I remember the day I realized the parenting stage of my life was nearly over. I was at my computer, writing when I became aware I had been working for several hours without having been needed by anyone. My oldest was at work,
my middle child was taking some college classes, and my youngest, the only one I was still homeschooling, was teaching himself something I didn’t know. I realized my children were what I had intended them to be—on their own, even though they were all living at home for the moment.
I sat quietly and wondered what I was going to do with myself when homeschooling was completely over and my children were out of the house. I didn’t have to wonder for very long. A few weeks later I was offered a book contract. This contract was the fulfillment of instructions given to me by my pediatrician soon after the birth of my first child.
He said that although it would seem like the children would be young forever, they would soon grow up and not want my full attention. He cautioned me to keep up with hobbies and interests, even if I only had fifteen minutes a day to spend on them. I needed something in place for the day they became teenagers or adults and I was on my own. To this end, I continued to write. I discontinued my freelance career when I began homeschooling, due to time constraints, but I learned how to build websites and wrote about homeschooling. I also wrote a column for an online magazine. These were what led to the offer of a writing contract at the critical moment.
We all had hobbies and interests before we became so busy with children. Often, as we are busy with little ones, a longing flits across our minds of something we wish we could do, but are too busy to tackle. The problem is that after a while, those longings and hobbies become so far in the past we forget them. Mothers get so busy, they sometimes lose who they are beyond the role of a parent.
Motherhood is a wonderful career, and deserves priority in our schedule. Mormon beliefs teach that it is the most critical of all careers for women. M. Russell Ballard, an apostle for the Mormons, taught:
“I am impressed by countless mothers who have learned how important it is to focus on the things that can only be done in a particular season of life. If a child lives with parents for 18 or 19 years, that span is only one-fourth of a parent’s life. And the most formative time of all, the early years in a child’s life, represents less than one-tenth of a parent’s normal life. It is crucial to focus on our children for the short time we have them with us and to seek, with the help of the Lord, to teach them all we can before they leave our homes.” (See M. Russell Ballard, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, May 2008, 108–10.)
Motherhood is seldom, as I learned eventually, the best time to launch a demanding career or to devote countless hours to our hobbies. It is a brief and extraordinary season in a woman’s life and should always have priority on our time without resentment or impatience, because it’s a joyful time.
However, there will come a time when motherhood as a full-time job ends, and we need to be ready for that so we aren’t following our teenagers around every moment and even our grown and out of the nest children. Every mother can find fifteen minutes to maintain contact with a hobby or potential career without neglecting her children.
One way to do this is to continue reading and studying in our chosen areas. While we rock a sleeping baby, we can read a book on history or writing or whatever our passion might be. We can read while we oversee homework that doesn’t need much attention. We can create a reading time each day at home where everyone reads. This encourages your children to read while allowing you time to do so yourself.
When I first launched my professional writing career, I did so by getting up at four AM each day to write until my family arose at six AM. For a night person, this was not easy, but it allowed me to write when I was fresh and without taking time from anyone else. I stopped when I began needing that time to prepare lesson plans.
Another way to stay in touch with your grown-up interests is to use them in your parenting. Do you love gardening? Teach your children to garden. If you love to write or paint, teach it to your children. All of you can do these things together. Mothers who love science can enhance their child’s education by doing science experiments at home and parents who are passionate about history can take their children to historical sites and tell them exciting stories about the places they are visiting. You aren’t taking any time at all away from your children, and in fact, are making your family time more valuable.
I had someone point out to me once that if I wrote a single page each day, I’d have written a book at the end of one year. While I didn’t want the stress of freelancing while I was homeschooling, I wrote books for the fun of it. It was good practice and I learned to write my single page very quickly. Since I wasn’t going to publish them, I experimented with new techniques and tried things I wouldn’t have tried were I writing to please a potential publisher. In the same way, you can practice your passion a few minutes each day so you’re ready when the time comes to give it a priority.
Keep a list of the someday dreams that flit through your head. When the children are grown and you ask yourself what is next, pull out the list and choose something from it. If you can keep the dreams on your list without resenting the time it takes to get started, they can give you a way to enjoy the next stage of your life.
Finally, keep your relationship with your spouse alive. There will be a time when every conversation won’t need to be about parenting. Make sure you still have topics to discuss and traditions you enjoy as a couple. The Mormons teach couples to have a weekly date night, which keeps the marriage strong and gives it a foundation for the empty nest years.
Make a point of preparing for and enjoying each stage of life. Each one has blessings attached. The empty nest is neither better or worse than any other stage: it’s simply another stop on life’s adventure.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.