Staying close to your grown-up kids

The old saying still rings true today: Motherhood is the toughest and best job in the world. Whether you’re a rocket scientist, a supermodel or a bank teller, the challenges you face when at home and off the clock are often the most trying.

With an illustrious film and television career spanning over 25 years and a successful stint as a mother of two boys for almost that long, Kathy Baker has certainly kept herself busy.

“Since I was 5 years old, I wanted to be an actress,” Baker said. “It was like a secret dream that I had, something that was beautiful and unattainable and yet maybe I could do it if I worked really hard. But I always wanted to be a mom, too. In my mind, the mom thing would just happen, and acting was something I’d really have to work for.”

Interestingly enough, Baker’s career began to really take off in the early 80s—almost in conjunction with the birth of her first son. It was then she realized that not only would balancing work and home life be difficult, but that being a parent and making important decisions for her children was by far the greater challenge.

“I wanted my boys to have a stable school and home life, and would not have been able to do it without their wonderful dad and nanny, because I had to travel and couldn’t be there at times,” Baker said. “It was so difficult to be away, because I’d miss them so much. It was lonelier than I ever thought it would be.

“But I do feel that I had a close relationship with my sons because I worked really hard for them whenever I literally wasn’t on the set. I always wanted to be the mom for them when I was home. I’d work harder on the weekends than I did when I was on the set!”

Baker’s determination to pursue a successful career in acting while being an active parent has paid off in many ways. She recalls candid conversations with her sons about why she did what she loved and why it’s important to go after a career that you are passionate about.

Today, Baker’s sons are following her lead, pursuing their creative dreams full on, and in the process of being an encouraging, inspirational mother, Kathy is now facing her greatest challenge to date — figuring out what to do with herself when the nest is empty for the first time in 23 years.

“My older son went to college locally, so when he recently moved to Chicago to pursue his journalism career, it was pretty hard,” Baker said. “And now that my younger son is about to leave for college, I’m starting to feel really depressed. For 23 years, I’ve woken up every day, and my day has been framed around a little person or two. What’s it going to be like to wake up every morning and not help one of my kids go to school? What’s it going to be like to not have the framework of their schedule framing my schedule?”

Even with a busy and dynamic career, Baker is experiencing the heartache that every other mom feels when her kids leave home and the space that was once filled with laughter, shouting, crying and playing grows quiet and still.

“Now I’m forced to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Baker said. “I’ve started to do more volunteering, I’ve started to do more theater. The reality of your kids leaving home makes your kind of get off your can and do stuff.”

While she doesn’t have it all quite figured out yet, Kathy is committed to keeping her relationship with her boys strong, no matter where their dreams carry them.

“What works for me personally is staying in contact and finding a way to communicate regularly,” she said. “If it doesn’t work for you to have daily phone calls, find other ways to communicate. I’ve learned how to text really well. My kids respond to texts more quickly than they respond to phone messages. Find different ways to stay in touch with your grown-up kids, but stay in touch no matter what.”

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Letting go when they leave the nest

Laverne always wanted a large family. She’d learned the secrets of being a great stay-at-home mom from watching her own mother, who showed her how to cultivate a garden, create a grocery list, and clean a house from top to bottom. But one thing her mom didn’t prepare her for was the day her five children would all leave home and have lives of their own.

These days, her children are taking paths that Laverne never would have imagined. As they’ve ventured out into the world she’s had to step back and have faith that she taught them well.

“The key to having peace of mind when your children leave is to trust that they are going to make the right decisions,” she said.

Now, at 59, Laverne is proud of what her children have become and feels confident that they are equipped to live rich, fulfilling lives.

“I’ve started to realize that this is how they turned out and I did everything I could,” she said. “No matter who we are and how we parent, we really do the very best that we can.”

Struggling with your role as a parent now that the kids are grown? TroubledWith offers practical advice and shows you how to redefine your relationship with those overgrown babies.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Birds of a Feather
If you’re feeling alone in your empty nest, reach out to Natalie’s Empty Nest Support Services, a community of parents helping each other through the transition.

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Find friends. Get advice. Share experiences. Exchange recipes. Visit ClubMom.

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Give up on being mother of the year (they think you already are) and relish in your perfect flaws at Imperfect Parent.

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Karen Stabiner asked 31 families to share their experience of having their kids leave home. It’s joyful, funny, painful and enlightening. Plus, it feels good to know other people feel the same way.