I’ve Been A SAHM For 18 Years, Here’s My New Plan Now

by Melanie Gangolf
A stay-at-home mother posing with a coffee cup in her kitchen
Richard Drury/Getty

Being a stay-at-home mom is one of my most prized possessions. For the past 18 years, my main “job” has been to take care of my children. I was able to be there for my kids every step of the way, and I mean every step of the way. From their actual first steps, to temper tantrums, to cleaning up puke at 3:00 in the morning, honey, I was there. It is not a glamorous occupation, no high heels or mascara needed, and I am blessed to have had it. But now that my kids are all in high school and they don’t really need me on a day to day basis, what do I do now?

This was the thought that woke me up in a cold sweat after registering all three of my teenagers for high school. And as I tossed and turned myself back to sleep, I realized, I did not have a plan. My youngest is 14, my oldest 17, and if I did my math right (which is tenuous), I have about 4 years until I am a full-blown empty nester.

This is the downside to being a stay-at-home mom for about a third of my life with no clear cut exit strategy. It seemed I was doomed to be one of “those” empty nesters. You know the type: the woman who visits her kids way too much at the university, wears cat sweaters and polyester pants and spends way too much time decorating the extra bedroom. I imagined my golden years much differently from the reality I had created. I imagined exploring the Galapagos Islands in a trendy romper, or teaching Anthropology at some little University in Belgium or being on a world tour promoting my newest novel. Yes, this is how I imagined my empty nester years.

I had a huge problem, though: reality was sinking in fast and I had to admit, I had not prepared for any of these things. To be honest, I really had not prepared at all. I never even perceived the time would come where my day-to-day motherhood would ever end. Any parent of a toddler or a high schooler, for that matter, would agree with me here — it seems like it will never end. The days filled with screaming children running around your house; the days filled with driving kids from one activity to another; the days filled with laughter and activity created by having a house full of children, seemed, in my delusional mom mind, to be endless. Once I faced the reality that it most definitely will end, I was filled with a host of emotions.

First, I was happy. I did a great job raising my 3 kids and now it is time for me. Second, I was scared. What the hell am I going to do with myself? Third, I was terrified. My subconscious mind pushed the panic button. My brain slapped me on the back and yelled, “Hey you! Yeah, you — in the World’s Greatest Mom pajamas who is 40 lbs overweight with a list of things to do hanging on the refrigerator — you are in trouble!”

I would like to say I got up the next morning and started on my novel, signed up for Anthropology at the local college and joined a travel club, but I did not. I began, well, nothing. Denial can be a beautiful place and I packed my bags and spent some time there. I went on with my life as though nothing would ever change. I did not think about the fact that in four short years I would be obsolete, a has-been mom, making heart shaped pancakes on Sunday morning for nobody but me. I didn’t think about my good-for-nothing children who would be leaving me soon to live out their dreams in exotic destinations while I was left to shrivel up and die. I swear, I didn’t think about that at all.

The panic button had been pushed though and could not be reset and I literally had to stop the martyring and really look at the road ahead of me. I had to look at the truth. And the truth was, I was 50-year-old women who needed to make some changes, make some goals, and get busy. I decided that Shady Acres Retirement Home would have to wait.

I sat down with a pint of ice cream and a half-eaten tube of chocolate chip cookie dough and went to work. I made my Anti-Empty-Nester Plan. I had four years to reinvent myself and first up on my list was to finish what I had started when I was 20 years old and that was my education. To receive my MBA and CPA had been my destination before I was side tracked with poopy diapers, cable bills and Chuck-E-Cheese.

I applied and was accepted at Governor State University, and I was on my way. I did have doubts though. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Could I actually do it? Did I actually have enough brain cells still snapping to do actual math? Could I survive going back to college?

The answer is a resounding yes! I just finished my first semester of college after 18 years and I not only finished, but I nailed it, I rocked it, I kicked college’s ass. I received straight A’s and I am going back for more. I also lost 10 lbs, went roller skating, and bought a super cool pair of boots. And this is just the beginning. I might get to the Galapagos Islands yet.