image source: IKEA Family

The other day, I spent a few hours in the land of overstimulation, otherwise known as IKEA.

Through the years, IKEA’s been there for our little family—when we settled into the quiet townhouse that cocooned our transition from Boise family of four to Minneapolis family of three; when, a few years later, we moved into R-house; when a winter would drag on and we’d be desperate for any heated place to stretch our legs; when we were craving Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes and Lord knows I wasn’t cooking them; when our cozy nooks needed shelves, hooks, or splashes of color…

IKEA came through.

This was on my mind as I followed those familiar floor arrows through the maze of possibilities. I stopped to explore each and every model room as if I were shopping New York apartments for rent without once needing to call my children out of the cupboards or off the mattresses. I felt the usual overwhelming buzz of inspiration that only IKEA delivers, but I also felt an ache, which I understood immediately as loss.

It wasn’t until I reached the play forts and dollhouses that that loss came into focus. And, even now, I struggle to find the words to capture what I understood in that moment so clearly.

image source: tubu kids

Yes, I miss wandering the IKEA aisles with my kids. Yes, I miss bringing home those play forts and dollhouses. But this loss is less tangible.

In a small but real way, IKEA represents what life was when my family was young and I was in a different season of motherhood.

Back then, life was an endless array of some-assembly-required options stretching out in every direction. It was my chance to design, shape, create, and customize our lives to look, feel, and flow the way I wanted. It was my chance to say, “Hey guys, this is where we’re going to store our socks from now on.” Or, “Okay, grab your shoes, we’re volunteering at church.” Or, “Yes, you can have your screen time, but first finish your chores.”

For many years, my vision, my values, my heart, and my color choices shaped our world.

That meant I focused my energy on creating safe, fun, inspiring spaces. Nurturing growth. Organizing chaos. Infusing meaning. Cultivating laughter. And snuggling. Plenty of snuggling. Life was about fitting together the puzzle pieces of our family’s unique (and ever-changing) tastes, needs, and challenges, and building a life that served us—and, hopefully, others—well.

image source: domino

As a creative person, or maybe just as a person, that was one of the most fun, and daunting, parts of being a mom. The shape of my family—and the permanent tint of my children’s childhood memories—was in my hands.

As I walked through the aisles of IKEA that night, it began to sink in how much my role has shifted. I am not the one designing life for this family anymore.

In fact, the very reason I was there at all was to kill time near the airport while I waited for my son to return from a college visit—the only one out of the eight campuses he visited that I didn’t. And, it turns out, that’s the college he chose. In upstate New York. (!!) Because this is his life now. I had my turn to make the decisions. Now it’s his. I am so proud of him.

But I am feeling the loss. A chapter has ended.

That night it really hit me that I’ll never have the chance to shape my children’s lives—maybe anyone’s life—in that same way again. Most likely, I will never again announce to my kids where we’re currently storing the socks. But, alongside the loss, I notice something else. Something much brighter.

You see, my very favorite moments as a mom have always been the ones that didn’t involve me at all—the ones where my kids simply inhabited the spaces our family had created, and life blossomed. Like, for example, when 11-year-old Jack spent hours and hours creating a stop-motion Lego music video (seriously, watch it).

Or when 12-year-old Alex shot her first extreme close-up of the flowers on our front step.

Or when either of them would completely disappear into a book, or the land of make-believe.

Really, moments like that were the goal of every trip to IKEA. And that is the loss I am feeling. I’m no longer the one to shape those spaces where my children come to life.


I guess I’m hoping that, in a much bigger way, I actually already have helped shape those spaces. I’m hoping that I laid some foundations and unveiled some possibilities that will help my kids blossom, wherever they are.

Even better, now I get to watch them create those spaces for themselves. And, if I’m lucky, they’ll invite me in once in a while.

In the meantime, I actually do need a new system for storing my socks, so I may be heading back to IKEA one day soon.

And I won’t have to push any small children around in those completely un-steerable shopping carts—proving that with every loss there is a gain.

image source: IKEA

Here’s to shaping our lives—and our families—in ways that matter, friends. And here’s to building do-it-yourself memories that long outlive your IKEA furniture. xxoo

Image sources: 1/2/3/4: Jack’s YouTube Video/ 5: Alex Ry (the early years)/6