We have recently entered the tween phase in our house. At this very moment, as I write this, my oldest son is biking with his friends and my daughter is at a birthday party. My youngest is in the basement playing with his drone. I have not been interrupted for hours. So, you could say parenting has become easier in some ways, but it has become harder in others.
We all know there are many stages of motherhood, but there is one thing about this new tween stage I was not expecting. While it is wonderful to not be needed all the time, honestly, it feels a little lonely.
Once your kids are no longer absolutely dependent on you for everything and are at last able to make themselves a sandwich and head out the door alone, that is exactly what they do. Their independence keeps blossoming, which is beautiful and exactly what is supposed to happen.
Suddenly you aren’t just checking their backpacks for stale crackers and missing permission slips, you are checking the history on their cell phones. This is when you finally understand that awful cliché that you’ve been fighting off and rolling your eyes at for your kids’ entire childhoods: The days are long but the years are short.
You start to feel something different. Something that you expected to feel like relief but really feels more like a void. There is this whole other part of parenting that is not discussed nearly as much as pregnancy, those first nights, or those first years.
How do we find ourselves again after our kids become more independent? Nobody tells us. Advice during the tween parenting period does not float from people’s mouths like it does during the post-birth and toddler stages. Maybe because nobody is really sure how to manage these years.
We get to know the mother in us so well, it is easy to forget the other parts of who we are. When I first started to feel this void, I thought the answer was to have another baby, but I realized I felt that way because it is was what I had known for so long. “To fill a void,” for me, could not be a reason to have another child. There are other parts of myself I want to explore, and that is OK. It took me a while to be comfortable admitting that, though.
These are some things that helped me to fill the unexpected void left by kids’ newfound independence:
Letting Go of the Guilt
When the kids are at a friend’s house for the night or playing outside with the neighbors for hours on end without me, I enjoy the quiet, but at first there was guilt associated with it. It was like I felt guilty for enjoying it so much. We get so used to the exhausted, crazy, energy-sucking days that after a while it is what feels normal to us. How dare I enjoy myself for a few hours? Wasn’t there something else I should be doing besides watching HGTV or reading? I used to dream of these days, having my kids close by, knowing they were safe yet being able to catch my breath. I was a bit anxious at first, but slowly the guilt started to fade away.
Giving Myself Time
Last fall, I was lying in bed talking to my husband about what a hard time I was having. I kept telling him I just didn’t know how to parent this way. All of the sudden, my kids seemed so much older. They were struggling with friendships; there was talk of boyfriends and girlfriends. They no longer wanted to hang out with me all the time. It seemed so foreign to me because, well, it was foreign. How do I teach them right from wrong in these situations, especially if I am not always there to guide them? I had to give myself time to settle in and time to make mistakes. I am sure once I get the hang of this phase, it will change again, but that is fine, such is life.
Feeding My Soul
Women need to nurture their souls. For some of us, that means having alone time to daydream, read, or meditate. We might want to spend more time with friends, take just one of our kids out for a special date, or volunteer for our community. Now that our kids are a bit older, there is a little more time to sneak away because we aren’t worried about them getting into the spice drawer and tossing our spices around the kitchen like confetti. We can actually go into our room, close the door, and take a few minutes, or make a phone call without something horrible happening. It felt strange to me at first, having this time to do as I pleased. It didn’t feel as glorious as I thought it would though, not at first anyway.
Starting New Hobbies
I am doing things now I never had the courage to do in my 20s before I had kids. After all, how can I teach my kids this lesson to try things even if they are hard if I am not willing to do the same for myself? I always used to admire those crazy people who would run all the time. Over the last few years, I have become one of those crazies. It’s been hard, and I haven’t always loved it, but learning to run was something I wanted to do for myself, so I did. My kids come to all of my races and cheer me on. I like that they see me doing something that brings me so much joy. It has helped me with that feeling of nostalgia I get whenever I miss the days when my kids were younger. I guess you could say it has helped fill that void in some way.
There will come a day when my children will be on their own. They won’t be swooping through the kitchen to get a snack. They won’t need me to check their homework or drive them to basketball practice. I will always be here for them, I will always be their mother, and they will always be my biggest priority, but as they continue to gain independence it will leave an open space in my heart—one that will be filled with enjoying them and myself in different ways. It just may take some time to get used to it, and that is just fine.