I love being a mom more than anything. I never dreamed this would be the path for me. Once I held Elena in my arms for the very first time I never looked back.
I did try to return to my adult norms right after becoming a mom. I went back to work after my maternity leave ended. I pulled out my pumps and dress clothes. I made lunch plans with my friends and date nights with my husband. I tried to focus on career and compartmentalize my life like Working Mother magazine recommended. I was going to have it all. I would have a career I loved, a healthy, brilliant child and a marriage that others envied. I soon learned that the best-laid plans did not always come to fruition. After a few months, I was angry and exhausted.
I tried. I nursed on my lunch hours and pumped during the work day. I took naps when Elena napped so we could have awake time together. I got up early to have time with her in the morning before I went to work. I read parenting and child-development books. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I was one of the lucky ones, I was not alone in this new adventure. I had a committed partner but we had become two tired parents who were exhausted and not happy.
A great deal of planning, discussion and prayer went into our decision to become a one-income family. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself. The house was clean, laundry done, groceries purchased. Baby girl was settling into her new schedule, all was good in the Hildebrandt world. It would take some time for me to feel as happy as Ben and Elena did with the new schedule but I got there.
We added Emma to our family a few years later and then Ellie. There were hundreds of trips to the library, the zoo, the science center. I consider myself a bit of an expert on children’s books because we read so much. Heck, I was even a super reader at the library learning I had checked out more books than almost anyone else in the Des Moines library system one year. I think I was third or fourth on the list. We were busy and I loved it.
But just as you start to settle into life. Changes happen. You feed the kids and they grow and grow. One day, you are helping them into their tights for kindergarten and the next day you are kissing them goodbye as they head off to Cuba with passport in hand.
As my kids get closer and closer to high school graduation, I can’t help but feel panic rise up in me. You know the same type of panic that high school juniors and seniors feel when they realize that they need a plan for the next phase of their lives. Being a stay-at-home mom is a noble and important profession. We have a good life, and being home with my girls for many years has garnished huge benefits for all of us.
In addition to the panic I feel about being an empty nester, I feel the panic of the disruption of the identity I have for me. I am MOTHER, MOM, MA. I am consumed with the loss of the particular type of relationship I have with my children. What happens when they don’t NEED me anymore?
I have made choices that are now irrevocable: the relationships that have fallen by the wayside because there was no time to maintain, the career that never quite materialized because I chose to be at home for longer than I should have, the marriage that is good but could have been better.
Tiger mother no more. I am about to hang up my stripes and adapt to a new role in my children’s lives. New goals and plans are on the horizon. I can have it all. Just not at the same time.