I came across this in someone's blog the other day:
"The beauty of a big family is that if a mother regrets something she did when she was young and imprudent, she might just have a chance at a redo with a younger child. The corollary is that I don't have the luxury of doing what some of my friends are doing as they settle into an empty nest. I can't look at the regrets, confess the mistakes, be forgiven, and relax in the grace. I have more children to raise."
I don't take issue with what she says about the "beauty of a big family." But, as the mama of a smaller family, with older children, I have a few comments.
My kids are 25, 23, and 21. Admittedly, I am not exactly an empty-nester. My oldest two are girls, and they both lived away from home during college, but returned after graduation. They still live at home, while working and carrying out their young adult lives. This is fine by me and my husband. They are good young women, and are a pleasure to have around. My son is presently away at college, but returns for Christmas and summer breaks. He is about as far away from home as he can get without leaving the continental United States, so we don't really see him at all during the times when his school is in session.
I can tell you for sure, though, that even if nobody lived at home during any time of the year, I could never "look at the regrets, confess the mistakes, be forgiven, and relax in the grace." Okay. Maybe I could do the first three things on this list, but never the last one. And I bet a lot of mamas in my position feel the same. I don't think most mamas can ever just fully "relax in the grace." And do you know why?
Because when a mama looks at her adult kids -- when she sees their struggles, their pain, their heartaches, their failures, their shortcomings -- she is going to (in part, at least) blame herself. She is going to wonder what she could have done differently. And this blaming and wondering is not going to ever completely go away. It will stay with her, for as long as her children have difficulties in life. And, let's face it, who doesn't have difficulties in life? We all do. So, basically, a mama will never completely "relax in the grace." She will never completely stop second-guessing at least some of the things she did while raising her kids. That's the way a mama's heart works, whether she has one child or a dozen. A mama's heart is a mama's heart. It is always concerned. It always feels its responsibility, no matter how empty the nest or how old the children.
Of course, this is not to say that there aren't special joys in being the mother of adult kids. It's fun to see what your children do with themselves when they grow up. It's very enjoyable to relate to them as adults -- with adult conversation and activities. For example, I really enjoy having movie dates and shopping trips and lunches and weekends with my daughters. And it's great fun when my son regales me with tales of college friendships and escapades. My kids also have pretty darn good sense, and have been known to give me great advice when I am confused about a decision I need to make.
In my circle of friends and acquaintances, though, there are many big families. And, occasionally, there are assumptions made about us mamas of smaller families, whether our children are small or grown -- assumptions that might be just a tad bit unfair. So, let's not forget that being a mother -- though great fun and quite rewarding -- can be very difficult. And it can be just as difficult on the mother of a smaller family, on the mother of older children, as it can be on the mother of many. And mothering -- including worrying and fretting about our mistakes -- really never, ever ends.