Robbie has five children, ages 10 to 21 years old. Close to two years ago, her oldest son left on a mission for their church. I wanted to hear Robbie’s perspective on going through transitions as her children leave home.
When Robbie was very young, she assumed she would be a stay at home mom. As she grew, she became more interested in a career. She planned to go into education and become an administrator like her dad. She knew she wanted to have kids, but it wasn’t a priority at the time. “I just wanted to be a high power business woman. I had this image of myself coming back to my five year reunion and being really successful and not being married, not having any ties or anything, maybe starting my family later.”
Robbie felt that she really benefitted from her own mother staying home. She knew that she when she eventually had children, she needed to stay home and take care of them.
When she was 16, she went to a career fair at her local college. An all-girl class there focused on how women need to have an education because it can benefit them in their life. The teacher had everyone but two people stand up. Robbie had a feeling that she should not stand up, which she found strange because she is usually pretty extroverted. The teacher told the girls that those standing represent the number of women who will be working mothers. When Robbie was one of only two sitting women, she felt strongly that she needed to be a mom.
She said that was a pivotal moment. “I remember seeing all of those girls stand up and thinking, ‘I need to be a stay at home mom. That’s what I want to do. That’s not really what I want to do, but that’s what I need to do.’ That’s when my priorities shifted a little bit. I was still young, but because that situation had happened, it was always in the back of my mind.”
When it was time to date and get married, Robbie really wanted to find someone who supported her decision. She did not want to have to worry about providing financially for the family on top of taking care of her children. She felt so grateful when she met her husband, Joseph. He felt the same way she did.
When she had small children, she had a great support system. She had sisters in law, sisters, her mom, her mother in law, and friends who helped her. Her husband Joseph was her rock. She described having small children as a challenging time. “I loved it, but it was SO hard. It was just so hard. You are exhausted all the time. Emotionally you’re spent. Especially with the oldest, because you don’t know really what you are doing. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom on my knees, praying.”
Running would help her mental health at that time, too. She loved the fresh air outside, the freedom from distraction. She loved clearing her mind. As her children have grown she hasn’t needed it as much. She still exercises, because she says, “I can be tightly wound. When I exercise it gives me a chance to decompress.” Once, when her oldest son was about seven, she was with him in the garage and feeling grumpy. He turned to her and said, “Mom, you haven’t been running this morning, have you?”
Robbie acknowledges the challenge of always putting children first, even sometimes before things like going to the bathroom or taking a shower. She says it is hard to let things go and take care of them later. “I like having a clean home. … I get embarrassed when people come in and there are toys flung all over and snot wiped on the window. You just have to learn to go, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m raising a family.’”
Sometimes she wants to pat herself on the back when she handles a rough situation beautifully, but other times she’ll raise her voice at her children and will pray for the strength to handle it better. “The whole process of being a mother is challenging. There’s no way around it. If you want to raise good children, and you want them to be successful, it’s hard, because you have to discipline them. You have to encourage them. You’re like their biggest cheerleader.”
When the kids were small, Robbie loved taking them for walks to the post office and hearing them ask, “What’s that?” She loved watching their minds expand as she explained the world to them. Now that they are older, she loves seeing them succeed, especially after they have worked hard and sometimes failed first.
She remembers hearing moms of older children or adult children tell her, “Enjoy it while it’s here, because it goes by so fast.” She would think, “Are you insane? I have changed 42 diapers today. I haven’t slept. My boobs hurt because I’ve been nursing!” Robbie said, “You put your heart and soul into it, and then it gets beautiful, and then you’re just reveling in it, and then it’s almost like it’s over. . . I wish that I had enjoyed the journey a little bit more.”
She encourages others in her stage of life to rely on their spouses. “I think that our spouses can get us through almost anything.” She never told her children, “I don’t want you to leave home. I’m going to miss you so much.” She wanted them to know that she thinks they are capable, and that she expects them to do amazing things. “I just sent them out the door thinking I knew they could do it.”
Letting her oldest leave for a foreign country was really hard. “I didn’t handle the transition very well when my first one left home. It was really difficult for me. I think it’s because I was mourning the loss of my family. I felt like I was grieving a loss.”
When her oldest son started his senior year, Robbie worried that she might have a heart attack. She could not figure out what was going on. She sometimes had a hard time breathing. She felt so anxious at all of his football games, worrying about him getting hurt or failing. She didn’t realize until later that her pain was anticipation of his leaving. She would tell herself, “This is the first of the lasts, or the last of the firsts.” She wished that instead she would have told herself that each moment was the first time—the first time for each game, the first time he would receive a scholarship, the first time he would graduate.
She was so proud of her son and his success. He was right where she wanted him to be. She felt so grateful that God had made up any difference between her parenting capabilities and her son’s needs. “You are just so appreciative of the Lord. You want them to go. You want them to spread their wings, but in a way you’re thinking, “Can’t you just stay home?” It’s just been so beautiful.” If she could have paused their lives with all the children home she would have.
Her son was assigned to Nicaragua. Robbie put on a brave face. She knew she wanted him to go. She thought, “I could have him stay home, and totally clip his wings, and he would totally miss out on all the opportunities that I want him to, or I can just be selfless and let him go. Let him become the man that he needs to be, and that the Lord needs him to be, and that I want him to be.”
About two months before he left, she had a dream that he got hurt in Nicaragua. After the dream she prayed for him to be protected, and for her to be okay. She felt an amazing sense of peace. “I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know if he would come back without being mugged, or I didn’t know if he would even come back alive. I just knew that he would be okay, and that I would be okay. And that was enough.”
Her second son, Noah, has also left now. His departure was hard, too, because she says, “Noah is like sunshine in our family. When Noah is around, you know you’re going to have fun. He’s just hilarious.” This time she said the transition was a little easier, because she knew that great blessings were in store for him and for their family.
Robbie’s parents have a huge influence on her life. They constantly tell her how proud they are of her school work, her children, and all of her hard work. She says the most important thing they tell her is that they pray for her daily, so she always does the same thing for her children. “Since that’s so important to me, I always let my kids know, I am praying for you daily.”
When their oldest son, Adlai, was 16 years old, Joseph started saying to Robbie, “Honey, do you realize we only have three more Christmases with Adlai?” Robbie knows he only meant they should take advantage and make it wonderful, but Robbie felt dismay at only three more. After Adlai left, Joseph started to say, “Honey, do you realize …” But this time Robbie said, “No. You cannot do this anymore. It is freaking me out. You’ve gotta stop!” Robbie advises, “Don’t anticipate them leaving. Just enjoy every second. It’s awesome. This has been the best ride I’ve ever been on.”
Robbie is currently enjoying her youngest three children, who are still at home. She has been studying Psychology and is thrilled to graduate this month with her undergraduate degree. She liked studying, but is glad to be done. Robbie plans to spend more full time on her younger children, supporting them and their schools. Eventually she plans to get her masters degree and open up a marriage and family therapy practice.
“I think that being a full time caregiver is a sanctification process,” she says. Robbie believes caregiving provides an opportunity to overcome selfishness and become our best selves. “I haven’t ever regretted it. It has been the most incredible blessing of my life to be a caretaker—to be a mom.”
Thank you for sharing your time and insight, Robbie. I honor you and the work you do.