I’m Learning to Let Go of My Teen, What’s Hard is Finding a New Purpose

This mama won't be celebrating when my kids are grown and gone...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: I’m Learning to Let Go of My Teen, What’s Really Hard is Finding a New Purpose

Written by: The Raising Teens Today Community

For the past 18 years, I’ve been deep in the throes of raising my kids. Everything and I mean everything, revolved around them, their needs, their schedule, their commitments, and helping them become happy, well-adjusted, responsible young adults.

I mean, sure, I squeezed in a life of my own during those years, (the best I could), but my life revolved around theirs.

I’m Learning to Let Go, What’s Hard is Finding a New Purpose


If my kids had a soccer game or a gymnastics tournament on a Saturday afternoon, my husband and I rearranged our schedules so we could be there and cheer them on. If one of my kids had a big test and they were struggling, you better believe I dropped everything to help quiz them and prepare them so they didn’t bomb the test.

If they needed a ride, a back rub, a pep talk, a shoulder to lean on, advice or guidance, a little TLC from mom, or even a kick in the butt, you name it, I was there.

I washed more jerseys and uniforms than I can count. I drove more miles carting them (and all their friends) to kingdom come than you’d think humanly possible. I cooked for them, cleaned up after them, helped them with their laundry and homework and problems. I ran errands with them and for them. I helped them get out of tight spots and make the right decisions and encouraged them to take the high road.

When I was busy, I found the time.

When I was exhausted, I found the energy.

When they needed me, I was there.

I was there… always there.

The truth is, though, as chaotic and exhausting and sometimes, incredibly frustrating as the days were, I loved it. I had a front-row seat on my kids’ journey to adulthood and there was no way I was going to miss it.

Sure, the road wasn’t always smooth. But, I wanted to be there for every bump in the road, every detour, and every pothole my kids encountered rooting for them the entire way knowing that if I loved them hard enough, and gave it my absolute all, maybe, just maybe I could help them get a strong foothold in life.

But then, my kids did something I hadn’t really prepared my heart for. Something that snuck up on me. Something that changed my life forever.

They ventured off to college. They didn’t need me nearly as much. They started to really grow up…

Suddenly, I moved from the front seat in their lives to the back seat. My role switched from head coach in charge of well… everything to assistant sideline coach who stood patiently waiting for them to come to me if and when they needed a little help navigating life. 

I wasn’t completely disregarded. They still needed me and wanted me in their life. But it was nothing like the frantic days of yesterday.

Without (what seemed like) any forewarning, I found myself in a house that was far too quiet with perfectly made beds, clean bathrooms, and a car that sat in the driveway a whole lot more than it used to.  

No messy towels left on the floor after their shower. No globs of sticky toothpaste left in the sink. No pile of crumbs left on the kitchen counter after they made themselves a snack. No messy bedrooms with clothes strewn all over the floor or piles of wrappers and empty water bottles on their nightstand or a messy stack of shoes piled by the backdoor to trip over.

No games to attend or practices to drive them to or favorite meals to prepare or loud music to tell them to turn down or endless trips to the grocery store to keep the pantry stocked. 

Now what?

My entire identity and purpose in life was wrapped up in being their mom and I SO wasn’t ready to give that up.

What could possibly give me more joy or be more rewarding than being part of my kids’ daily lives?  What could possibly make me feel more needed and valued than the most important job in the world… raising my kids?

What no one tells you or prepares you for is how lonely the life of an empty nester is… at least initially. 

All those days I spent wishing I could get a break from it all, wishing I could slow down, wishing I could keep my house clean for at least 20 freaking minutes after I cleaned it before my kids walked in the door and terrorized it, wishing some other parent would drive, wishing I didn’t have to cook again came flooding back to my mind.

How could this time in my life ever be over? How could I be so blindsided? How could I feel this much pain when I had 18 years to prepare?

Over the next year, I stumbled and fell a lot. I was unsteady in my moves just like my kids were unsteady when they were learning how to walk. I felt lost… I didn’t know which path to take or what would make me happy or fulfilled.

I mean, the options were endless. Go back to work? Go back to college? Volunteer? Focus on a hobby I love? Travel? The beauty of it all is that I finally had the time to do what I truly wanted. The hard part was, I wasn’t ready to leap. 

Over time, I began to adjust. Like a huge ship slowly shifting course, it took time to change my direction. 

Although I missed those days terribly, I slowly found happiness in my new life. I connected with my kids in a new, adultlike way that was even more rewarding and precious than I could have ever imagined. In fact, they became far more than just my kids, they became my friends.

I reconnected with my husband who, on far too many occasions, was put on the back burner while my kids were growing up. My husband and I started traveling more, I went back to work, focused on taking care of myself (imagine that!), and found a group of women who, just like me, were navigating life and finding joy in the empty nester stage. 

It wasn’t easy. It didn’t happen overnight. It took time… lots of time. But slowly, just like every other major transition in your life, you adjust. And, just like any other loss in your life (and it IS a loss), you go through stages of grief, acceptance, and finally joy. 

So, for every mom who’s either nearing the empty nester stage or who is trying to find her way now that her kids are finding a life of their own, I feel your every emotion and I’m here to tell you, give it some time, mama. It does get better. It does get easier. With a little self-reflection, you will find a new purpose that energizes and restores you. 

Go easy on yourself. Let yourself feel and cry and just be. Fill your life with things and people and places and adventures you love! And, pat yourself on the back, mama! Since the day you held your baby in your arms, you’ve been teaching them to become independent and strong, and self-reliant.

You’ve done your job well! Now, it’s time to focus on finding a new purpose. Now, it’s your time to fly…

If you enjoyed reading, “I’m Learning to Let Go of My Teen, What’s Hard is Finding a New Purpose,” you might enjoy reading these posts, too!

Dear Parents of Teens: In the End, the Ordinary Moments Matter the Most

To The Lonely Moms Raising Teenagers, I See You

Hey mamas! Are you an empty nester? Please share with us in the comments section below how you’re finding a new purpose in your life! We can all learn from one another! 

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Rebecca Wendel December 11, 2022 - 8:15 pm

Thank you for this article. It is very well said and gives great insight. I’m soon to be an empty nester and after making these kids my life, I’ve been in a near panic of what to do when my youngest goes to University. My sister says they go away for a while and then they come back and get married and have kids and grandkids are the best. I’ll figure it all out, focus on myself for a while and find meaning in these stages of life.

Nancy Reynolds December 12, 2022 - 9:43 am

First of all, you’re so welcome. I think we all need to talk about this stage of parenting more often – it’s just so hard for many of us. I know facing this major transition in your life isn’t easy, but with a little self-reflection, you’ll begin to figure out what makes you feel happy and fulfilled again. Nothing can EVER fill the void when our kids venture off on their own, so we simply have to find new ways to bring us joy, whether it’s traveling, going back to work, redecorating the house, spending time with friends or our husband/partner, etc. Mostly, it’s about keeping a positive attitude. I think your sister is so right. They DO come back and it’s yet another amazing chapter of motherhood. Until then, just try to enjoy a little “me time” and focus on you. You’re still needed and wanted and valued… just in a different way. Much love, mama. xo

Nicole Devine January 11, 2023 - 3:30 am

i have a more complicated transition. Lets just say while one teenager went off to beauty school an island away ( Big Island to Oahu); the other was placed in foster care; the reasons for which are beyond the scope of this comment. Eother way, i moved to California to be closer to my mom who had no other family here and was now a senior citizen. Not only did i miss my younest daughters everthing fro 8th grade thru now her senior year in college, ive felt the empty nester syneome snd rhe relocated syndrome. Out or all of it, it has been very eifficult not to have that identifty, purpose, constant role to gravitate toward. I miss those little moments, and the traditions we had from the telling me sbout her dsy ( the little one) to the emdless daily cooking, driving, arranging of social events, camp outs, sporting schedules, proms etc, lets just foget the exhausted state of woeking multiple jobs and going back to graduate school etc. Even though i sis really branch out and embrace my new found ability to float wherever my wander lust hesrt does tske me, the empty hesrt when you just want to hesr their voice, oe wish you could peek in and watch them in their best state- asleep…all the little things-it all comes crashi g to a stop like driving into a brick wall. The problem is if we raised them to be independent and to do for themselves and helped them as much as we could, the gosl we aimed to achieve- what sucess meant is thst they no loner neweed us. We are replaced by husbands, coworkers and best friends. They lesve and they wont come back if you taught them well, and rhere is a spot in the hesrt of every mother thst always hurts, just a little cause society is so focused on being busy thst our lack or busy is sad, but i oe t have to do any more of it, i dont know if there is a way to find the same level of purpose. I try to twke it one day at a time, i have found the best replacement for children is dogs, my boston terriers ae a joy, and they are unconditionally loving, plus dogs never rire of you or youre company and with dogs, you always have somethi g to do. Gardens, volunteering, fi ding a new ho by, and definitely camping amd trips your kids wouldnt want to ske are enjoyable. But alas, i still miss hem, and thats okay.

Nancy Reynolds March 2, 2023 - 10:10 am

You’re so smart… that’s exactly what you need to be doing. Not necessarily working part-time, but slowly filling your life with other priorities and goals and fun and people. It’s awesome that you’re blazing a new exciting trail for yourself. As a mom, I know first-hand how difficult the “empty nester” adjustment is. Much love. xo


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