It’s days like today that make me miss my son. Oh, he’s alive and well. It’s not that kind of missing someone. It’s the kind where you see the person, talk to him, but your heart still hurts because he just isn’t the same.
My son is a 20-year-old young man who truly believes that growing up means parting ways with the parents who symbolize childhood and his teenage years. He keeps in touch, but refuses to be still long enough to ease this mother’s worry about where he is, who he’s with, and a myriad of other motherly anxieties.
It wasn’t long ago that I slept easily at night, knowing that he was also sleeping safely in his own bed. I knew I would worry when he went off to college, but I just never imagined how much. I also didn’t expect him to never return to my home as a resident. Once he left for school, he only returned occasionally as a polite guest. He eventually quit school and began living with his father in a nearby town, instead of returning to what had been his home since birth.
Was I okay with his new living arrangement? No, but I learned to live with it. I gradually felt at ease, knowing that his dad loved him in his own way. I tried to imagine how my ex must have felt all those years while our son was growing up at my house, only visiting him on weekends, holidays, and summers. Did he once feel the pain I was now feeling? I doubted that his dad was capable of feeling the intense hurt I was experiencing, but I guessed that he was indeed happy with how things were going now.
Eventually, the honeymoon period ended between father and son. Next came the girlfriend phase, which is still going on. His dad hasn’t handled that living arrangement very well at all. Major fireworks between father and son, and suddenly I’m the favored parent again. Only I’m not feeling very favored. It’s hard to rarely see your “child.” Really hard.
I had looked forward to my son’s college years. I knew what to expect. I had lived life to the fullest at that age, but I still returned home for the occasional weekend. I also went home for holidays and summers. Wasn’t that what every traditional college student did? Was I wrong to expect the same from my son? I am pleased to announce that he returned to college. This time around, he is attending a small community college.
I think I had better learn to cope with this nontraditional college parent role I’ve been forced to play. If not, I fear that I’ll someday look back and wonder why I wasted these years. Maybe there is still joy to be felt during this phase… just not the same kind of joy I had been expecting.
One thing I’ve learned in life is that you don’t always get what you want, or exactly how you want it. I keep telling myself, “Suck it up, buttercup. Things could be worse.” We repeat those cliches for a reason. They’re true.
One thought on “The Empty Nest I Never Saw Coming”
I feel for you. Thankfully it sounds like you have been able to keep a reasonable outlook. After so many years of having a measure of control over our kids- or at least their safety- once they get out on their own there is much less a sense of influence. We can only hope we did our jobs as moms early on and that they eventually realize our ideas weren’t so far from what they believe. I am glad your son is finding his way in the world. Mine, too, will get there. He just needs a few more years to work things out. Patience and love is all we can give.
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