  Not because I enjoy seeing them puking or feverish or in pain.  Of course that part hurts my heart. But because when they are sick they need me, and I am able to nurture them and make their sickness feel a teeny bit less awful, in the way that only a mom can. They need me to get a puke bucket, a cool wash cloth, the thermometer, a sip of water, a sympathetic ear.  So what is she going to do when she gets the flu at college and I am 7 hours away and not able to help her in the way that I’m used to helping her?

How will I know she is safe? I’m a worrier. I can’t help it. I imagine the worst and tend to overreact about things. I have my kids wake me up when they get home from work or going out because even though I fall asleep, it’s not a good sleep until I know they are home safe. I’m also extremely punctual and expect the same from others. So when my kids are supposed to be home at 10:00 and it’s 10:01, I become anxious and convinced they’ve been in a terrible accident. When they arrive at 10:02, I feel an enormous sense of relief.  Every single time. So how will I know that she is safe at college, when I am 7 hours away and she can’t wake me up to tell me she is ok?

What is she going to do when she gets overwhelmed and stressed out by the difficulties of college? When your child lives with you it’s easy to see when they are struggling with school or life stuff.  When that happens it’s easy to address the issue – to suggest that she take a break, that she talk to a teacher, that she study in a different way, etc. (not always easy to solve the issue, but easy to acknowledge it’s there and offer solutions on how to help her deal with it). The challenges, stress and uncertainty that she will face at times in college will be huge – unlike any that she has experienced so far. So how will I be able to help her when she is 7 hours away and when I won’t necessarily know that she is struggling?

How will I be ok without her here? I’m divorced – we divorced when she was in her early teens – and I think there is a different bond between moms and daughters when there is a divorce. Post-divorce there is a lot of heavy stuff for parents and kids to deal with: the emotions involved in the breakup of a marriage; the challenges and emotions in kids splitting time between mom’s home and dad’s home and being separated on holidays; the fear and uncertainties and excitement in forming new love relationships.  As she’s matured, my daughter has become more than just a child to me. She’s become a confidante, a friend, an advisor. We communicate with each other every day – in person or via text or social media. We shop together – she’s the one who went with me a few weeks ago to pick out my wedding dress. When I want someone to eat dinner with, she’s always up for popovers from Hazellewood or sweet rice from Rojo. When I am excited about something or sad about something, she’s the first to know.   So how will I be ok without her here?

As I sit here and try to figure out why I am sad about her leaving to college, I think what it boils down to, for me, is that I am afraid of the change and impact that her leaving will have on MY life, not on hers.  And really, I think this is pretty normal.  Change is hard.  Whether you are an 18 year old going off to your freshman year at college, or a 45 year old mom who is looking at (partially) empty nest.  Change is scary and difficult.  But I need to remind myself that change is also exciting and necessary and good. In changing, we open ourselves up to new possibilities, new relationships, new experiences and new adventures. In change, we adapt and grow in ways that strengthen us and make us better individuals.  I gave my daughter a framed quote for graduation, with what I thought was the perfect saying for her at that time.  “The Best Is Yet To Be”.  It’s true. Even though things will change for her, for me and for those that love her, the best is yet to be!

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