I’m too old to “change it up” – Nonsense
Negotiating life’s transition stages is an important part of growing in life. If you refuse to grow and advance with the changes life throws at you, life will become very uncomfortable indeed.
One thing is for sure – the longer we live, the more stages of life we transition through. For women in midlife, some of the big transitions of this stage are:
- Children leaving home – the “Empty Nest Syndrome”.
- Midlife career changes
- Becoming a grandparent
- Relationship changes – divorce or threat of divorce once children leave home
- Midlife crisis of you or your partner.
- Caring for elderly parents
- Financial issues – can you retire well?
- Facing your own mortality
The Empty Nest
One of the hardest things a woman in midlife must face is when her children have grown up enough to leave the safety and security of your home. Perhaps your child left to go away to college, perhaps they got a job and moved away, or perhaps they got married or moved in with a partner. Suddenly (or not so suddenly), there is an empty chair at the dinner table, a space left in the back of the car on family outings, or unexpected quiet (maybe peace?) in the home.
This does take some getting used to for mothers who were always very involved in the lives of their children. Sometimes when they are young and very demanding, you may have wished for them to grow up so you could have 5 minutes to yourself…or maybe not. However, although the child-rearing years seem to take forever whilst you are in the midst of all the car pools, school lunches, sports tours, exam stress and teenage angst, when you look again, that time is past, and you have a young college student, or young adult on your hands! They are often anxious to test their wings as it is an exciting time in their lives.
If you have done your job well, and taught them independence, your little “eagle” will spread his or her wings, take to the wind, and soar. Sometimes they may come crashing back to earth, where “Mama Eagle” will dust them off and put them back on their feet, and encourage them to fly again. Eventually they will get it right, and fly off into the sunset. Then you, with a mixed emotion bouquet of pride and pain, will be left to deal with your life transition of the childless home. This is especially difficult if all your eagles have left the nest, one by one.
You may even face a little time of grieving, and perhaps loneliness if you have a close relationship with that child. You may spend time in their old room reminiscing. You may phone them – every day, several times a day. Try not to do this. Remember, your child is also facing a transition in their life, and you Mama Eagle, are making it more difficult for them to adjust. You may be tearful, and feel an emptiness in your life, depending on your work circumstances.
How to cope with your newfound “freedom”
I say “freedom” because once you are a mother, you are always a mother, even if your child is far away. They will always need you, and the older they get, the more they realize that fact.
If you don’t work outside the home and find yourself with extra time on your hands and it’s driving you crazy as you’re used to being busy, or you are feeling lonely and isolated, here are a few ideas:
Take up a new interest or hobby – something you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time. Some ideas are learning to paint, play the piano, write short stories or do a course in cake decorating (after all, you may someday have grandchildren to bake for!).
Spend time researching new recipes and cooking nice meals for your partner, or even yourself if you live alone. Your partner will be appreciative. For yourself, you can freeze some and use it for another meal when you don’t feel like cooking.
Travel with your partner. No more being stuck to school vacation time which means more value for your money!
Help out a struggling young mother in your community. You could watch her children (if you’re the type that loves young children and misses them) whilst she catches up on some much-needed sleep, or has her hair done.
Volunteer in the community at a soup kitchen, church charity or teen crisis center. They will welcome your skills as there is always a lot to be done, and few helping hands.
Enroll online or at a local college for a course of study that you’re interested in, but never got to pursue when you were younger. It’s never too late to study. My mom-in-law started studying at age 50, and got her Bachelors degree in Administration 5 years later.
If you enjoy reading, read to your heart’s content!
Midlife career changes
Perhaps a change in your career is something you have always wanted, or perhaps something forced on you that you did not want.
Maybe you have dreamed of staying at home and giving up work once your children left home (if you can afford it), or you’ve always wanted a complete career change but did not want to risk it whilst the children were young, or you needed to up skill yourself for a new career and did not have the time or the money. If you have the opportunity, now is the time to do it.
Perhaps the decision was forced on you by retrenchment or some other circumstance. If there is nothing you can do to change the situation, you need to move on. You will need to job search again (almost as painful as dating again after being married for years), but it can be done. I believe that ultimately, everything happens for a reason, and even if it is painful at the time, sometimes a change is forced on us which necessitates a change that turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to us!
Becoming a grandparent
Few things in life are as enthralling as this! You know how to deal with babies, so it is not as scary as when you became a parent. You know what to expect. You DON’T have to go through labor, but you do get a precious little life to nurture and love…and best of all, you get to hand the baby back to its parents at the end of the day, and you are not on duty 24/7. You’ve had your turn for that.
Obviously, if family circumstances dictate that you are going to have a greater part in raising that child, then you get to do the parenting thing again, but this time with far more wisdom and experience. It may be something that you relish doing and enjoy. If not, and circumstances “push” you into the situation (unmarried mother; parents with substance abuse problems, or they can’t care for the child), it could be a challenging circumstance for you at a time when you should be slowing down, having already done your own parenting.
If it’s a “push” situation for you, then know this – you may be the best chance that child has for a stable life. That is a noble thing. It will bring its own rewards. If the parents aren’t necessarily unfit parents, just young and unprepared, you can nurture and teach them to raise the child with your support. Tip: If this is the case, expect them to take responsibility, and don’t enable them to take advantage of you (like go out partying night after night while you sit up with the baby. They took the decision to bring an innocent life into the world, they must also take the responsibility that goes with it!). If not, you may end up feeling put upon and resentful, which is not good for the baby.
Either way, enjoy this precious young soul who has your DNA! Grandparents are so important to speak into their grandchildren’s lives.
The biggest relationship change that you may face with the empty nest is that you and your husband are suddenly a couple again, after all the years of child-rearing. This can be a difficult thing to adjust to, particularly if you lost the practice of being a couple and everything became about the children. And now they are no longer there. You have nothing to talk about anymore.
Perhaps the children were the glue that held the marriage together, and you “stayed together for the children”. Research shows that divorce figures for couples in their 50’s have increased in the last few years, having waited for the children to leave home and then decided that they have nothing in common. This is sad. You’ve done the greatest job expected of you in life, now should be the time to relax, travel and take up a hobby together, whilst enjoying your (future) grandchildren.
Try to keep your relationship flourishing while the children are still at home. Go on “date nights” together. Be a couple. Otherwise, be aware that this is a crunch time for your marriage.
There may be a link to divorce in midlife when people hit their so-called “midlife” crisis. Suddenly, there is a realization of youth far gone, a feeling of wondering about the purpose of life, a feeling of being unattractive and a feeling of wanting to “have some fun before I die”. This often translates into the sad cartoon of the middle-aged man, chasing women in their 20’s and 30’s (who may or may not be gold diggers), getting hair transplants and buying a Harley-Davidson. For women, they may suddenly start spending a lot of time at the gym, trying out new hairstyles and wearing clothing more suitable for their daughter…
You (or your partner) may get to this point and feel that life has passed you by. Your partner takes you for granted, and you are feeling restless. This may result in an affair, flirting, trying new (not necessarily good) things, having mood swings (although this may be hormonal too), and generally behaving like a teenager.
Some people go through midlife relatively unscathed, whilst others barely survive, or they survive causing themselves and others a lot of pain, again much like a teenager. And just like a teenager, it is good to remember that every action has a consequence. Think before you act!
Facing your own mortality
Yep, the famous saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “only death and taxes” are certain, applies here. Death has 100% certainty of happening to each of us. And the degree to which that frightens us, can be directly connected to our belief in the ultimate purpose of life and what happens in the hereafter.
It need not be frightening to you when contemplating your own mortality. You owe it to yourself to sort this aspect of your life out, so that you have peace in this regard. Live your life with purpose and fulfill your role on earth. Don’t waste needless time and energy on something you cannot control.
Remember that life transitions are a part of everyone’s life on earth Get support from those who’ve walked the path ahead of you. Get support from those whose advice you respect. Get support from those who have lived a successful life. And be victorious!