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  • Writer's pictureToni Thrash

The Road to Spectator

The road…begins with birth.

It is filled with U-turns, sharp curves, long stretches of mundane, steep climbs, and scary descents. Mostly it is long and winding. At worst you have 18 years with them, and at best 22 or so. When you have children, the game clock starts. You kiss boo-boos, you teach them to ride a bike, and you let them learn they should under no circumstances cut their own hair. You let them learn not to stand too close to someone swinging a bat. You teach them to drive and slam on the invisible brake on the passenger floorboard. You hug them after their hearts get broken, they fail a test, or get a speeding ticket.

The road can be unexpected.

Sometimes the road ahead does not look like you thought it would. Even if you know it’s coming. Especially if you knew it was coming.

I knew it was closer than I wanted it to be. It arrived on my doorstep sooner and I wasn’t prepared. There was so much going on in my life at that time and I was so numb from the pain of it all.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Because I am the one who chose to leave for my own health, I left the two of them there. They were 22 and 18 at the time. They hadn’t launched yet because of the situation at home.

It was uncharted waters for all of us. This wasn’t how I had envisioned this road all those years ago. This was a road on a steep descent heading downhill with no brakes.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you are there and it is a bullet train racing away from your doorstep. Being an Empty Nester is a complete spectator sport.

The road can be long.

For me, I went weekly to counseling and cried to the point of being unable to speak. My heart was broken. The loss I felt and the grief was unlike anything I’ve ever walked through. My counselor’s advice was I needed to live alone for at least a year to figure myself out and understand myself. I however was frantically trying to find a place big enough for the three of us to live. It had been crazy in our house and I needed them out. I tried hard but I couldn’t do it.

The road can be lonely...

I took his advice and immediately regretted it. I had never lived alone. Ever! They chose to stay in their home (I understood their why and this caused zero friction between us) and I remember sitting in my apartment alone and quiet. Crying and devastated. I couldn’t focus on anything because the thoughts in my head bounced off the walls and penetrated my heart like arrows to a balloon. The days presented themselves as an act of solitary confinement. I was thrust into being alone, living alone, and trudging through my mess alone. I literally got up and went to work every day and came home to nothing. There is no GPS for this.

The road can be a distraction.

I kept myself as busy as I could! I volunteered at church with Young Adults. I led small groups and trained small group leaders. I worked hard every day and continued coaching tennis. I was a master faker! I could fake that things were so good, but still dreaded going home to an empty apartment and the emotions tied to it. It was a fulfilling part of my life, but my heart still hurt.

I’m officially in the stands now. Deemed spectator.

My mom self felt very disconnected from my boys! Becoming a spectator all at once was not fun! Missing out on things and jokes I wasn’t in on was hard. (This was such a period of transition for all of us, none of us could find our rhythm for a couple of years.) I was pretty sure that my purpose was over, or so I thought. I wasn’t sure what was next. I wasn’t even sure there would be a next. I was useless and didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere.

The road is filled with lies and doubt.

It’s easy to look at your life at this stage and think of a few things:

  • I haven’t reached any of my goals in life.

  • Did you do enough as a mom?

  • You are a failure as a mom and let’s throw in just plain failure as a human.

  • You have no idea where or what you need to do next. It is drudgery in every sense of the word.

  • Are they equipped for what’s next on their own road?

I’ve learned a lot since those first few months and there are things I’m still learning:

  • My boys would make surprise visits because they felt it without me telling them where I was. This was a drop of goodness from the Lord in some of my weakest times.

  • I had a purpose even being single. I was given permission by my therapist to test the waters and volunteer. One of the best decisions I ever made!

  • I learned to be a spectator and not give motherly advice (okay, so I gave advice but tried not to be annoying about it) was way harder than I thought.

  • I learned to be brave and try new things.

  • 9 years later I’m still trying to learn to go to dinner by myself! HA!

The road comes full circle!

Here’s the thing about being an empty nester and becoming a spectator: your kids are spectators as well. They are watching your every move, how you make your decisions, and how you are living your life. Make no mistake this spectatoring goes both ways. Especially when you have a catalyst that causes trauma. They are paying attention. They see if you treat people the same as before. They watch and see how you handle conflict, defeat, failure, and success!

At some point in our lives, we get the opportunity to figure out what being alone is and how we can truly live a fulfilling life. We get to expose the lie that we must have people around us all the time to figure ourselves out.

We don’t. We need to face ourselves and look into the mirror every day and say, “I’m not afraid of being alone or the quiet around me.”

It turns out that becoming a spectator has its rewards! You get to watch your children navigate life. You see what their beliefs are, follow their dreams and passions, work hard, and then surprise you with grandchildren!

It comes full circle and you are no longer in the stands watching, you’ve moved to the bench and are about to get back in the game! There is really nothing better, than the emotions and trials on the road to being a spectator.

The road is worth traveling regardless of the bumps or potholes along the way.

I promise if I made it through, you will too. You can find me:


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