As the chalk dust settles on another year, a new cohort of parents are feeling that inexplicable combo of jubilation, relief and pride, mixed with sadness and nostalgia that seems to accompany every parenting milestone since time began.
I am a strong believer that one of the most important jobs of any parent is to gradually make oneself redundant, and if the enthusiasm of my own kids to spread their respective wings and fly the familial coop is anything to go by, then I have totally nailed my KPI’s. They are both (more or less) well-adjusted, independent young adults who are ready to take on the world. On one hand, I am pretty proud of the job I have done and I am excited for what their respective futures hold. But on the other, I am a hot, nostalgic mess. Apparently I did an awesome job of preparing them for my redundancy, but in the process I neglected to prepare myself.
My mothering venn diagram has gradually moved from three circles that were almost completely overlayed on top of each other, to three circles that now barely overlap. The kids circles now revolve in their own galaxies and I am just one (fairly dim) star in their orbit. I need to let go of my role as their protector and provider and embrace my new role. As a gorgeous friend of mine so eloquently puts it; I am moving from “guardian to guide.”
My identity still feels inextricably linked to my role as a mum. That is the box I have ticked on every form asking for my occupation for the last twenty years. What box do I tick now? This new phase still feels unfamiliar and I feel … well, just a bit sentimental and sad. I know it’s irrational and I know this is the natural order of things, but part of me is still pining for what was (and another part is revelling in the freedom to sleep in and never pack another lunchbox again). Truth be told, I am a hot, hormonal mess who bursts into tears every time I glance at a photo in the hallway of the kids in all their pigtail and chubby cheek splendour. I reminisce about inhaling their intoxicating baby smells and that primal mama bear feeling of fierce protectiveness that overwhelmed me when those little innocent hands were curled tightly inside mine. Don’t get me wrong…. I would rather stick pins in my eyes than go back and do it all over again, but I would also give anything to just press rewind and feel those chubby little hands one more time.
My fridge door also acts as a constant reminder of changing times. It is no longer camouflaged behind a sea of finger paintings, magnetic letters, school awards or complicated spread sheets outlining extra curricular activities. Now it displays an orderly array of business cards (mainly doctors with a few accountants and handymen thrown in for good measure) and a selection of photos secured by witty magnets about aging or who to call in the event of an emergency. I am also freaking out because I have literally turned into one of those annoying old people who dishes out unsolicited advice to other (younger) mums like; “make the most of the time you have while they’re little … it goes by I the blink of an eye.” Dear lord … please make this stop. I am not that person.
And there it was … the wake up call I so desperately needed. I am on a mission to find a new ‘box’ to tick and I can’t use my golden gap adventure or my (temporary) homelessness as an excuse to put it off any longer. While a part of me is still pining for the familiarity and security that has warmed my world for the past twenty years, another part of me feels liberated and excited by the infinite possibilities of all the ‘unknowns’ that lie ahead. I’m finally good to guide.