When I was younger I dreamed of the kind of mom I would be and the kind of adults I would raise. I say adults because even when your children are babies you are laying the framework for the kind of adults they’ll become. Teaching them how to self-soothe gives them the chance to be independent. Teaching them how to share shows them how generous and fair. Teaching them how to be polite to others gives them a sense of respect for the whole of humanity. Almost every decision becomes an opportunity to teach so that one day, when your children ARE adults, they are prepared to face the world and become a valuable part of society.
I always wanted sons because I had the single-minded determination I would raise the men I couldn’t find. I wanted them to be honest, dependable, accepting of others, have integrity and be good Southern gentlemen that knew how to treat a woman like a lady all the while appreciating her strength as an equal and a partner.
The good news is I have done this. It took more than 20 years of hard work, many times feeling at the end of my rope that I was failing MISERABLY, many times in awe of the triumphs. I’ve been blessed with perspective that allows me to see that even in our hardest times and deepest struggles, these were invaluable lessons that worked toward my ultimate goal: to raise good men.
They are good men. They are strong men. They are independent thinkers who were raised to always ask questions and figure things out for themselves. They are in no way carbon copies of me, nor would I want them to be. Just like a character on the page revealing surprising quirks and traits to me, watching my sons fully evolve into the men they’ve become has been fascinating and deeply rewarding.
I love them so much that I want them around me always. They are funny and kind and generous and strong. I want to see them every day and have them around to share even more of the world around us (especially now that we can.)
Therein lies the true heartbreak of parenthood. For all you invest in your child, particularly if you do it right, they will have wings to fly to a future of their own imagining… which may not have anything at all to do with the world you have created for them.
When I moved to California to pursue my lifelong dream of being a writer, to take it to the next level and get into the business that has always fascinated me and pulled me to be a part of it, I knew that the sacrifice could mean leaving my children behind. Honestly it was the main thing that held me back. I made the sacrifices in my career because I knew my most important job was being a parent. But there comes a point when that job ceases being a full-time commitment.This can be a difficult shift for many parents. We’ve done so much to give so much of ourselves to other people that it seems foreign and unnatural to do anything so “selfish” to follow one’s own path away from the life they cultivated for their family.
But children are destined to do this anyway. Eventually they will set off on their own, win or lose. You cease being a family unit and their story as an individual begins. You must forfeit your starring role in their lives for a recurring supporting role. Conversely they do the same for your life as well, as you go back to the individual (or couple) you used to be before you became a family.
That’s why it’s so vitally important to have goals and dreams independent of your children. In doing so you teach your children that you have value apart from what you do for others. In my opinion there’s no greater lesson than empowering your children to chase their own dream. Relationships are great but even relationships with your family shouldn’t fill any hole. You can and should be totally actualized as a person independent of anyone else. This teaches them a much healthier relationship boundary that won’t include any kind of co-dependence that says you “need” someone else to be happy or fulfilled.
If this is what you teach your children, you’re pretty much guaranteeing they will never be happy or fulfilled.
So when I made the decision to move west I knew that this was one of those difficult decisions that would be tough at first but necessary for the well-being of everyone. I was teaching them how to chase dreams by example. Being fearless in my pursuit of my dreams gives them permission to do the same with their own, even if they’re not completely sure what that is.
I felt confident that the kids could be set up in Texas, near friends and with jobs and even have places to live. If I had to leave them anywhere, I felt most confident in leaving them in an environment that, while it wasn’t advantageous for the long term, would be a suitable training ground.
But I still hated leaving them so much I considered not going all the way up to the point they both said they wanted to go to California with us, thus relieving me of any excuses left.
That was six months ago. And I thought everyone was doing reasonably well. So imagine my surprise when my 19-year-old decided he wasn’t happy in California and wanted to come back to the life he knew and the friends he loved.
And I fought it. Even though I had been where he was emotionally. Maybe because I had been where he was emotionally. I learned the hard way you can’t depend on anyone as much as you can depend on your mom. No one, aside from a spouse, is as invested in your survival. Period. End of story. So I hated to stretch the apron strings 1000+ miles across the country. What would happen should his friends flake and leave him stranded? How could I help him? How could I be there to buffer life’s disappointments?
After much soul searching I realized these were not my disappointments to buffer. My role has now been demoted. It’s his time to become the hero of his own journey, and I know that he’ll do great even if it does get harder for him than I’d like to see it get.
I decided to drive him back “home” so I could spend as much time with him before I had to let him go. It’s been bittersweet. I’m back in a place I know without any question whatsoever I no longer belong, but this is his choice. In order to pursue our particular happiness, we have to part ways. And I hate it. I’ll miss him every day. When Tim embarks on his own journey I really will have an empty nest. I fluctuate wildly between wanting it to happen all at once like a band-aid and never wanting both of them gone – EVER.
As a mom it’s hard to stomach being “left” by the people you love most in the world. I know Steven will be there, eager to fill my days with things we’ve longed to do for years as a couple. We are the best of friends and get along great, so our lives apart from kids will be full and happy.
So it’s not the end of the world.
It just feels like it at times.
There’s a saying that deciding to have children is like deciding to live the rest of your life with your heart outside of your body. And this is painfully true. While I know intellectually this is not a bad thing, that this is a necessary and healthy evolution in our relationships, emotionally I feel like I’m losing something because this door on that part of my life is definitely closing.
And I reserve the right to fight my way through it until I can find my way.
Fortunately I know that I’m where I need to be for myself and that’s the path I must follow. It’s going to take a lot of discipline and stamina to make the changes I want to make. But that’s the benefit of this big change: I’m moving up the ranks in my own priority list. I have a place to direct this energy and turn it into something positive.
To answer the question, “Who do I take care of when no one needs me anymore?” – I take care of myself.
Perhaps that is the lesson I need to learn right now.
In the end all I can feel is pride that I met the goal I set for myself as a parent.
I just never expected it to be over so soon.