I dropped one of my twin daughters off at college recently. She needed to go early because she participates in cross country.
She was excited and talked to her roommate a lot over the summer, so she felt comfortable with her new living situation. We purchased all the things for her dorm room, and her schedule was set. Move-in day went relatively smoothly, and she felt good in her new living space.
Of course, there were some tears when we said our good-byes. Mostly mine, but also a few of hers.
But mostly, I left her with a smile on her face and excitement in her heart, and I don’t think a parent can ask for more than that.
Driving home after goodbye
My husband held my hand as I looked out the window while cruising down the highway for the eleven-hour drive back home.
“Are you okay?” he asked, sniffing a little bit.
“I am. Well, I will be. It’s just harder than I thought. I mean, she’s so ready, but I feel so sad,” I told him.
The next few days, I felt a little numb. The adrenaline of the trip had worn off, and I was struggling to get back into my routine. I wasn’t sitting around crying (although I did a few times), but I wasn’t back to feeling like myself yet either.
I just felt off.
What is momancholy
During the next few days post-drop off, many kind-hearted people texted and messaged to check in on me. There were so many that I started wondering if I was being a little dramatic with how hard the process felt and how I was reacting. After all, thousands of parents do this each year, so why did this feel so hard to me?
And I was doing okay, maybe even better than I thought I would be, considering the date of my next college drop-off was looming over me.
I hadn’t cried as much as I thought, but I felt physically exhausted, mentally drained, and emotionally spent. When I mentioned that to a friend, she responded, “Of course you feel that way. It’s called grief.”
But grief feels too heavy of a word to use for this situation, one where I am also feeling pride and joy, and hope. I was thrilled that my daughter was acclimating so well and a little guilty that I was so sad she was gone.
I just felt off.
As I discussed these feelings both online and with my local friends, three separate people told me that they knew exactly what I was experiencing, and it was called momancholy.
And I can’t stop thinking that’s exactly how I feel.
Momancholy, like it’s derivative word melancholy, is a depression of spirits, feeling pensive for what was, an abnormal state of sadness.
It’s no wonder why so many mothers feel momancholy when their kids leave home
My life has been a whirlwind these last 18 years. They have been so full of baking and buying and attending and watching and rushing and playing and fixing and consoling and loving.
And there have been scary moments spent in the emergency room or sleeping with my child because her mental health was suffering or feeling pieces of my heart breaking off because their hearts broke.
And we’ve celebrated birthdays, achievements, and Sundays where we could all be together. Those were the best.
During the craziness, you know that things are changing. Your kids outgrow your lap and suddenly ask to borrow your car. Your daughter starts stealing your clothes. Your baby is now grown.
You long to reminisce about the day they flushed a pull-up down the toilet during your Super Bowl Party, or when she won 1,000 tickets at Chuck E. Cheese, or when she beat all the boys at Field Day, but there just isn’t time because you’re planning move-in dates and buying dorm supplies and searching for plane tickets.
It all went so fast, and now I’m standing in my kitchen, alone, with no one to feed, no messes to clean, no bodies to hug.
How did I get here? Did I miss it all in the doing? What happens now?
And as I wipe away the tears, I know it went by in a blink, but I was there for it.
I remember my daughters’ gapped smiles and the way they smelled at the end of a summer day and the sound of their giggles when they were supposed to be asleep.
I’m incredibly sad that this time in my life is over, but I’m also so glad I was part of it.
It’s grief and gratitude, joy and heartbreak, love and sorrow.
I know I’m not any different. It’s the life of every parent.
It’s not quite grief, but it’s not nothing either.
I was reminded of an article I read many years ago when my first friend had a child who headed off to college. It was written by Beverly Beckham in 2006 and entitled, “I Was Their Sun, and They Were My Planets.” It included this line that I have seen over and over again:
“It’s not a death. And it’s not a tragedy. But it’s not nothing, either.”
How am I doing sending my babies out into this world?
The answer is simple: I am just trying to find my way in a life that is so different than it was just a few days ago.
And it is exhausting. And it is draining. And I am spent.
It’s not quite grief. But it’s not nothing either.
Are you struggling with how to face an empty nest?
Many of our readers have recommended this book: HOW TO SURVIVE THE EMPTY NEST PHASE: Practical Tips For Empty Nesters To Connect With Yourself, Your Adult Children, and Spouse While Reigniting Your Inner Purpose
*This post may contain affiliate links where we earn a small commission for purchases made from our site.