I am newly independent, but I’m not celebrating. On Monday, my husband Bob and I joined the ranks of empty-nesters when we dropped our son Luke off at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His departure was early (6:00 a.m.) and abrupt (30 seconds to say ‘goodbye’), and the separation feels permanent. Luke is no longer ours, I’ve been told by those in the know. “He belongs to the army.” Ouch.
We are not a military family. Luke’s decision to pursue this path was his own, based on a very personal and urgent “calling.” Our older three went to (or are still attending) regular colleges with 9-month calendars, extended and frequent holidays, and summers off. Luke’s schedule will be much more restrictive.
The older three checked in with us regularly, sent us photos of their campuses, face-timed from their dorm rooms with their roommates and friends.
We get a 30-second phone call with Luke (in Army t-shirt) on July 22nd and a brief visit with him on August 18th during which, according to other W.P. parents, we will watch him sleep off weeks of exhaustion in the fancy hotel room we’ve reserved.
While his brothers’ and sister’s drop-off days were bittersweet, Luke’s felt just plain bitter.
I should have been prepared. In my long practice of helping women return to work, dozens, perhaps hundreds, have come to me feeling unhinged after their youngest child has departed for college.
Back when my four were little, I promised myself I would not let myself become one of those empty-nesters who falls apart. I have my business, my hobbies, many leadership roles in the community; I would be fine. Not! The fact is, for me and for many, being mom is the best job we’ve ever had and losing it (at least in the day-to-day sense) feels, as one dear friend described it “like getting a big, fat pink slip.”
The independence of an empty nest is just one of the three common career re-entry points for women who have opted out. Other Independence Days include: when the youngest child enters full-day school, freeing up six hours a day; or when the oldest child becomes mature enough to get the younger ones to and from school safely, making early or later workdays possible.
Perhaps you are at (or will soon reach) one of these Independence Day milestones.
You may be excited to finally have time to focus on you.
You may feel wistful about your changing role.
Chances are, you feel both.
Watching our children become independent is at once a joy and a loss – but in the realm of careers, it means opportunity.
If you are at one of these touch points, you may want to explore if this is the right time for you to return to work. Consider taking our Career Readiness Assessment or watching our first Office Hours video in which Kelley offers advice on how to dip your toe in the water of careers. (Both are available on this website).
At the very least, start asking other women to share their return-to-work stories, and read others’ online. Although (and I know this personally), you may feel alone in the journey through changing motherhood, the fact is, we ALL go through it – and we can learn a lot from each other*. (*see my last blogpost)
As for me, I’m fortunate to have a new baby to nurture and guide in this new business, Prepare To Launch U.
Thank you, Kelley, for seeing our potential as a team before I did, and for diving headfirst into this exciting venture with me.
Thank you, clients, friends and followers, for your support and encouragement.
And thank you, Luke, for following your dream and inspiring me as I follow mine.
My nest may be empty, but my heart is full.