The Strangeness of the Emptying Nest


Like every morning, I stand in my bathroom to brush my teeth and glance at the three photos I’ve deliberately placed there as reminders of my journey. There’s a photo from my first date with my husband in 1990 and a picture of our wedding day in 1995. But, it’s the biggest photo in the center that continually stumps me.


It feels like a matter of months since I first met Chris, a few weeks since we promised forever, and just days since those three faces in the biggest picture were each placed in my arms. Try as I can, I cannot find the words to adequately express how motherhood goes by in a blink, with its long days and short years.

As I look in the image reflected back at me, I wonder who the stranger is in the mirror. I lean in, looking at the gray hairs signaling my need for a hair appointment and then glimpse at the lines marking my forehead from my tendency to frown too often when I’m deep in thought.

Motherhood goes by fast. That’s the reality I find hard to reconcile as I look at the faces of my children in that photo and consider myself in my reflection. I dreamed of motherhood since I was a girl, and I was thrilled when my hopes began to bloom and my belly began to grow. I took the classes, read the books, enjoyed the baby showers, and soaked in all the resources offered to prepare me to become a mother.

But what now? Where are the classes, the rituals, and the books to help me reconcile a season of motherhood where my children now move from being an understudy of adulthood to taking center stage? It’s curious how it all seemed to happen so suddenly — from the days of wondering if I would ever go to the restroom without little fingers pressed under the door and little voices calling for me, to today when I wonder if my children will pause in their busy teenage lives to spend a little bit of time with mom. 

I look up at their adult stature and their grown faces and I can’t shake the images of their plumb cheeks and toddler bellies. I trip over their size 11 shoes and remember the little sneakers, tiny sandals, and baby socks that used to litter the same floor. When they share their well-formed thoughts and opinions, I hear the echo of the nearly constant toddler chatter asking me a million simple questions. As I now sit in the passenger seat, listening to the music of their choosing, I remember the endless days of buckling them in, when they also requested their music, except it was a much different soundtrack back then. I think about the prolonged bedtimes when I couldn’t wait to lay my own head on my pillow, and I smirk at how they now come to my bedside to say goodnight, if I’m still awake when they go to bed.

This season of my emptying nest is a strange paradox. I’ve arrived at the “greener pastures” of self-sufficient children that my mommy friends and I used to dream about and long for. But, here, I find myself looking back with nostalgia on the season when they climbed in my lap, held my hand tightly, and I was privy to every detail of their day. Wasn’t I just the pregnant mom of two rowdy boys who was told by a well-meaning stranger to enjoy these days? Now, I startle at the realization that I’ve become that well-meaning stranger, biting back the same admonishment because I remember how empty those words felt at the time.

But it’s true that time flies. We can waste these days of motherhood straining forward to when we think it will get easier, or we can be intentional to remind ourselves that every season has challenges and joys. We can miss the joy in every day, dreaming of a “someday,”or we can choose with great intentionality to be present in the here and now.

woman sitting in grass gazing at sunsetI can despise this emptying nest and this unchartered territory, spoken about only in hushed whispers, or I can stake my claim in this season to relish all the moments that led to this and every tiny win I experience here.

I’ve decided to choose the latter.

Therein lies the perpetual debate that defines our contentment as mothers.

Will we despise where we are, missing the joy along with the hardships, because our minds are too distracted looking back or dreaming forward? Or, can we look in the mirror each morning and choose to be present no matter how the day unfolds? Can we treasure it all in our hearts, every step of the way?

As I enter this second act of mothering, and my kids begin to star in their own lives, making me their audience, I am learning that there is so much to applaud. I’ll forever be their biggest fans, and I don’t want to miss a second of the show.

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Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). Their kids include Collin (1999) and his wife Elizabeth (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004). Heather is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather is also a TBRI® Practitioner. Heather has authored and published multiple books and she finds joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.


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