I never imagined as the baby of the house that one day I’d be in my mom’s shoes, facing the dreaded “empty nest” and feeling, as I’m sure she did, all the mixed emotions that go with it. I mean, I was just a kid myself.

Now that I’m all grown up with children of my own and facing that very thing, I can honestly say “Mom, I’m so sorry,” because I finally get it.

All those years of, “why don’t you do it yourself,” muttered under my breath of course, because let’s face it, we think we’re big and bad until mom yells, “WHAT DID YOU SAY!” If you’re anything like me, you would instantly become 5 years old and yell back, “Umm, I said I love you” in your sweetest voice ever. Now, with kids of my own, I’m pretty sure she knew I was going to come back with some type of remark when given a chore or something I didn’t want to do, so she would wait a few minutes to allow me the chance to “spout off.”

As the mother of three now-adult children, my life has been full of chaos and adventure. Full of laughter, tears, happiness, sadness and even anger. Being a mom doesn’t come with a handbook. No, you lead by example and you learn as you go. Moms are human too, and we make mistakes, a fact I only realized when becoming a mom myself. As a kid, mom is always right, knows everything and has eyes in the back of her head. Fortunately for me, I have two amazing parents to guide and advise me. They teach me patience, love, compassion, kindness, strength, wisdom, communication, understanding and respect—all of which it takes to raise a child into a good human being.

That’s how I see my job as Mom: to raise a child to be a good parent and a good person. It’s amazing how fast time flies; one minute you’re staring into the most beautiful, innocent eyes for the first time, a little “mini you.” They’re like a sponge, absorbing everything you say and do. They hang on your every word and action. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Pretty soon they start school. You become a soccer mom, a home room mom, a chaperone at dances and field trips. You wonder where the time has gone. Your refrigerator is covered with drawings of scribbly colorful circles, that truthfully you have no idea what it’s supposed to be, but it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen and you’re convinced your child is the next Van Gogh.

Then comes the teenage years: girlfriends and boyfriends, cell phones, social media and thinking they know everything and, “Mom, you just don’t understand.” I’ve spent many nights nursing broken hearts, and sometimes all you can do is cry with them. It’s hard to know the right thing to say or do, but I have found that if you lead with your heart, you can never go wrong.

Sometimes you’ll be their hero and sometimes the most hated person ever, and though we might want to always be the good guy, we can’t, because we’re parents first and their best friend second. As children grow up and maturity sets in, they began to realize, as we did, that everything Mom does, every decision, is for their benefit. Sometimes I catch myself saying something or doing something my mother did and I think, “OH MY GOD, I AM MY MOM.” Lucky for me, that’s a really good thing.

The years go by way too fast. Pretty soon you’ll be like me with your last baby, the final one, about to spread their wings and fly. You want them to have their own experiences moving forward, but secretly you don’t want them to do it without you. It’s so bittersweet. I’ve raised them all to be kind, caring and responsible adults, and every day they show me that they have learned my lessons. They make me so proud and I know that every sacrifice I’ve made is worth it. Yet, a big part of me wishes that they could be little again, reaching for my hand and looking up at me for what to do next.

The empty nest is a whole new chapter, and just like the first time, it’s exciting and scary. I see that it has come full circle. You learn, you teach and you let go. You trust that all those values and lessons have been absorbed. It doesn’t really end, the journey continues. There will still be lessons to learn and be taught, broken hearts to nurse, (sometimes maybe even yours) and there will still be super proud moments as you watch your child take steps forward. So here’s to all of us moms. Let’s celebrate our journey. Because what’s next? Grandmom!