17: Mom’s Empty Nest Gap Year, with Michelle Fiordaliso

A Single Mom Walks The Camino De Santiago and Reflects on the Gifts of Motherhood

After raising her son Joe as a single mother then taking him to college to pursue an acting career, writer Michelle Fiordaliso is taking a “Mom’s Gap Year.” She says she’s “utterly thrilled to be alive and for the gift of who mothering made me.” And she is taking a sabbatical of sorts. She embarked on a solo eighteen-day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, hiking 15 to 17 miles a day in the mountains, staying in hostels, and carrying her possessions in a 12-pound bag.

Along the Camino, a spiritual path or retreat for spiritual growth, Michelle was “moved a million times a day by beauty, nature and human kindness.” As she walked for miles, Michelle pondered the gifts she has gained from parenthood. She is now able to focus on what she has, rather than what she is missing. While fear still can creep up on her, Michelle no longer lets it consume and control her. She has learned to “relinquish control, let go, trust, appreciate little things, and find what brings joy.”

Michelle says she watches fellow parents fret constantly about their young adult fledglings. But through her journey, Michelle has realized that kids are going to struggle and that they must grapple with difficulties in life to fully develop. It’s a natural impulse as a parent to want to shield them, Michelle says, but it’s also those irritations, the sand in the oyster shell, that helps create the pearl. On her trek through the Camino, Michelle learned that spirituality is about “that which connects all people.”

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What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Michelle is taking a Mom Gap Year to refocus on herself and find “clarity and connection.”
  • After leading a highly disciplined life, raising a son as a single mother and juggling many jobs, Michelle found walking the Camino de Santiago intimidating because it lacked structure.
  • Michelle expected to walk most of the 15 to 17 miles a day alone, but found herself meeting characters along the way with common ground, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
  • Michelle says she has been terrified lots in life, but never let fear stop her from doing what she wanted, including skydiving and driving a motorcycle. “Fear is a muscle,” she says. “You have to pick the muscle you want to exercise. I exercise the muscle faith more than I exercise the muscle fear.”
  • She found her journey on the Camino to be “an equalizing experience in a transformative way.”
  • After breaking her toe, she was forced to do something out of her comfort zone: accept help from others.
  • Michelle says it’s a myth that we are here to teach our kids—they are here to teach us: “The job is really just to love them.”
  • Michelle says she is learning to embrace uncertainty in life and remains convinced that “the best is yet to come.”