Twenty-two years ago, almost to the day, I had my first son. A little over a year earlier, I moved to Berkeley, CA, from Chicago…and six months before that, I got married. Wooowheee! It was a LOT of transition for a person. From 1999 to 2000, I went from being a single psych student in Chicago to being a married mom in Berkeley. Talk about culture shock and identity crisis! It’s no wonder I struggled with some postpartum depression! But I didn’t know that at the time. I thought something was wrong with me!
I found myself completely alone with a baby in a city where I had no family and only a few friends from my internship. They were all in very different places in terms of child-rearing, and they had their own lives, so I barely saw any of them after my son was born. I did have one close friend in town, but she lived across the bridge in San Francisco, and she was also 3 months behind me pregnant with her first. The first several weeks postpartum were really tough! My mom came out for a week, and a few other family members flew in to help, but mostly I was alone. It didn’t help that my over-achieving husband at the time traveled Mon-Fri Every. Single. Week.
Needless to say, I struggled a lot…UNTIL I joined a Mom’s Group. Finally, there were people I could connect with who were going through the same thing. Let’s face it, even if you’ve had kids, you don’t really remember what the early weeks and months were like. We met every week and shared all that was going on for us: the crying, the breastfeeding, the obsession with poop. Do you remember? No one else wanted to hear about my baby’s poop, but it was a big deal to me, and these women got it!
I remember telling people that the mom’s group literally saved my life. I still believe that it’s true.
When we bring kids into the world, we go through a massive overhaul of our identity. We go from maybe being professionals or identifying with some other area of our life to suddenly becoming “someone’s MOM” literally overnight!
It’s jarring and difficult to assimilate. But we manage this with, looking back anyway, a LOT of support.
Have you noticed that ALL other phases of parenting have resources for support? When we first become a mom, we have playgroups or moms groups, we have birthing classes during pregnancy, lactation consultants, prenatal and mommy and me exercise classes, stroller strides, etc. There are countless more offerings of services available to new mamas, from night nurses to stores specializing in new baby gear. Heck, friends even bring dinner after you have a new baby! In Berkeley, we even had a pub and a special movie night just for moms with babies under the age of 1.
When our kids are young, we have SOO many ways to connect with other moms going through the same thing.
When they grew to be preschoolers, there was MOPS (Mother’s of Preschoolers), playgroups, and peewee activities. In elementary school, there was always the drop-off and pick-up where we could connect and be with other parents, not to mention all the sports and activities. There was ALWAYS something going on to provide structure and support.
Now that my son is a junior in high school, there is NOTHING for parents. It’s like society dropped us like a hot potato. It’s like we are supposed to have it all figured out by now.
We go through the same kind of identity crisis when we become empty nesters as we do when we have kids in the first place, but we’re expected to just move right through that transition without a blink. And I’m finding that it’s just as tough to “Unparent” as it was to Become a Parent.
Have you ever heard of an empty nester support group??
Maybe, but they’re certainly not common.
For the first time in our lives, society doesn’t have any prescribed plans for us. There are no more agenda items to cross off the list. We graduated, we got married, we had kids, we raised kids, and now what?? It’s weird, right?
We can talk to our mama friends and commiserate, but I feel like we need more to help us with the inner journey of parenting and ALL the transitions that face us as parents. Not to mention the transitions facing our OWN parents that are often a large preoccupation in our own lives.
It doesn’t matter what year it is, we are all moving closer to the time when our primary role is no longer “parent.” I don’t know about you, but I also had a hard time when I sent my kids to preschool, kindergarten, and every year in between. Every single year brings with it a transition to a different role as a parent. Every year allows our kids to be more independent, and we have to let go of a little bit of our level of involvement.
It seems that we as a society never really talk about what that does to our psyche. If we did start to focus on the inner journey of parenting, I think it might really help us to evolve into deeper, more fulfilled humans.
We would truly be able to parent without passing down our intergenerational trauma. As one of my taglines says, we could “pass on our wisdom, not our wounds.”
What is the greatest gift we can give our kids? Our own fulfillment!
Think about that for a minute. If we are truly thriving, it frees up our children to thrive too fully.
While society tells us to distract, to get busy, to go to the gym, to buy cool stuff, I am proposing that the real answers lie in doing the deeper healing work necessary to thrive. Building a relationship with ourselves is what is at stake here, so no matter what happens, we know how to handle it with grace.
Perhaps there are no support groups for empty nesters because it needs to be more of an inner journey anyway. Maybe if we influenced others around us at this time, it would actually keep us from truly becoming who we are meant to be.
I feel a real call to fully express who I am at this time without so much influence from the outside world. Do you? Sometimes being in a community actually creates comparison and feeds our need to be part of the group.
Maybe this midlife journey is one we are meant to take more internally. I have been feeling far less social at this time in my life. I enjoy being alone more than I ever have before, it seems. But I also don’t want to be isolated.
I feel like what is needed is a guidebook to go through this journey that allows us to more fully tap into who we are. A process of understanding ourselves more fully so that when we do return to group activities, we feel more grounded and more confident in who we are as individuals.
Having kids is when our life becomes an intense “other focus.”
Empty nesting is the opposite. It is a return to focusing on yourself.
But we need some kind of structure to guide us on this journey and let us know we are not alone. We still need support, but it’s a different kind of support that is called for.
I have been talking about putting together a program of some kind, but even that is feeling like something is out of sync.
I think it’s because everyone’s journey through this time is so individual.
I do think the best way through this journey is with individual one-on-one therapy/coaching work, but not everyone wants to make that investment.
I get it. So I have made a course that goes into detail about everything I teach people in therapy in the first 3 sessions. It’s all the knowledge that I use to help myself through these life transitions. The very information I use to do my own “deep dives.” It’s a lot of coping skills coupled with knowledge about how the brain works for greater insight into your own feelings and behaviors. It is this knowledge that has allowed me to embrace my shadow and allow myself to be more of who I am instead of beating myself up for not being like anyone else.
It’s a 4-week course that I’m going to be tweaking and then launching on the Sept New Moon. If we get enough interest, we might do a group meeting or two to share stories and help integrate the material, but maybe this journey into yourself is more meant to be done alone.
Contact me for more details.