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The Changing Roles of Mothering

In 2015 my oldest was 18, considered an adult, and was leaving the nest. With all the preparation and paperwork involved in this change, I didn’t notice my heart pounding until he was gone and I wasn’t running around like crazy.

I was a stay-at-home mom for 18+ years. It wasn’t a difficult thing for me and I know that isn’t always the case. Some women stay home miserable and some moms have to work and wish they could be home. I have complete empathy for whatever roads of motherhood you have traveled and found difficult. For me, this was my life, and I had thought, my purpose.I was happy about it…and now it was ending. Do people’s purposes end?

When it came time to confront the messages of my pounding heart, I had to dig deep. Many of you know that 2015 was the beginning of 13 months of painful events, one after another. This change in motherhood started it off followed by my mom’s death - lots of complicated emotions there - then my marriage’s difficulties hit an all-time high, my dad remarried quickly to a woman with traits of narcissism, we discovered some sexual abuse by a family member, and my best friend and the only person I felt I could truly confide in was diagnosed with cancer. The suffering that year was tremendous.

Motherhood or mothering humans (I’d love to hear about the journeys of men that are caretakers. I’m sure you have added perspectives and complications. Love to you!) is a transformative journey that evolves alongside our children. As kids grow up and life unfolds, mothers often find themselves facing a shifting landscape of roles and responsibilities. Whether it's 24/7 with little sleep, the children leaving the nest, experiencing divorce and being home alone for days at a time, or encountering other unexpected changes, mothers must navigate a complex web of emotions and adapt to evolving circumstances.

I want to explore the challenges faced by those in the mother role in these situations. I want to shed light on the range of emotions we may experience, and offer strategies to cope and thrive during these transformative times.

For me, it seemed that 18 years came at me all of a sudden. It was not easy being a stay-at-home mom. I complained a lot and kept in more than I let spill out. Looking back, that was a mistake. It’s not that I needed to complain more, I needed to believe my inner complaining and trust that what I was feeling was valid and accurate and have the courage to reach out and find things that would support me - just me. I am a human being in need of support, like every other human. I put too much on hold and when it was over so quickly I was left feeling like I didn’t know who I was.

And, I also believe that if I had really understood that active mothering would end, I would not have complained as much as I had. Looking back, I can see that I felt like the difficulties would last forever. If I could have grasped better the idea that it was temporary, I think I could have felt differently.

If I could go back in time, I would make defining my own identity more of a priority. I was a young 22 when I had my first child, so a career had not even been entertained. I was so all about being a mom. I don't know if that would have changed, but taking classes, and having a life outside the home even if it was only for a few hours a week would have made the transition out of active motherhood easier for me. Not only that, but I would have other descriptive words than wife and mother on my “resume”.

I would also tell that younger me that “this will end”. I’m sure some moms are counting down the days to freedom, while others are counting in dread. I was obliviously living day to day until it occurred to me that my son leaving meant he would not return the same and things would never - be - the - same. Cue sad music.

I know it is so cliche, but I wish I could have known that all those sleepless nights which are sooo hard would come to an end and I would wish for them back again. Hindsight sees it all clearly, right? I still get a twinge of nostalgia for the days my kids were little and also a bit of guilt that I ever complained. Such complexities

Here are some key factors that contribute to the challenges faced during changes in the mothering role:

  1. Emotional attachment: Motherhood is deeply rooted in emotional bonds between a mother and her child. As children grow up, move on, or encounter life changes, mothers may experience a range of emotions, including nostalgia, loss, and uncertainty. The strong connection formed over years of caregiving makes it challenging to adapt to new dynamics and relinquish previous roles. Emotional healthy adults NEED emotional attachment as children AND that involves a sacrifice on behalf of the mother because the attachment, or another word safety, connects the mother to the child as well as the child to the mother or parent.

  2. Sense of identity: For many mothers, their identity becomes closely intertwined with their role as a caregiver. When children grow up or circumstances change, mothers may feel a loss of purpose and struggle to redefine themselves beyond the context of motherhood. This process of rediscovering personal aspirations, interests, and goals can be both exciting and unsettling.

  3. Loss of control: Changes in motherhood often involve relinquishing control over certain aspects of a child's life. Whether it's letting go as children become independent or sharing parenting responsibilities after a divorce, the loss of control can trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and vulnerability. Mothers may worry about their child's well-being and question their own effectiveness as a parent.

  4. Adjusting to new routines: Transitions in motherhood often require adapting to new routines and schedules. Whether it's adjusting to an empty nest, co-parenting arrangements, or blending families, these changes can disrupt familiar patterns and create a sense of disorientation. Mothers may need to establish new rhythms, find balance, and develop strategies to navigate these adjustments successfully.

  5. Societal expectations: Society often places immense pressure on mothers to fulfill traditional roles and expectations. When circumstances change, mothers may face judgment or scrutiny from others who hold rigid notions of what motherhood should look like. Overcoming these external pressures and forging their own path can be challenging and require resilience and self-compassion.

While changes in motherhood can be difficult, they also provide opportunities for personal growth, self-discovery, and the development of new perspectives. By acknowledging and understanding the challenges that arise during these transitions, mothers can embark on a journey of adaptation, resilience, and empowerment. With support, self-care, and a willingness to embrace change, mothers can navigate these challenges and find fulfillment in their evolving roles.

Children Growing Up and Moving On:

Watching our children blossom into independent adults is both a moment of pride and a bittersweet experience. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016, around 64% of mothers reported feeling a mixture of happiness and sadness when their children left home. This emotional cocktail often includes pride in their accomplishments, happiness for their newfound freedom, but also a sense of loss and nostalgia.

Sarah, a mother of two teenagers, shared her experience: "When my daughter left for college, I felt a sense of pride and excitement for her future. But at the same time, I couldn't help but miss our daily interactions and the role I played in her life. It took time to adjust and find new ways to connect with her as a young adult."

To navigate this transition, mothers can focus on maintaining open lines of communication with their children. Regular check-ins, sharing experiences, and showing genuine interest in their lives can help nurture a strong bond. Learn to ask your children questions and seek their advice. This signals that they are capable and gives them a sense of approval AND you will be amazed at their insight.

Also, explore personal interests, pursue hobbies, and invest in self-care. These not only enriches the mother's life but also serves as a positive example for their children. This is a new way to continue mothering.

Divorce and Changing Co-Parenting Dynamics:

Divorce is a life-altering event that reshapes the family structure and can significantly impact a mother's role. Approximately 40-50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce, and navigating co-parenting dynamics becomes crucial for mothers in these situations.

In divorces involving children, it's common for mothers to experience a mix of emotions, including anxiety, guilt, and uncertainty. Adjusting to shared custody arrangements and the knowledge that their children will spend time with their other parent can be challenging. However, research shows that positive co-parenting relationships are associated with better outcomes for children. I know this is not always possible so have some grace and assertiveness about what is right for you.

Studies have found that effective co-parenting after divorce enhances children's emotional well-being and reduces their likelihood of experiencing behavioral issues. It also provides a sense of stability and security for children as they adapt to their new circumstances. Open and respectful communication with the ex-spouse, focusing on the children's best interests, and creating consistent routines can contribute to a successful co-parenting dynamic.

For instance, Lisa, a mother of three, shared her experience: "Divorce was a difficult time for our family, but I realized that maintaining a healthy relationship with my ex-spouse was essential for our children. We established clear communication channels, attended co-parenting classes, and made joint decisions regarding the children's well-being. It required effort and compromise, but it has made a significant difference in our children's lives." A good coach can be a vital resource. I can’t stress that enough.

Other Changing Roles in Motherhood:

Motherhood is a dynamic journey, and there are various situations beyond children growing up and divorce that can redefine a mother's role. For example, a career change can impact the time and energy available for parenting. Remarriage and the blending of families introduce new dynamics and adjustments.

During these transitions, it is crucial for mothers to acknowledge their emotions and seek support. Research has shown that social support plays a vital role in promoting well-being and resilience in mothers. Whether it's through friends, family, or support groups, connecting with others who have experienced similar changes can provide reassurance and guidance.

Motherhood is ever-evolving and presents both challenges and opportunities for growth. As children grow up or circumstances change, mothers must adapt to shifting roles and emotions. By acknowledging and validating all our feelings, maintaining open communication, nurturing personal growth, and seeking support, mothers can better embrace transitions with grace and resilience. If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be, each chapter in motherhood is an opportunity. Notice and be keenly aware of the chapter you are living in knowing this chapter will end and another will begin. I’d encourage myself to seek for self-discovery within each chapter and this will probably look very different in different chapters. I’d tell her to look for deeper connections within each chapter, and continue personal growth and maternal growth or how I mother. But mostly if I could go back I would mother her a bit. I would help her find her wholeness.

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