When all my kids were little and there were constantly five little mouths talking to me and 10 little hands reaching for me, I could sometimes be heard mumbling under my breath, “These kids need to get a life!” I was their life. And as a young mom who had been thrust into motherhood with five children under the age of five, I was completely overwhelmed.

I was definitely the center of their little world: I was the source of their food and their fun. I cooked their meals and took them to the park. I read them stories at night, snuggled up on the couch, and sang them bedtime lullabies. Mine was the hand they reached for when crossing the street, and the hug they would seek out when they were frightened or sad. I was the candy Nazi, limiting them to one piece of candy per week, and also the one bringing them to the ice cream stand near the train tracks where we would watch in wonder as the train zipped by. I was their leader, guide, teacher, playmate, cook, taxi driver, nurse, and disciplinarian. But they just called me “Mommy.”

We were connected. As wonderful as that was, sometimes I just needed a break.

I felt trapped in the monotony of meals, laundry, and daily routines. I knew each one of my precious little ones was a gift from God. Yet, I didn’t always appreciate these gifts. Often I was so overwhelmed with their unending demands, I responded to them with frustration and anger. I remember saying things like, “You have reached your limit of questions for the day. You may not ask me any more questions until tomorrow.” And, “Please, please, PLEASE do not touch me! I just need everyone to STOP TOUCHING ME.”

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Things were especially challenging after family vacations. I learned to brace myself for what I called “re-entry.” The week after a family trip would inevitably include temper tantrums, crying spells, and rebellious fits. Eventually, my husband would help me calm down, and we would again settle into the rhythm of life. 

As any mom will testify, mothering is one of the hardest assignments in the world. It is 24/7 with no earthly pay. 

But I didn’t want it any other way. I loved being the one shaping their little hearts and minds. Despite all the times I felt overworked, exhausted, frustrated, or defeated, I loved that I was the one guiding them and watching them grow up.

And grow up they did. All those wishes ago when I used to say, “These kids need to get a life!” well, they went ahead and did just that. When I wrote this, A was stationed in Iraq, serving our country in the US Navy. I was living four hours away, married, and expecting her first baby. B had just graduated high school and was spending her summer as a lifeguard at a camp in upstate NY where she later attended a Bible Institute in the fall. G was also in NY for nine weeks of summer ministry as a ropes course instructor. And C spent his third summer traveling with Teen Missions International loving on and sharing the gospel with children in remote villages of Madagascar.

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Though it seems that, when they were young, I was their life, now that they’re grown, they are my life.  Elizabeth Stone could not have been more accurate when she said: “Making the decision to have a childit is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” That is what my children are. 

They are my heart, my passion, my creativity, my love, my discipline, my frustration, my strengths, and my weaknesses.

They are my highest mountains and my deepest valleyswalking around, loving, and laughing, struggling, and growing into who God created them to be . . . apart from me. 

That summer, no one asked me endless questions. And no little hands reached for me. 

This is how it should be. This is right. Children are supposed to grow, separate from their parents, and be released into the world. Undoubtedly, there is the joy of watching them become their own unique individuals. Yet there is a tearing away of the pieces of my heart which are forever knit to theirs. This is hard. And there is nothing anyone can say or do to make it any easier. It is one of those bittersweet rites of passage through which every mom must journey. 

I am told I will come to embrace this new season of my life, and I’m sure that eventually, I will. 

There are so many things I had put on hold as my children were growing. I suppose, now, I can pick up those dreams, re-examine them, and decide whether or not to pursue them. I am not the same woman I was when I began this journey. I have grown and changed into someone new. They have taught me so much, these precious ones. They have gifted me with perspective, joy, wisdom, resilience, discernment, and countless opportunities to grow in prayer and trust.

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So as my kids venture out on their own and discern the path God has laid out for them, I too, am on an adventure of discovery. Where will these roads lead us? And where will we all end up? I don’t know.

I just know my heart is forever linked to the five people who I call my children. Every day my heart walks around outside of my body. I feel it swelling, breaking, bursting with joy, and anxious with uncertainty. And always, always overflowing with love and gratitude that I have had the privilege of watching my kids discover what it means to “Get a life.”

Originally published on the author’s blog

Teresa Whiting

Teresa Whiting is a  national speaker, writer, furniture artist, entrepreneur, and ministry leader. But her favorite titles are “Mom” and “G-ma.” She and her husband Greg live in Northeast Ohio, where they are becoming reluctant empty-nesters. Connect with her at https://teresawhiting.com/ or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teresawhitingwrites/?ref=bookmarks