Did your kids grow up? Leave the nest? How did you cope and thrive? How did you let go?
My oldest daughter turned eighteen this past weekend. Adult(ish). To say that I’m a jumble of emotions would be the understatement of the year. She was a HARD baby. Colicky, she screamed from 3 pm to 9 pm, give or take, every day.
She NEVER slept. She was impossible to put to sleep and then up seven times a night her first year. She took one brief fifteen-minute nap every day, only outdoors in motion, while sucking my pinky.
I was exhausted. And completely overwhelmed with first-time motherhood.
I had her at thirty-one, after I had already savored the joys and freedom that come with a high-powered career, financial independence and non-stop international travel. Not to mention, getting to sleep as long as I want on the weekends.
During her first year, as the winter days brought less and less light, I would find myself pacing with her, back and forth, for hours trying to soothe her so she would stop crying. I was usually also in tears by the time my husband came home from work and found me, still in my pajamas at 6:30 pm.
I distinctly remember imagining a calendar and crossing off, with a big black X, each day that passed. I was counting down the days until she would turn eighteen. As a first-time mom, I imagined that it would take that long before I would get any sleep.
I also remember thinking that I would be fifty by the time she turned eighteen. That seemed so far into the future.
It’s hard to admit that I often wondered back then why I screwed up a perfectly good life to have a baby. “Perhaps I’m not cut out for this mothering thing,” I told myself in desperation. Everybody else’s babies seemed to sleep through the night and take long naps just fine.
I remember calling her “honey, sweet pea, love” – any term of endearment I could think of – to remind myself that this was my beloved baby. When she wasn’t screaming like a monster, she was really sweet and cute. I desperately wanted to hold on to that love that I had for her.
While it did take her about ten years to reliably sleep through the night, she did stop screaming every afternoon after about six months. I grew into motherhood and began enjoying the slower moments of accompanying a human being in her unfolding. I had two more daughters, even though most of my friends couldn’t believe that I was willing to have any more babies after my first one.
I became an earth mama, making homemade organic baby food and inventing games and projects.The years passed… no, they flew!!!I can’t believe my firstborn just turned eighteen. She is a smart, beautiful, caring, loving, passionate, deeply empathetic, conscientious, emotionally intelligent, adventurous, mature and responsible leader.
My heart bursts with pride and love when I think of her.
She’s fun to talk to about pretty much any global issue you can think of. She’s a great travel companion and always up for adventures with me. She cares about social justice, the environment and poverty alleviation.
I love her dearly with all of my heart and can’t even begin to imagine life without her.
She is now an adult. And I’m turning fifty this year in December! I feel young still. Not at all how I thought I would feel at fifty back when she was a baby.
I feel such pride at the young woman she has become and sadness at the thought of her leaving the nest.
She is the first but will, of course, be followed by her sisters.
I know mothering is about giving them stable roots to know where they come from and wings so they can fly.
But when kids grow up and leave the nest, why then is it so painful to let them go?
I take it a sign of the close connection we have built, the way our hearts are united.
I sit in all of the emotions – joy, pride, love, sadness, grief – and allow myself to feel them all. Knowing that this is all part of being a consciousness seeking mother and woman.
So what about you? Have your kids turned 18? Left the nest? How did you cope and thrive?
Written by: Natalie Matushenko
Originally appeared on nataliematushenko.com and is republished here with permission.
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