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Ages & Stages

What in the World Will You Do With Yourself?

Floor plans and scholarship applications litter my dining room table these days, and the talk around dinner is all about the future. Life as I know it is about to undergo a drastic change here on this country hill. Having homeschooled a brood of four sons for the past twenty-one years, I’ve seen our story trending in this direction and felt the current of life rushing toward the door. I have not missed the significance of the unpredictable number of place settings at dinner, the unexpected date nights when my good husband and I realize we’re going to be home alone—Again!

I have become an object of concern to some, since the “baby” has turned 18 and is poised to graduate in the spring. They ask, tentatively, kindly, as if, perhaps, it might be a tender subject for me, “What on earth are you going to do with yourself?”

I’m used to questions. Although I did not realize it at the time, I have since noticed how unusual it is to schlep a shopping cart and four sons through a grocery store. “Are they all yours?” was the most common query I received in the season of the loaded blue mini-van, but my favorite was the inappropriate and completely boundary-less, “Do they all have the same father?” (What…??)

Today, standing in this liminal space holding a stack of blue and tan Pfaltzgraff and an indeterminate number of forks, the questions from all the seasons of my mothering life meet and dance in a circle around this emptying nest. 

In a sense, nothing has changed.

The duties are all still there: the food prep, the studying, the laundry, the teaching, the vacuuming, the long listening to friends. The proportions are all that differ. Even in the intense season of four daily math lessons and multiple sports-and-music drop-offs and pick-ups, I would have been found rummaging around in the Sermon on the Mount while parked outside the middle school or scrawling lines into a well-floured notebook while rolling pie dough.

The love is all still there: Little hands still hold loaded paintbrushes and cut gingerbread boys from sticky dough at my kitchen counter, but they belong to my grandchildren now. The concerned phone calls, the proffered wisdom, the checking-in now runs in both directions, as our sons have surpassed us in many practical ways, but continue to do us the honor of asking our advice now and then. Band-Aids are no longer dispensed on the daily, but encouragement and help to the young women in my life feels a little bit like healing.

My mothering life goes on, and this is surely what will lie at the center of whatever response I live my way into in answer to this season’s new line of questioning. When the house was perpetually noisy, when pizza was on the menu every Friday, and we argued over which Disney movie to pop into the VCR, I thought I would never forget any of it—I would remember it always just the way it was. The stories we tell one another about our family in the past have been molded by the shape of our family today. Funny stories become a better memory every year. Wrongs of the past, while still wrong and regrettable, have been so completely forgiven that the sting of the story has been swallowed up in love.

Maybe what author Madeleine L’Engle said of herself, looking back upon a full life, is also true of my family: “I am still every age that I have been.” The stages of a mothering life are built from a series of moments: now, now, and now quickly become then, and my family-as-it-is collides in memory with my family-as-it-was. An action verb, mothering always has and will continue to comprise elements of giving and telling, listening, and nurturing. Mothers in every season are tasked with the creation of safe emotional space, long after the need for clean socks, and a full lunch box has expired.

What in the world will I do with myself now that my boys have become young men and my mothering in the flesh will soon be, primarily, a mothering of the spirit? The answer, I believe, will be another question, because it has been the question all along:

“What story do I want to be able to tell going forward?”

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Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Michele is active in educational ministries with her local church and delights in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. You can find Michele on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.


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37 COMMENTS
  • Pamela L Fishel
    3 months ago

    Don’t fight it, accept it. You will feel like newlyweds again! And all those things you put off until the kids were grown? Now you can dive into them completely. I am loving my empty nest!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      I can’t begin to tell you how encouraging I’m finding these signposts from other moms who have lived their way into an empty nest and are happily pursuing new dreams and interests. There’s so much “diving” I want to do!
      Blessings to you, Pamela.

  • McElwain Diane
    3 months ago

    Michele, your words hit home. Though I am a bit ahead of you on the empty nest, I hope I don’t discourage you when I say I still struggle with this. I made plans for “after,” and plans can be altered. Bless you as you enter this new period of your life!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      I appreciate your cautionary words, Diane, about planning and holding those plans loosely. The truth is, we just don’t know what’s ahead. Every empty nest looks a bit different, and I’m grateful for the perseverance and resilience I see being practiced in your…

  • Joanne Viola
    3 months ago

    Michele, I loved this post as I was often asked this as well. And some days, I still get the question. The truth I am finding is the mothering goes on. I still pray for my children, their spouses, and my granddaughters faithfully every day. The visits are precious times of hopefully depositing into their lives something of lasting value for when I am long gone. And yes, I al grateful for the stories which we are writing every single step of the way. May God bless you and your writing and continue to birth new stories for you to share with us all!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      Hi, Joanne, in many ways you mentor me from a distance in this grandmothering life. I love the way you have made yourself available to the little sweeties in your life.

  • Debi Walter
    3 months ago

    Michele,
    I have been in this season now for five years when our youngest got her own apartment. She is now married and lives faraway in another state. I like to call this season not “empty nest”,but “open nest” because my heart is able to embrace loving my three “in-loves” as well as my 8 grandchildren. My arms are open wide to marriage ministry in our church and to loving our neighbors and their children. There is nothing empty about this season of life.
    God is good and He has done great things for us!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      OH! I LOVE THAT! I want to cultivate an open nest as well, Debi! Thanks so much for adding your wisdom to this conversation.

  • Susan Shipe
    3 months ago

    Rock.Star. I listened to the audio!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      That’s so much fun! I’m going to love it when we get to talk someday in real life!

  • Laurie
    3 months ago

    Michele, as an empty nester of several years, I know you will be fine. I was sad for about 10 minutes when our youngest left home. This is the best time of your life! Really!!!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      Laurie, that’s so good to hear. I do depend on the voices of women who have blazed a trail.
      And I know you are definitely seizing every opportunity for productivity and joy!

  • Lisa notes
    3 months ago

    I know that you’ll still find plenty of things to do! 🙂 Until the past two months, I had just as much to do after my kids left home as I did while they were home. But the type of things changed. I’m excited to see what changes will come your way too, Michele!

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      Like you, I want to stay available to the grandchildren. Being a part of their lives is a privilege.

  • Barbara Harper
    3 months ago

    I had all kinds of plans for when my children left home. They haven’t quite worked out like I had thought. 🙂 I’m finding that James’ admonition about planning along the lines of “If the Lord wills” is applicable in every stage of life.

    With my older two, there was an ache of missing them and the everyday-ness of our lives together. But I am finding much to enjoy about this stage, an I am thankful that they like to keep in touch frequently.

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      It’s definitely a gift when our kids like to keep in touch with us.
      And I’ll take your words to heart in my planning mode. I’m definitely keeping an open hand here.
      Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your own insights. You’re ahead of me in this!

  • nylse
    3 months ago

    I like that you said the proportions differ. And the wrongs though regrettable in their retelling are swallowed up in love.
    I’ve found both of these to be true. The only way they are swallowed up in love is having a relationship with your adults where you both talk and learn from each other.

    I was never one for plans, so mine remain wide open as do I.

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      When that thought about the proportions occurred to me, it felt so validating. There really were days when it was harder to read and study or lean into opportunities to teach and learn, and yet that never disappeared entirely even during the busiest times. And I’m grateful for the grace that has lubricated the relational gears here in our home. I have received so much forgiveness, and I want to be lavish in dishing it out.

  • Joanne
    3 months ago

    I know that mothering continues long after the kids leave the nest as we are a close family and I talk to & see my mom weekly. You’re never too old to need your mom.

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      Great observation, Joanne. Our kids never stop needing us–and we build into their lives and give from the heart throughout our whole lives.

  • Lois Flowers
    3 months ago

    Aw, Michele … you know my heart soaked up your every word here. 🙂 Had to laugh at those grocery store questions … a common (and eyeroll-inducing) query I got was, “Are they sisters?” (I knew what they meant, but always had to bite back “Um … well, are your daughters sisters?) I love thinking of mothering as an action verb, though sometimes it’s hard to figure out the correct actions as the children get older. I’m thankful for the moms in my life who are a bit (or a lot) further down the path and always generous with encouragement and empathy. 🙂

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      Oh, those crazy (and well meant?) questions.
      And I also have struggled to know what loving actions will communicate my heart to my kids. One more reason for us to stay on our knees.

  • Linda Stoll
    3 months ago

    Michelle. I’ve waited for days to be able to sit quietly with your post because I knew it would be simply profound and oh so wise.

    You didn’t disappoint.

    So much truth here, friend. And let me reassure you that your story will continue to blossom and sprout wings. The sky is your limit. God has gifted you so very lavishly!

    I’m off to listen to you read.

    Bless you. I’m so grateful how you continue to speak deep truth into my life. Your iron sharpens my rusty iron …

    • Michele Morin
      3 months ago

      Breathless from this encouraging input, Linda. You can be assured that your iron is a sharpening influence to mine as well. Who ever thought that friendship could happen via screens and words and shared books?

  • Nancy Ruegg
    3 months ago

    No doubt you will sail into empty-nesting with all the intentionality and gusto you’ve given to mothering, Michele. Meanwhile, another son will be morphing into a friend. Such an idea had not occurred to me, as each of our three children entered adulthood. But the friendly companionship we enjoy (though not as often as I’d like, since they live in different states) is a delight all its own–now augmented by the addition of three wonderful in-law kids and three grandchildren.

    • Michele Morin
      2 months ago

      I am learning the steps to that mothering -from-a-distance dance, Nancy. It takes real forethought and planning, I am finding. There’s so much grace available to us mums. Thanks be to God.

  • Lauren
    2 months ago

    A lovely piece, Michele! I can identify with so much of it, as I had all boys (though “only” 3) and we homeschooled them through to high school graduation. I know several well-intentioned family members and friends did worry about me and what I would do with myself once my homeschooling duties ended (which happened in 2017 when our youngest graduated), and truthfully, it has been an intense period of adjustment for me. Yet there have also been some wonderful surprises, like the free time that my husband and I now have together. I also agree with you that “mothering life goes on,” just in a whole new way.

    • Michele Morin
      2 months ago

      When I read stories like yours, I am so encouraged! Yes, I expect some days of adjustment, and maybe even some mourning over the loss of some pretty amazing blessings –I’ve loved having our kids at home. But the mothering goes on!

  • Debbie
    2 months ago

    Loved you interview and thoughts! So much wisdom, Michele.

  • Theresa Boedeker
    2 months ago

    Love this Michelle. And the question. “What story do I want to be able to tell going forward?” A question we can ask any time of our mothering journey.

  • Karen Friday
    2 months ago

    Simply beautiful, Michele. Our moments of now become moments of then. And not only are we every age we have been, but we are still the mom at every child’s age, then and now. 🙂

    • Michele Morin
      2 months ago

      These are the realities that are stitching together my days, Karen, in this season of transition.
      Blessings to you!

  • Michele Morin
    2 months ago

    I am asking that question about a lot of life’s challenges these days, Theresa!

  • I have recently moved into the empty nest stage. Watching our kids make their own adult decisions can be difficult, especially when they go off course. But thankfully they seek our guidance, “most of the time & most of them.” Yes, it’s hard when they don’t but they’ll learn. We did.

    • Michele Morin
      2 months ago

      Isn’t it amazing how we sort of expect our adult children to be catapulted into a level of maturity that makes us feel safe that they’re “okay”? And I know for a fact that my own spiritual interest and maturity were at a very different level when I was 20 than it is now!
      God is always at work, but often his timetable does not keep pace with my own. I’m the one who needs to adjust.

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