The Liminal Empty Nest Space
Are you in a liminal space in your life? Or maybe now you’re Googling “liminal space” because you’ve never even heard of it. Let me help you out. The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word “limen,” which means threshold. So, a liminal space in life is when you’re in between one thing and another. You’re at the doorway, the threshold, between who you were and who you are becoming. Here are just a few examples:
The time between high school and stepping out into the world on your own
The time between one job and another
The time between single to married
The time between couple and parents
You get the picture. Do you remember being in some of these moments? Are you in the middle of one right now? When you look at this list, what do you notice? What comes up for me is that these moments are “full of emptiness.” We are going from the comfortable known to the uncomfortable unknown. And for us humans, that usually means fear, sadness, and stress. We love our habits and routines. When we’re thrown out of them, we quite naturally become a little frightened and lost. We are entering new and uncharted territory. That is challenging. And exciting if you let it be.
One common liminal space is the time we define as “empty nest.” When our last child has finished high school and is set to fly off, we mothers often experience a deep sadness and longing for days gone by. We reminisce about when we were pregnant with them and how fast the time has flown by. We remember milestones like learning to walk and first soccer games, proms and disagreements over curfews. Our hearts are simultaneously breaking and overflowing. We can’t quite imagine what life looks like without any kids in the house, especially if we were single parents or stay-at-home moms.
If you are in a liminal space right now, (and we are almost always in one!) I’d like you to consider reframing challenge to opportunity. Yes, it is a challenge when we’re not really sure what comes next. And it’s also very exciting because this is our current opportunity to grow, to set a new course, to become a new you. One reason this is so difficult is because we treasure our roles. We cling to our identities, false and limiting though they may be. We hold onto them with fierce determination. Yet this identity you’ve become accustomed to is never the real you because you are so much more than this one thing.
We need only look to nature to see this in a dramatic way. Take the life cycle of a caterpillar. Most people think that while the caterpillar is safely tucked away in its cocoon, it’s just magically growing wings. But the truth is before the caterpillar can grow wings, it has to completely digest itself into nothing but goo! It is from this sloppy mess that the caterpillar’s specialized cells reinvent themselves into eyes, legs, and wings. Did you catch that? It has to completely fall apart before it can emerge into its new and glorious form. I seriously doubt the caterpillar is dissolving in its cocoon thinking, “Woe’s me! I’m not a caterpillar anymore. Life is over! I loved being a caterpillar. It’s all I’ve ever been. Nothing good can come of me now.”
So if you are in the empty nest stage of your life, take heart! You now have permission to cry on your couch and eat a can of Pringles if that’s your thing. You must become “mom goo” before you emerge into the next stage of your unfolding. This is a sacred time of being pregnant with possibility. You get to decide what kind of butterfly you will become. There is no rush. There is no right or wrong. There is only the certainty that you will emerge wearing a brand new set of glorious wings. And what mom doesn’t want that.