Mid-life is a really complicated time. I suspect it is for many women. I am done (thankfully!) with all of the physical work involved in caring for young children. These children are now teens and the work involved is mostly mental and emotional. They think I should be completely done with looking after them, but I know my job is only getting harder. Parenting people who don’t think they need to be parented is a big challenge. At the same time, I am eyeing the finish-line and thinking about what my life will be like in my next phase when the kids are off to college and I am alone in my house.
Add in some peri-menopausal hormones to the unpredictable and irrational mix of changing emotions generated on an hourly basis by three teens and we have quite a party around here.
Having a general idea of where I am going helps me make meaning out of the chaotic present. When I look ahead and wonder whether or not my kids will visit me when I am old, who my friends will be, and if I am destined to become a penniless bad lady, I remember that being more and more of my authentic self is the best thing I can do to avoid these outcomes. Relationships thrive when people are brave enough to be themselves and accept others as they are. Money comes from working hard, so I may as well put in a lot of effort to the things I love to do so much that they don’t feel like work. I have made people, for heaven’s sake, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life at a job that requires me to punch a clock if I don’t absolutely have to. My time feels more valuable than that and I am determined to find a way to earn money which does not require me to answer to someone else.
Perhaps it is human nature to strive for happiness. So many people are stuck in situations that are less than optimal, but still, they find ways to be happy. What if the act of striving for happiness – through love, service, creativity, gratitude, connection, and self-awareness – was actually the key to all good things in life?
It makes me happy to connect with other people. It makes me happy to create a happy home and serve my family. It make me happy to work through issues with the beau and feel the triumph of overcoming fear. It makes me happy to do creative, fulfilling work and help other people make their lives more the way they want them to be. These things are sometimes hard, but just because something is hard does not mean that it doesn’t make me happy.
Eventually, I want to be like my friend, Jean, whose answer to the question “what do you do?” is “anything I want to!” She has left behind the phase I am in, lived through things I don’t know about yet, and has earned the right to do whatever she wants to. I know there are limitations at each stage of our lives, but I hope that the limitations are more and more self-imposed as the years go by.
Not holding onto what was and keeping a very loose hold on what might be seems like a good plan for getting through mid-life. Trying new things in a safe way – like wearing my new leopard pumps with old favorites like jeans and a big sweater – makes me feel, well, free. Like I can do “anything I want to.” And tall, which is a good thing since my kids are all out-growing me.
We are all growing up in my house right now. We are each exploring limitations, discovering what makes us happy, and trying to see what the next phase of our lives looks like. Like the parallel play of toddlers, we each are doing our own work and take comfort in doing it next to each other.
Do you think about what the next phase of your life is going to look like?