Mother lessons from an empty nest

Motherhood Lessons from an Empty Nest

This Friday the thirteenth, 2021, is sure to bring me good luck. My son, Matthew–the north star of my memoir--turns 35. I hadn’t planned this in advance, but it’s appropriate that I chose this week to formally pivot my writing from its focus on people-pleasing to a focus on motherhood. In my memoir, the two themes are tightly interwoven, but the latter finally asserted itself, saying, “I have the more important lessons to convey.”

Just as becoming a mother opens up a whole new world, writing in the motherhood space is a whole new game.

I’m trying to discover where my writing fits. I don’t think of my book as a “mom-oir”– a memoir written by a mom about being a mom. I’m beyond the years of diapers and daycare, teens and backtalk. I have no grandchildren to write about. My default position is “empty nester,” although my younger son flew the coop almost ten years ago.

I doubt anyone thinks motherhood ends when your child reaches adulthood. In fact, I believe, as do most people, that once a mother, always a mother, even if your children die before you.

But empty-nest parenting is certainly less of a time and energy drain for most folks than when their children were constantly underfoot or slouched over the kitchen table needing help with algebra homework. Freedom from the day-to-day mom or dad duties opens up space for perspective that we just can’t see when the nest is full.

One thing I see clearly from my current vantage point: motherhood has been my greatest teacher.

Motherhood has been my greatest teacher.

One of the first motherhood lessons I learned was humility–that my children and I were not perfect as I thought I could make us.

Perhaps young mothers walking out the door today to their jobs, or young fathers with spit-up cloths over their shoulders will benefit from my 20/20 hindsight. Maybe the parent of a child who challenges expectations of what it means to be “Mom” or “Dad” will learn from my mistakes.

I only recently discovered the writing of prolific author Anne Lamott. Her memoir “Operating Instructions,” about her first year as a 35-year-old single mom of her son, Sam, was a book I could have used 35 years ago.

It’s written like a journal. One entry, when Sam is about three months old reads:

“It has been a terrible day. I’m afraid I’m going to have to let him go. He’s an awful baby. I hate him. He’s scum.”

And, later in the same day: “I’m not even well enough to be a mother. That’s what the problem is. Also, I don’t think I like babies.”

Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions.

If you’re a parent, I bet you can relate. I can. As readers, we know Lamott doesn’t really hate her child. (Of course, it helps that she writes humorously.) We understand her frustration.

Yet, when my sons were little and I had similar thoughts, I hung my head in shame. “What kind of mom thinks those things?” I asked myself. “A horrible one” was my conclusion, even though it wasn’t true.

Reading about mothers’ guilt is tiresome, according to a variety of editors and writers who have read my work. So I tread lightly, even though guilt and motherhood seem to occupy the same seat on the same train from conception to death. In fact, I came across this lovely poem about how guilt was “Smuggled in the diaper bag” of a newborn going home for the first time.

My memoir is not a guilt trip. It’s a reckoning with the truth, holding myself accountable for my weaknesses, recognizing strengths I didn’t know I had. And there’s another lesson I can see from my empty nest: I am stronger than I thought.

Motherhood taught me that I am stronger than I thought. Click To Tweet

Life is about growth. I’ve always valued figuring out what makes me tick, but I’m a slow learner sometimes, so the universe (or God, or a higher power) has no choice but to thwack me on the head with a spiritual 2X4 to make me pay attention. My biggest thwack was my son’s brain tumor. In my memoir, I share that truth.

Don’t hold me to this, but my new working title is:

GROWTH: A Mother, her Son, and the Brain Tumor they Survived.

It’s the story of my young son’s deterioration and lengthy recovery from an undiagnosed brain tumor. The ordeal challenged what I had expected of motherhood, forced me to find my voice, and pushed me to the limit of my endurance.

My memoir asks the question: What happens when you’ve accepted the most important job in the world, and discover you’re not up to snuff?

Motherhood lessons abound.

Motherhood lessons overflow the pages, and I’m still learning. Every day is a whole new world; every day has important things to tell me. And, as soon as I learn them, I’ll share them with you.

Author

  • An emerging writer in upstate, NY, Karen DeBonis tells her story on her website, in publications like the NY Times, (a Tiny Love Story), in her “Become Emboldened” projects, and elsewhere. "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" is Karen’s transformational memoir about the clash between her naive expectations of motherhood and her son's needs, which destroys her confidence and threatened her stability (Available for representation.)

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