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What Does a Stay-at-Home Mom Do When Her Kids Grow Up?

(My goofballs…I sort of like them.)

Our oldest child left home yesterday.

Yes, we’ve said goodbye to him for college (which was hard) and then Air Force basic training shortly after he was married to our wonderful daughter-in law last summer. He really hasn’t been home home for a long time.

But this has an air of finality that we’ve never felt before. We’re done with actively parenting this son. Truth be told, we’ve honestly been done for some time now and are quite through with our other college-aged son, too, as well as our daughter about to graduate. Trust me, I know we’re not the first parents to feel this, and we have a lot more of it coming in the next few years, with our youngest being 15.

And I thought I was prepared.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the feeling that my heart was being stepped on. That I would feel like I was looking at this battered thing, my heart, as if it were outside my body. (and if this sounds silly or emotional to you, you’re probably not a parent, so feel free to skip on past this entry!).

Last night found me on the couch in yoga pants with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, looking for a BBC show to lose myself in. (By which I mean Cranford…and the appearance of every British actor I’ve ever known from Downtown Abbey to Wives and Daughters to Lark Rise to Candleford completely blew my mind. Is that you, Carson?)

But I digress…and I’m not here to wallow (I’ll do that privately!).

This all got me to thinking: many of my peers–myself included–have poured our lives into staying home and raising our children. Some of us have been stay-at-home moms for decades. Lots of us also chose to homeschool our kids. We believe it was worthwhile and viewed it as an absolute blessing to be the ones with our children each day. Many of us left lucrative careers to do so. I feel very lucky in that I’ve had a work-from-home job as a writer and editor for the past few years. I have something to step into for that next phase of life that looms before me.

But in the wise words of Steve Lambert of Five in a Row, “If the empty nest is formidable for a stay-at-home mom, it’s like a freight train bearing down on a homeschooling mother.”  Because suddenly, your identity as teacher/counselor/mom is simply over once your last child leaves.

I am not there quite yet, but it’s coming, and I think it’s wise to prepare for what you know is inevitable. The children will grow up and leave (well, they should!). They will forge lives of their own. This is what we want!

I’ve written about this before, but here are a few thoughts for stay-at-home moms facing down the empty nest:

Enjoy the small moments. 

I remember when we brought our first child home from the hospital. We had a tape (that’s how long ago it was!) that we played while rocking the baby, called Sleep Sound in Jesus, by Michael Card. One song always made me cry, and I would hold my new baby and kiss his soft little cheeks and know that time was fleeting. I was 22 years old and I knew.

For all you are and all you’ll be,
For everything you mean to me,
Though I don’t understand, I know you’re from the Father’s hand.

I’m not saying I was a perfect mom (my kids will confirm this!), but there was always a part of me aware of how quickly time would pass. And was passing.

Treasure the moments with your littles. You won’t regret it.

Cultivate your interests, too.

Many stay-at-home moms have a sense of “losing themselves,” especially with the demands of military life. This is necessary in some ways because parenthood calls for a great amount of unselfishness, but unhealthy in others. How can you tell if this is happening to you?

  • Are you the one taking all the photos, but appearing in none of them?

  • Do you feel guilty if you’re away from your kids doing something wholly unexciting like running to the grocery store, even if they’re with the other parent?

  • When was the last time you bought yourself something? You, yourself. Not something for the kitchen or homeschooling or the house. YOU.

Aside from that, what are your interests? Is it something as simple as reading a library book? Learning to decorate cakes? Do you have a desire to start your own business? For me, it was writing. Give yourself permission to do that thing. It’s not only healthy for you, it’s healthy for your kids to see you look after yourself.

My whole identity cannot be in motherhood. 

This seems to fly in the face of everything we’re devoted to as moms at home. For women of faith, it sounds almost sacrilegious. But hear me out.

Motherhood may be–and probably is– the most important thing I will ever do with my life. I know this. The effects are eternal.


Am I only to be defined by what I do? That is shaky ground, indeed. Life changes at lightning-quick speed. What is the defining part of my life–is it whether or not I’m married or have children? (and what does this mean for women who are single or who don’t have children?) I could not imagine, when I had a nursing baby and 3 little ones, that my life wouldn’t always look like that. I couldn’t imagine a day when I could let my kids out of my sight, or when they wouldn’t need me to wipe their faces or calm their fears or take on the neighborhood bully. But kids have a way of growing up.

For me, as a Christian, I need to be reminded of my identity, my core.  I love my husband, I love my children, but at my core, I am a child of God. In the wise words of Carol Barnier:

If you’ve never had your life shaken, count your blessings. But for most of us in this world, bad things happen. Jobs are lost. Children are hurt. Spouses die. Spouses leave. Car accidents happen. Families grow apart. People dear to us become estranged… So after I took all these things away, I looked in my heart, I looked at my core, and way off in the back, sitting in the shadows, waiting quietly with a patient smile on His face, sat Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. He met me right where I was…not where I should have been.

Carol Barnier, Engaging Today’s Prodigal (Moody Publishers, 2012)

If you’re a stay-at-home mom facing an empty nest, what are you doing to prepare?

photo courtesy Rhema Jaime


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6 Responses

  1. I am in the beginning stage of motherhood right now and already feel heartbroken when I think of them leaving. These are such wonderful words of wisdom though, thanks for sharing!!

  2. Blogging and writing, trying to find my way while allowing my youngest to find his. Trying not to step on his toes but hoping that he realizes that I still need him sometimes. After all, he is only 15. It is incredible to me that I am still trying to figure out who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life after all these years. No one ever tells you that becoming an adult is a never-ending process.

    1. It’s a balancing act! A friend said to me, “I don’t know what I want to be!” It’s kind of fun finding out. 🙂

  3. You and I have been walking a similar path since I started watching your blog during my husband’s deployment in 06-07. I’m sitting here bawling. Often your stories could be mine, minus the getting to move to cool places (the Army National Guard sort of wants you to stick around)! My oldest married and moved out in 2011. The next year my next oldest son moved in with a friend who was left alone in his house when his Dad died. My next son is getting married in August, but is moving out this week, and my wee little Anna graduated in June and will turn 18 this year. I’m thankful she’s chosen some adventures this year, and has put off college until next year; it sort of softens the blow.An Amazon book order arrived yesterday, and sitting on my desk I have: You Can Be the Happy Mom of an Empty Nest, by Darien Cooper, The Power of Knowing God, by Kay Arthur, Packing Light, thoughts on living life with less baggage, by Allison Vesterfelt, Becoming a Woman of Strength, by Cynthia Heald, and Living Like you Belong to God, by Kay Arthur. Arriving any day from ebay is: You Never Stop Being a Parent: Thriving in Relationship With Your Adult Children, by Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jim Newheiser. I’m clearly looking to understand the now, and at the same time, find the next thing. I KNOW it has to do with digging into that far dark corner to find Jesus waiting for me to rest in Him.
    I’ve always stayed busy and knew that I shouldn’t get all wrapped up in my identity as a Mom. I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I’d find myself curled up under the covers binge watching reality tv and bbc dramas. Alas, despite that knowledge, that is where I am. I have many gifts and interests, and I can do anything I set my mind to, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional connection that I can only attribute to being the homeschool at home mom. We’ve paved new territory. Thank you, Jen for opening the dialog and being real.

    1. So timely that you commented on this today of all days as I watched our second son take his last load as he moved to his new place. It is darned hard, while also so gratifying, to see them set out on their own. I love the list of books. I’m not sure that this is going to look anything but messy as we forge into this newest territory, but my thoughts are certainly with you. Lots of tears here the past few days. Hang in there. Praying for you as you embrace this next season of life!

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Hi, I'm Jen!

As a military spouse of three decades and now the mom of an active duty son, my hope is to support you in your own military life. You’ll find help for your military marriage, deployments, PCS moves, and more!

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