I mommed hard. I gave it everything I had. I have two daughters and I absolutely love being their mom. When they were in school, I spent countless hours at volleyball matches. I decorated locker rooms, sewed costumes, baked birthday cakes, hosted sleep overs, chauffered my girls all over the country, sat through band concerts, and went to countless parent/teacher conferences. We did shopping trips to Dallas and vacations to the beach.
I spent time with them, prayed for them and hoped they would grow into decent adults (They did. Yay!) I looked forward, albeit with a bit of dread, to the days when life would settle down. Momming was hard, but I loved it. It defined me.
Then life did settle down. “Mom” wasn’t my number one title. I was no longer the chauffeur. They order what they want online. We have a constant rotation of Free People and Anthropologie packages arriving on our doorstep. They don’t need me to take them shopping anymore. The volleyball seasons were done, ending with a state championship (go Bulldogs!). We had celebrated all the proms and homecomings. I had hosted family for graduations. All the crazy Mom years were done. Whew! But now that I wasn’t Momming so hard anymore, who the heck was I?
I was a 40 something woman who had no self identity. And when I got really real with myself, I wasn’t happy with what little of me did exsist. I was overweight. I had a good job as a retail manager, but with crazy hours, and I had no close friends.
I had allowed all the mom tasks to give me satisfaction. I had attached my self worth to who my girls were. “Look at how good of a mom I am.” Cakes, parties, proms, state champs! Honor grads! Picture perfect daughters! I am a success! But, it wasn’t me. It was them. They were the ones who had been successful. Yes, guided by us as parents, but I had allowed their good works to define me.
The “about me” sections of social media all started with being a pastor’s wife and being a mom to my girls. The only “me” I knew was defined by my relationships with my husband and kids. There was no actual me to speak of. I had ignored my health. I was overweight. My only social life was via my kids. Hanging out with other volleyball moms during matches and tournaments. I loved those women, but without a volleyball schedule to tell us where to be when, we rarely saw each other.
Surely I am not the only one to end up in this situation. As moms we have trained ourselves to put everyone and everything else first. Then suddenly we find ourselves with the time and ability to do what we want, and we don’t have a clue what that even is.
Something had to change. I am definitely a work in progress. I wouldn’t say I have it all figured out on how to navigate the journey from Mom to Empty Nester, but I want to share some of the steps I have taken to becoming content with myself. I started as someone who not only didn't know who I was, I didn't even know who I wanted to be. I am a few years into this, and I am still plugging away as I search for those answers.
First on my agenda was to lose the weight. As many of you know, I was on the TV show Extreme Weight Loss. Losing weight was crucial for me to becoming happy with myself. My weight and health were out of control. Late nights at volleyball matches and work had become an excuse to eat out all the time and our bodies paid for it. Once we had the time to commit to it, my husband, Scott, and I both worked hard to get healthy and in doing so, found a new shared passion for fitness. Not everyone needs to transform so dramatically, but as we grow older, our health should become a priority. We have no more excuses for not getting up and getting moving a few days a week. And for women, adding weight bearing exercises is vital to maintaining bone density as we age. Don’t be afraid to grab some dumbbells or a kettlebell on a regular basis. Your bones and doctor will thank you for it.
Secondly, I have made a concerted effort to establish friendships. No more surface hang outs with other moms because we’re stuck in a gym together. A couple of the volleyball moms and I meet for lunch occasionally. We have each married off daughters and have supported each other through those times. More recently, I just plain old reached out to women who I felt like I could be friends with and who I wanted to spend time with. I bluntly said “I need some friends”. It was that simple.
I have talked to so many women who are in the same boat. Not having true friendships seems to be a universal theme with women my age. I have always enjoyed spending most of my down time with my husband. I’ve never been one to want to do a big girls trip or need to chit chat daily. But, I would like a few great women to laugh with over breakfast. Women who are in the same stage of life as me. Women who I know I can trust if I need to reach out and share a hurt or need. Women I can trust to pray for me and not judge me when I share my true self with them. I am slowly but surely building my little tribe. It didn’t happen on it’s own. I had to get vulnerable with others and say I needed them. Don’t be afraid to revert to that inner first grader who asks a friend to “play”. But rather than playing barbies or tag, our grown up play is brunch and a brisk walk.
Third- Find a hobby. Something. Anything. Don’t let the tv become your weekend and nightly go-to. And please don’t sit in the same room as your spouse while you both stare at your phones. My husband and I have found that if we don’t purposely avoid the tv, we will automatically plop down and channel surf at night. There are definitely nights we watch tv, but we do make an effort to not let it become all we do. Since our girls moved out, we have repainted almost the entire house. We have converted a bedroom into his man cave and the office has become the pretty feminine space I have always wanted.
Fitness has also become a healthy habit that drives our time together. We get up early to work out. We hike together. We recently rented bikes in Chicago and did a long bike ride by Lake Michigan. We’ve biked the Golden Gage Bridge. We have hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park. We canoed in Canada. Our vacations used to involve sitting like a beached whale in the sand. We now look for ways to stay active and healthy. It feels good to be healthier at 48 than I was in my 30’s.
Find an activity that makes you happy. Take a ballroom dancing class. Learn to paint. Run a marathon. Whatever it is, don’t just sit on the couch thinking about awesome things you could do. Do them!
Lastly, get your eyes off yourself. I was so consumed with judging myself, I didn't have room to focus on others. I had a raging negative inner dialogue that left me depleted of the energy and ability to get out of my comfort zone. I was paralyzed with fear of failure, all because of how I looked. That fear did not allow me to do anything outside of my bubble which was completely selfish. Getting my eyes off myself allowed me to serve others.
I host a Healthy Living small group through my church. I love helping women focus on their health and delve into seeing ourselves with the value that God places on us. We recently volunteered at a organization that helps the homeless in Tulsa. I volunteer at my church. Whatever you are passionate about, find a way to serve in that area. Be a Big Brother or Sister. Foster a child. Volunteer at a nursing home. Get your eyes off yourself and get out in your community. No one cares what you look like, what kind of car you drive or how much you weigh. Serving others brings a satisfaction like nothing else I know. Turn your eyes and heart outward and your self worth will sky rocket. You’ll no longer be worried about all the trivial things that seemed so important before.
This is in no way a comprehensive list of what I’ve done to move forward. But these are the big steps that allowed me to gain ground and figure out who I am and who I want to be going forward.
I’m still a mom. I'll always be a Mom. It’s just different now. I don’t have to mom so hard. We try to have dinner with the girls once a week. We text. I run into my daughters at church. They are fantastic young women who are much more self assured and have it much more together than I did at their age. All that Momming worked. Those crazy years were worth it. I loved focusing on my daughters. But these calm, quiet years are shaping up to be pretty amazing too.
Here's to all the Moms knee deep in the hard Mom years. You always hear how quickly it will go by. And it does. Some days it feels like you'll never get five seconds to yourself, or that your house will never be clean and the laundry never done. Then one day, before you can imagine, you'll find yourself on the other side of the Mom game. The diapers will all be changed. You will have survived potty training, puberty, broken hearts, and the middle school mean girls. Occasionally you'll miss the chaos...then you'll realize you're watching what you want on tv, your house is clean, the laundry is done. You are healthy. You are happy. You'll breathe a big sigh of relief for having Mommed so hard and you'll feel the satisfaction of a job well done.