Identity Theft: What Happens When the Nest is Empty?

I can see a finish line in the distance. In just four short years, we will cross it.

In four years, my oldest child will graduate from high school.

I wish I could say I could remember the day he was born like it was yesterday, but the memories have faded. They’re vivid still, but the lines are fuzzy and not as distinct. But it isn’t just the memories of his birth day that are fuzzy. There’s something else about that time I can’t quite remember.

I’ve forgotten who I was before I became a mother.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kristian Bjornard

My son was born two months after I graduated from college. Although I’ve always had to work for financial reasons, I’ve stayed part-time to avoid the high cost of childcare. As such, the jobs I’ve had over the years have been in “off” hours (early mornings and weekends) as well as working from home. Most of these jobs have been enjoyable, but not necessarily what I would have chosen for a career path. My odd working hours coupled with the craziness of raising a big family kept me from developing other hobbies and interests.

I immersed myself in parenting. I basked in the joys and took pride in staying strong through the grueling lows. Motherhood consumed every aspect of my identity. The helicoptering nature of modern parenting culture made it easy to set aside any goals I might have had for myself.

Even though I was happy, I always felt like a part of me was missing. There has always been a pull inside me, longing for more.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying this happens to everyone after they become a parent. I know many people who never lost their sense of self, who managed to blend their goals and aspirations with parenting. I admire those people. I wish I could say I was one of them.

I’m also not saying I regret the way things turned out. When I look back on how my life has unfolded, I am so grateful and well aware of how lucky I have been. But the thought of my child graduating from high school has been a wake-up call. I need to figure out who I am again, beyond someone’s mother.

Motherhood may last forever, but the hands-on work of parenting is finite.

What then?

This question terrifies me. I don’t want to imagine my life without a house full of children. But I know I have to. Buried deep within me is the person I was before I became a mother. I need to find that part of myself again.

I’ve been evaluating my past dreams, going through them like dusty boxes you find in the attic. Trying them on like old clothes and seeing if any of them still fit.

It isn’t just the old dreams I’m trying on. I’m exploring new aspirations and goals, and it’s both terrifying and exciting. On one hand, I refuse to imagine a life beyond diapers and breastfeeding, beyond co-sleeping, cartoons, toys, and driving a carload of bickering children to school.

On the other hand…I imagine what I could do. What I could be.

I could go back to school and earn a Master’s degree. (Done! I start classes this semester.)

I could be the communications director for a political campaign.

I could create a digital media company devoted to the social justice causes I care about.

I could be the marketing director for a theatre company or other arts organization.

I could volunteer in the community, like I’ve always wanted to.

But most of all, I’m looking forward to getting to know myself again.



Meghann is the mom of 5 kids. She is a Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an Owner/Partner at Brand Driven Digital. Meghann was elected to the Coralville City Council in 2017 and is currently serving her first term. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry (Vice-Chair) and on the DVIP Board of Directors. She is also a member of Johnson County's Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Policy Board. Meghann is passionate about her family, her community, and is a proud pop culture nerd.


  1. This is beautifully written. I am at a much different point of my mommyhood, getting ready to send my youngest to kindergarten next year and realizing I no longer need to plan my job around lack of a babysitter. It’s actually a very exciting time for me and I am starting to realize that making relationships based on something other than meeting people while doing fun activities for my preschooler is much like moving to a new area as a pre-child adult. Thanks for putting into writing things I was already realizing and not knowing how to put into words. 🙂 Best wishes on your new ventures!

    • Thanks, Robyn! I totally understand the part about meeting new people beyond the context of school/kid activities. I’ve noticed this as I’ve become more active in my current job. It was both weird and exciting to go somewhere and discuss things that were work-related and not kid-related!


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