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by Abigail Van Buren

Mother Feels Dread As Empty Nest Looms

DEAR ABBY: I am the mother of a "yours, mine and ours" family. Between us, my husband and I have six children. I have been "Mom" for his three children since the oldest was 6. Fifteen years have passed, and I raised all of them as my own. Because the stress of such a large family has taken its toll at times, I have said I couldn't wait until everyone was 18 and out of the house.

Three of the children are on their own now and three remain. The youngest is 14. I recently took my 18-year-old son to the Air Force recruiter to take his entrance test and as I watched him walk into the building, I started to cry. I realized I don't really want them to go away.

I have been a parent since I was 17, and now -- at 40 -- I'm having a hard time imagining life without them. I'm afraid of having only my husband to keep me occupied. There has never been a time without kids around. I'm afraid it'll be like starting our relationship all over again, and he may not like what he sees. How can I get past the fear of not being needed or wanted anymore? -- ALMOST EMPTY-NESTED IN VERMONT

DEAR ALMOST EMPTY-NESTED: Instead of allowing fear or anxiety to drag you down, look at the bright side. Your nest will be full for four more years -- and if there is something about yourself that you see that you don't like, there is plenty of time to do something about it.

You are more than "just" a mother. Because your responsibilities as a parent have lightened, use the time to broaden your horizons and develop some mutual interests with your husband that you couldn't before. Sometimes we can be our own harshest critics -- so be a little kinder to yourself and consider what I have said. It is heartfelt.

Read more in: Mental Health | Family & Parenting | Marriage & Divorce