The Trouble With Letting Go

After 30+ years of being an overprotective mother, the empty nest is like looking into the abyss

Patti and Katie

When my husband John and I got married more than 30 years ago, we had a long talk about what our roles would be. For lots of reasons, we both agreed that we didn't want anyone else taking care of our children. I would stay at home and watch over our kids and he would go to work and support our growing family. We were right out of "The Flintstones." I jokingly called myself a "Home Executive" whenever anyone asked what I did for a living because it sounded so much better than a stay at home mom.

It's really what I always wished for. My mother was never there when we were growing up and consequently, my childhood became something of a nightmare (another long story for another day). I always knew that I was going to watch my children like a hawk, to make sure that they would never be in any of the frightening situations I found myself in.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise when I tell you that I went overboard protecting them. They never had a babysitter. I wouldn't allow it. And full disclosure: I would secretly follow them when they went out alone. I did it a lot.

I remember the first time Nikki, who is my oldest daughter and was a teenager at the time, brought a boy to our house. He was going to take her to an all-night party. When Nikki made the introductions, I grabbed the boy by his T-shirt, put him up against the wall and told him, "If you don't bring my daughter back exactly as she is now ... I'll kill you!" Then I smiled and told him I was just kidding. Nikki was mortified, but she knew I was dead serious. That boy never came back to our house again.

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That was a very long time ago. Our three children are all out of the house today. Nikki lives up north in California with her husband Steven. My son, Ryan, has his own place in Scottsdale, Arizona, where we live and my baby, Katie just moved into a new apartment in Laguna Beach, where she's beginning her second year at art school.

In fact, we were just visiting Katie a few weeks ago when she needed to sign the lease. The rental agent asked if she wanted a 9 or 12 month lease and she quickly replied 12 because she's going to stay there once school is over. Then Katie informed me that she doesn't plan on coming back home after college. At all.

On top of that, my son recently told us that he really wants to live and work in Hong Kong for the next two years. He prefaced the news by saying how great it would be for his business and networking, and then added this other fun bit of reasoning – he mainly wants to go to get away from me! This is coming from a kid who, although he has his own apartment a few minutes away, practically lives in our house.

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The icing on my family cake was when I heard from Nikki. The last time we had spoken, she was saying how happy she was at her new job and how everything was going great. That apparently had changed and she said that she's been looking for something new. I asked her if she'd consider moving back to Arizona and she just laughed.

Now I know a lot of parents would be incredibly relieved that their children have finally flown the coop, but I have to admit that it hurts me to hear that none of my kids want to be all that near to us. And that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that each one of them, over the past year or so, has said that they don't think they ever want to have children of their own.

Is it because I was too overprotective? Did I smother them too much? Who knows? And who knows if they'll change their minds in the future.

Retired Home Executive, Empty Nester or whatever you want to call me, I never saw any of this coming and never expected to be in the position that I'm in. I've always gotten so much pleasure in caring for others. It's so easy when it's for someone else, yet it seems impossible when it's for me.

Tags: Parenting