Something happened this year that I didn’t expect: I entered a sort of empty nest phase, which came with its own kind of “syndrome.”
The word, Syndrome, reminds me of the villain in The Incredibles, which is kind of appropriate because his whole problem was that he wanted to matter. Originally he wanted to be a hero, but when Mr. Incredible blew him off because he was a kid, he decided to become Mr. Incredible’s nemesis, instead.
His syndrome was an identity problem, a need to be important to somebody, somewhere.
I can relate.
My nest is not empty by any stretch of the imagination – we still have three kids at home, and Lord willing, at least one of them will be around for the next decade.
What changed this year is that our oldest went away to college and the youngest started full-day school. At first, it was good to be able to take a breather. I have had very little time to myself for the last ten years. I haven’t been able to use the bathroom without an audience, let alone set my own schedule based upon my own wants and needs.
I had sort of decided that I would give myself this first year to do nothing. I wouldn’t take on volunteer activities, or a job, or commit to anything, so I could just exist and rest. It’s been nice, for the most part.
However, what began to happen after months of doing nothing is that I started feeling really useless. I looked around and felt unsatisfied with my performance at the few things I am supposed to be doing. I’m a full-time homemaker, yet my home is not nowhere near perfect.
I try. I really do. I’ve never officially been diagnosed with ADD, but trust me, I meet all the criteria. I’m disorganized, easily distracted, can’t sit still and can’t deal with chaos. When I try to deal with the clutter in our house, my brain fries. I just stand there staring at it, not knowing what to do, or where to start, or where to put all the things.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been all gung-ho to take care of it, then walked away from it an hour later with a headache and nothing to show for my time. And if any of you think ADD is not an actual thing, don’t tell me, because then I’ll have to get in my car and drive to where you are and then I don’t know what, because I’d probably get distracted on the way and end up at a flea market or a Starbucks.
It’s not like it’s rocket science, but my brain won’t cooperate, so it might as well be.
All that to say I feel like I’m failing at the homemaker part of my job. I’m not leading my kids in matters of faith to my satisfaction, either. I don’t think it has to be “official,” in the sense of set apart devotional times, which are fine if that’s your bent, but I’m more of an as you go, laid back, person, which I think works pretty well with kids. Any time you can teach them something without them realizing it is a win.
I’ve had so much go on in the last few years that I’m not even sure how to approach the topic with them, to be honest. There’s a whole other post to write on that, so I won’t delve into it much here. We have good conversations now and then, but I’d like to be going deeper and share more of my own journey, so they have an idea of what it means to follow Jesus, even as imperfect people.
The point is that I’ve looked around and felt as though I’m not hitting the mark anywhere in my life – just generally feeling inept, incapable and without any skills. I have all this free time during the day and I’m spinning my wheels.
The good news is that no matter what I do, or don’t do, I’m still a valuable person. As a child of God, made in His image, I matter. That’s true.
At the same time, because I am made in His image, I’m made to create and to work and to get enjoyment from my labor. And that’s where things have gone off the rails.
I think it’s a pretty normal thing to experience when we have major life changes, such as kids leaving the home. We have to rediscover ourselves. I don’t imagine this has always been such a big problem, but the kind world we live in today has created the situation, so it is what it is.
My new mission is to both learn to be satisfied with myself as I am – to accept my weaknesses, and build on my strengths – and to explore the possibilities of life. I need to find creative outlets and ways to use the gifts I have, to serve others and to enjoy life.
I’d love to finish my undergraduate degree, and maybe pursue a masters in Christian Counseling. I want to learn to paint with oils and acrylics, become a better writer and say things that actually matter, buy a kayak and use it. There are some other fun opportunities stirring as well.
It’s really not fun to be in this funky place – of not knowing what to do with myself and feeling like my life doesn’t matter. And honestly, there’s more to it than simply a change in my situation. There are other heart issues that need attention and I’m doing what’s necessary to address those things. It seems like everything boiled up to the surface at the same time.
But, these difficulties can be catalysts for positive changes. Many times it takes a crisis to launch us into a new season of growth. In fact, that’s probably the case more often than not.
So, maybe I do have myself a Syndrome of some kind. I promise not to become an evil villain in order to feel better. Hopefully I’ll look back in a few years and see how this was a pivotal moment in my life.
And if you find yourself in a hard season, listen to what’s going on inside you. Don’t stuff the negative feelings – talk to God, talk to your friends and see if maybe something new is on the horizon. Just don’t hide it and allow it to fester. Expose it to the light and keep people in the loop. Let them speak truth to you. You’ll suffocate alone in the dark.
And then you might become an evil villain with crazy hair. And we can’t have that, now, can we?