This Easter ushered in the very first family holiday meal at which all my children weren’t present. It was quite a disturbing transition, me being a mom who relishes the joy of a boisterous table filled with the deep bass of boys and the lame jokes they bring.

This year, we had dear friends and family join us, making our dining room full to the brim, but the echo of a missing child resounds all the more in a mother’s heart.

I am sure it won’t be the last time we have a son missing at a family gathering. If they do what we hope and pray — spread their wings — it would be wrong of me to expect both/and in place of an either/or. Rather, the emotions are freshest and the experience is new that first instance: First time driving, first time moving out for university, first time not needing me.

The oldest has to be the one to place his footprint on the fresh sand in all aspects of parenting (lucky for his brothers). By the time we get down to number five, the beach will be well-trodden and familiar. Unfortunately, number one is our guinea pig. I can say with a tiny bit of experience it does, indeed, get easier, just not any less emotional; I still have to leave first so I don’t have to watch any kiddo drive away from the house.

For whatever reason, I thought it might get easier on us as parents the more our children aged — each boy becomes more independent, clearer on a vision for his life, stronger in his place in the world. I’m learning, however, that each of these check marks also tug on the heart and my identity as a mom.

I still feel a little shock sometimes when I realize my kids are more independent adults than needy children. I also have to focus on my relationship with my spouse, being very cautious to not wrap my life too closely with the children. It is easier said than done in this age of hyper-sports and school activities that consume the lives of teenagers and families. I strive to keep the balance and simply reject that absorption, knowing it is fleeting.

A wise person (I don’t recall whom) said to me long ago, “Little kids, little problems; bigger kids, bigger problems.”  Wise words. The trick is to remember their problems may not necessarily be my problems. I have done the bulk of my job in setting that foundation on solid rock under fertile soil for him. I am here to weed and wander around when invited, but the bulk of the job is his now; those apron strings look lovely flying high in the wind.

Kristina Beers lives in the Remus area with her husband and five sons. She shares her thoughts on parenting teenagers and young adults on the first and third Saturdays of each month.