My Kid Cut the Cord Before I was Ready! Now What?
By Deborah Blackwell
The day finally arrives. The kids head off to school, and it brings freedom, a renewed sense of self, naked dancing around the house, uncontained sex with your partner. It’s the natural order of things…and a myth.
A mother is never off duty. She may think she is, but parenting is visceral. And I wasn’t prepared for the hit my mother-gut took when my kid cut the cord before I was ready. He grew up, headed off to college, and his burgeoning independence left me hanging with nothing but memories and a container of baby wipes.
You probably thought I was going to say residual love and joy and of course, tears and heartbreak. Those are a given. But the baby wipes under my sink that cleaned precious bottoms and more through their growing years? They never let me down.
It isn’t easy to let go of our kids when they grow up. We can try to reinvent ourselves when our circumstances change, and we will likely succeed, but the “natural order of things” doesn’t remove the discomfort of a mother’s changing path.
This was not more clear than when I sat in my gynecologist’s waiting room for a menopause checkup. If that wasn’t depressing enough, the cheery waiting area was filled with expectant mothers, partners, and toddlers. They all seemed so happy, so eager, so proud. I was the oldest in the bunch—the one who gestating moms looked at and thought, “Wow, she’s old. What’s she doing here?”
But I knew something these unseasoned women didn’t. Being responsible for another human is the most challenging thing ever. We can romanticize the “motherhood-perfect-family-I’ll-do-it-differenty” mindset, but raising a child is life-changing on every level. Period. So I pondered that while I watched these blossoming young women out of the corner of my eye.
I thought about my adult children, who they are now, where we have been, where we are going. When I set out on the motherhood path, I did not realize so many things could shift my course. The choice I made to stay home with them that would leave me hanging later when I did not have a career to fall back on. The emotional investment of raising children, and the financial obligation, both huge. The uniqueness of each child and the challenges they faced, and how they managed life in their own ways. And of course, the fluctuating family dynamic—life’s ups and downs drama, trauma, expected and unexpected, uncontrollable, wild and crazy reality—all contributed to how we maneuvered our place in the world…and still do.
From the moment we learn we are pregnant, we keep moving forward. First, toward the birth…then talking and walking…school…teenage years…college…adulthood.
Like clockwork, milestones tick, and we are ticking too. What are they learning…what are we learning? Are we doing it right… are we doing it wrong…what if…but how…and when become the questions that drive us, pushing and pulling us in directions we never dreamed of, let alone prepared for. What’s the destination? Is there one?
Then boom. We are suddenly the old lady in the waiting room. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of raising children that we can easily forget about what we are here to do—our own purpose, our own drive, our own needs. We never put ourself first. Is it too late when they’re gone? “Of course it’s never too late,” we think, but looking back, we may wonder what is our measure of success? When in fact, we are looking right at them…or at least texting with them after they move out.
We base success on the outcomes in life, we judge how well we did, and what the reward-ratio is. But is that where we should put our measurement? It’s the daily doing, the actions, the efforts, the walking, running, tripping, falling, and getting back up again that define success in life. And, this applies to more than parenting.
So, we can look at our grown babies, and know that we did it. I did it. And I am still doing it. They still need me, just in different ways. From diapers and meeting all of their survival needs, to dropping them off at college, it’s all relative. These are precious humans—and that’s the inherent value. Those expectant moms will figure that out one day, when their kid cuts the cord before they are ready.
Life changes, and we have to change right along with it. My role may have shifted, but I’m still a mom. And as much as things are different now, one thing remains the same: there’s always more to learn. And a little dancing never hurts either.