I was twenty-four when I gave birth to my son, and now in 2016, I’m a thirty-one-year-old with a seven-year-old kid… and I have recently found myself with a whole lot of time on my hand. It’s not just me. My husband is experiencing the same thing. We regularly find ourselves meeting in the kitchen and sharing a pot of coffee, wondering what exactly happened to the tiny being who needed us all of the time, and what exactly it is we’re supposed to be doing with ourselves as he grows up.
Even Toddlers Grow Up
We had been married for two years when our son was born. In fact, at the time of his birth, our total relationship age was two years, four months. Basically, our marriage was a curious toddler just beginning to understand and explore boundaries, when suddenly we were wholly responsible for a tiny, precious life. Like a lot of toddlers, we had to learn the rules of the road the hard way, and it turns out that parenting a young child while nurturing a young marriage is quite the challenge. Add to that the fact that I felt like hell any and every time I chose my marriage over my kid—meaning I rarely gave myself the wiggle room to make that choice.
But now, seven years later, both our marriage and our child are well out of toddlerhood. And seven, as it turns out, is a really fascinating age for a child. For us, seven has meant a new sense and degree of independence and autonomy for our son. As it is, he spends several hours each weekend at a friend’s house, and rarely tells us much about what he gets up to there. He’s a storyteller and is quite happy to play and create on his own in his room, the living room, or the backyard while we’re in another part of the house. He used to loop us into this time more often (and does still invite us to watch his many, many live action trailers for the films he creates in his mind), but now he needs us less than he once did. In fact, he prefers if we’re not paying much attention at all.
Empty Nest Syndrome (With A Full Nest)
What I don’t read or hear enough about that often is what happens to the life of an individual, or rather, two individuals, once their children start to age. Sure, there are plenty of articles about empty nest syndrome floating around online, but I’m not talking about my third child heading off to college when I’m in my fifties. I’m talking about my only child beginning to legitimately grow up and not need us to be constantly around like he has, while I’m in my early thirties. You know, early empty nest syndrome.
Of course, I know: he’s only seven, and likely has several more years of needing us ahead of him. I also hope that, to a degree, he’ll always have a need for us in his life. I want him to be wholly independent and capable of navigating life, but to enjoy having us around. What I have been surprised by is that since our child is seven, and there aren’t any other children scurrying around underfoot, my husband and I suddenly have a whole lot more time together just as… us. You know, those two people who dated and got married so quickly—those two people who were, once upon a time, not parents and living each day for one another? We’re trying to find out if those two people are still synced up and still invested in living their living their lives together.
Reader… I remembered I Married Him
So far, it seems like we are still on the same page, but it’s early yet. The same way that I sometimes take a step back and bask in watching my son’s life unfold, I now hope to take a step back and bask in the glory of having a lot of time to spend with my partner, and just focus on him. We share plenty of interests but we also don’t, and while my husband is always game to watch Grey’s with me, watching TV together isn’t usually our thing. We’re tossing around ideas for hobbies we can cultivate together: Salsa dancing? A YMCA gym membership? Actually being able to sit down side-by-side on the couch and read books for an hour in the middle of the afternoon (my fave)? All of these are what I used to dream about being able to do while in the thick of raising a two-year-old, and now that the time is available, it feels exciting, but also overwhelming.
When you become a parent, the world tells you that parenting is all-consuming. And sure, for a while it is. But I think somewhere along the way we both kept behaving as if parenting was a completely active thing for us, and these days we’re not required to be on point every single waking (and sleeping) minute. Now it’s time to rediscover who we are and what our marriage is, and it turns out it’s pretty scary to ask your partner, “What did we used to do together?” It’s scary to realize you might not… remember. Like so many things that come with life, just when we thought we knew what we were doing, we realized we don’t.
What Would I Do In A Room Of My Own?
And while my focus and biggest interest is in cultivating a stronger relationship with my husband, I’m also actively cultivating a stronger relationship with myself. When my son was small, I sometimes felt like I had to fight for the right to do anything that was just for me. I felt the weight of societal expectations of motherhood keenly, especially so when he was young. Now that he’s aging, it at least seems like it’s more socially acceptable for me to travel alone (y’all, the Facebook drama I used to get about taking two- or three-day trips by myself, even when they were work-related…). Fewer people raise their eyes when I talk about not spending my days constantly chasing my child, and no one seems to think I’m failing my kid when every conversation I start isn’t about him. So I’m taking this extra time and really committing myself to pursuits that make me feel more alive… like starting that collection of short stories I’ve had brewing in the back of my mind keep consistently putting off until, you know, I have more time.
I used to worry that as our son grows up and away from us, it would create a hole or chasm in our marriage that we wouldn’t know how to fill. Likewise, even as I was focused on making sure my kid knows I am also a person outside of being his mother, I beat myself up with questions about whether or not that concept would wreck him.
But up until recently, I hadn’t spent a lot of time reminding myself that a marriage is about two partners, not two parents, and that nurturing that partnership is what keeps it strong. The way I see it, as married partners, it’s only up from here. The next step is finding out how high we’ll climb.