Not too long ago, I spent my Friday evening crying on the couch. I was grieving the end of an era, the end of the time in my life when my children are little and are at home with me all day.

I knew this day would come. I did. I knew my youngest would be in all-day kindergarten this year, but between the pandemic and online school, that day got pushed back quite a bit.

But it came. The empty house. The loneliness. And the almost deafening silence, broken only by my frantic need to listen to an audiobook to keep me company during my long day at home, alone.

For me, being a mother is everything. I have relished and enjoyed the “little” stagesbaby, toddler, preschoolerand because my children are four years apart from each other (now ages 14, 10, and 6), I have enjoyed those stages for a very long time. As soon as one of my children was ready to move to the next stage or school age, it seemed like I still had a little one with me. 

Until now.  

So the question I have been asking myself is, Where do I go from here?

As our children enter different stages of life, we find ourselves doing the same even if we feel we may not be ready to do that. But we find that no matter how much we wish it would slow, time keeps marching forwardregardless of what we do or do not do.

RELATED: Your Kids Growing Up Doesn’t Mean it’s All Over

But I don’t want to just sit around and sob about it. So, what’s next? The transition to being a mother to older, school-age children is toughbut here are five ideas that have helped me.

Remember, even though one stage is over, it means another is beginning. 

Family activities that just weren’t feasible with a newborn, toddler, and preschooler are suddenly possible. This winter, we went skiing for the first time together as a familyno one stayed back with the “little” one. It was a whole new feeling of completeness to be on the mountain together, all day, with no one missing.

Create new traditions and routines. 

In our family, my kids’ birthday parties are a big deal. Not because I spend a lot of money or they are at all extravagant, but because I spend a lot of time personally planning everything and making some elements, like the cake, myself. Well, my 14-year-old is no longer wanting to do the kind of little-kid, themed parties we have always done . . . no surprise. But what I realized is what I loved about the birthday party tradition is thinking about, talking about, anticipating, and executing a special event for my child.

So now, I am planning a mom and daughter only trip with my 14-year-old, and, gulp, I just registered to do a mud run with my sporty, adventurous 10-year-old. We have already started talking about and enjoying these activities even though they are both a few months away

Make time for each of your children individually. 

When you have a gaggle of young children who need constant supervision and care (and who often have a preference for mama), it can be hard to spend meaningful time with each child, doing something they enjoy. This can be big or small, but the important part is that it is one on one. Lots of times, moms spend a large quantity of time with their children as a group, but very little quality time with them individually. So sometimes I will bust out the video game controller and give my 6-year-old some serious laughs when I try to play a racing game and I keep crashing my car again, and again, and again.

RELATED: I Love That My Kids Are Growing Up. Is That So Wrong?

Take up a new hobby. 

You have the time, remember? By choosing to purposefully develop a new interest or do something you have been putting off for literally years, you can create a new sense of purpose, balance, and accomplishment. For me, this means putting my writing skills to better use, taking better care of my physical body, and strengthening my faith.

Look back with love, but not with longing. 

When we dwell upon the past, we miss the beauty of the present moment. Practice saying, “I love this age,” because you do. As mothers, it is our responsibility, and calling, to love our children under all circumstancesat every age and stage.

Transitions are hard. We always talk about how they are hard for kids, but sometimes we forget it is tough on parents too. That is OK.

Take it from me . . . the best is yet to come.

Melissa Johnson

Melissa is a mother to three children–ages 14, 10, and 6. When she isn’t mothering, she is probably either reading, cooking, eating chocolate, or trying to learn how to become more organized. She loves hearing people’s stories, which is why she became a speech-language pathologist 12 years ago. Someday she hopes to travel the world.