Posted by: Patrice Fitzgerald | December 2, 2008

Empty Nesting

I’m not a woman who has ever defined herself as a mother first.  I grew up at a time when feminism was just reaching a critical mass (or so it seemed to me) — high school 1969-1973, college and law school thereafter. And though I had a mother who was primarily a “housewife,” she was not particularly interested in the domestic arts.  Not to put her down — I loved my mom, but she was neither a great cook nor a great homemaker.  It seemed to me that she was a slightly frustrated, occasionally angry, and not deeply affectionate mother.

In terms of parental roles, I was sure I wanted to be the smart one.  The one who had the power, who went off to work, who got the better car.  The one whose last name we all carried.  And that was Dad.  

So it was a big surprise to me to discover just how thoroughly and happily I went into motherhood myself.  I had never experienced love as fully and completely as I did when my daughters were infants.  They needed me so fiercely it was as though the life force itself reached out and grabbed me.

Some people don’t like the infant stage, and find babies boring.  But I loved it.  Even the nursing was a magnificent, primordial, experience.  My high touch needs were satiated by all the baby love, and I knew they needed me.  Oy, did they need me!  

When my kids were infants, I was working as a corporate lawyer, full-time at first, and then part-time.  It was tough to balance all that, and yet I hardly considered giving it up.    

Next was the cute but exhausting toddler stage, the elementary years, the adolescence.  All the while they were gradually becoming more and more themselves.  It was exciting.  And I was getting more freedom, which worked out for all of us.  I morphed from the lawyer identity to the writing, singing, acting, tapdancing creative which suited me better.

Then came the big D — Divorce — which happened when they were 17 and 14.  A tough time for everyone. While the parents may feel they have thought long and hard about leaving the marriage, the kids have no say.

The days when my daughters went to stay with their dad were kind of amazing, though.  To find out that after 17 years, the world was still out there — dancing, flirting, dating — just blew me away.  Particularly since I had done so little of that in my own teens and twenties.  I was a good girl, a shy girl, someone who didn’t feel attractive or lovable.  I missed a lot of development by not having any relationships before marriage.

Only now, at 48, I was raring to go.

I got busy filling the vacuum with lots of dates.  My memoir LOOKING FOR MR. RIGHT.COM; Adventures in Internet Dating (or, how I found love @ 50) about coming back to life and getting social should be published in the summer of 2009.  You can read all about it there!

And then I met R, and had lots of time to be with him.  Daughter K was in college, and Daughter L was in her last years of high school.  R and I explored our relationship in a just-shy-of-three-years courtship, and then got married.  The timing was perfect.  I would ride off into the sunset with my new husband a mere week or so before my second daughter left for college.

It was then that the sadness finally hit me.  Gone were the years in which my most deeply important identity was as a mother.  

It’s a shock.  I miss my kids.  I don’t regret that they are living the great, nearly-independent, successful lives that they are.  This is what they should be doing.  K and L off to college is the happy ending — for us and for them. 

I’m just sad that this stage is over. 

I will have other jobs and do many other things in my long life.  

But there is nothing in the universe more all-consuming, and thrilling, and scary, and responsible, and frustrating, and full of love and human connection, than being a parent.



  1. isnt that the truth… 🙂

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