My time is up.
I have been mothering for more than 23 years. This month, my youngest child will leave for college and I will begin life as an empty nester. Several years ago, a childhood friend and I watched our mothers transition into their new life without kids.
Their misadventures in rediscovery included a lot of shopping. The tipping point came when my friend’s mother returned from one shopping trip with six pairs of flat black shoes: some plain, others with polka dots and others with bows. Our mothers eventually returned to themselves before we had to stage a shopping intervention.
These and other lived experiences are the foundation on which my next chapter will be built.
In 1991, I met the man who would later become my husband. I was married at 30 and my son was born a few months after our first wedding anniversary. My son’s easygoing demeanor made it easy for me to remain fully engaged at work and in the community. This changed four years later with the birth of my beautiful baby daughter. She did not sleep, cried nonstop, and clung to me like velcro.
I had planned to return to work at the conclusion of my four-month maternity leave. I couldn’t find anyone who I trusted to care for my daughter while she cried nonstop. I had not planned to leave the practice of law but my baby daughter needed me. This decision changed the trajectory of my life and career. With no game plan in hand, I stepped off the career ladder, took a deep breath and jumped. It was March 1999.
As the mother of young children my cup was filled to overflowing with little to no “me” time. I withdrew from all outside activities and my professional network. Without realizing it, I grew increasingly isolated from my friends and family. Looking back, I now know that my isolation grew out of an insidious depression that had taken root deep within me.
My 30s and early 40s became a frenzied blur of changing diapers, potty training, temper tantrums, story hour, school projects, homework, chess tournaments, soccer games, summer camp, basketball games, ballet classes, school programs, class holiday parties and a host of other activities. This frenzied pace prevented me from realizing that I was deeply depressed. Life as I knew it continued until my divorce in 2006.
I literally started over with two children ages 12 and 7, two months of outstanding mortgage payments, an empty refrigerator and $120. My marriage was over and I began parenting alone with no support. I was 42 years old, broken and beyond clinically depressed. Though I wanted to pull the covers over my head, I had to rise and care for my children who were experiencing their own pain.
After my divorce was finalized, I assumed that my educational and professional credentials would enable me to come roaring back. That did not happen. Over the next seven years, I made little progress in the direction that I wanted to go. I fell flat several times before realizing that I first had to heal and make peace with my depression before my personal bounce back could begin. The rest of my 40s were anything but fabulous. It was a time of tremendous emotional growth, healing and introspection.
Because of my soul work, I entered my 50s mentally and emotionally stronger than I had been in two decades. I am still healing and committed to living my best life now. Still, I didn’t realize my 50s would mark the beginning of major life losses and other seismic transitions. I am now painfully aware that life gives and takes away. Close friends have died or are gravely ill. Many of my friends have lost their parents. My own parents are elderly but in good health. Still, I know that their mortality looms large. My parent’s stoicism in the midst of similar life losses give me confidence that I will survive their transitions. I will survive and even thrive because my parents built resilience in me.
At 30 I was a young attorney, wife and mother. I was inundated with sometimes conflicting advice on how to live out each of these roles. It was stressful and exhausting. Looking back, I would tell my 30-year-old self to listen to my own inner voice, practice self-care and focus on being mindfully present with my children.
Let the rest go. Life will teach you the lessons that you need to live it.