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Not Your Mother's Mid-Life Crises
by Francesca Biller-Safran
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Award-winning Investigative Journalist and Columnist with experience reporting breaking news, longer features and op-eds about race, politics, business, socioeconomics, arts and culture, ethics and parenting issues for newspapers, magazines, radio and websites. Awards include The Edward R. Murrow Award, two Society of Professional First Place Journalism Mark of Excellence Awards and two Golden Mike Awards for Excellence in Hard News and Best Series Reporting.

If there were ever a time for a woman to feel truly empowered during mid-life, now would be a pretty good one. In the past, women have not been afforded either the time or luxury to lament dreams unfulfilled, but today women are not only entertaining their own fantasies but succeeding in just about anything they desire- suggesting that mid life is anything but a crisis.

According to Naomi Lowinsky, Jungian Analyst, poet and author of ‘The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots’, midlife for women is often a chance to discover some unlived aspect of her personality that is wanting space in her life.

“Maybe she’s got a creative gift or capacity she’s never developed,” Lowinsky said. “This is the time to open the door to new, maybe old aspects of one’s self. This can be difficult and scary because one is changing one’s view of who one is as well as having to get people around you to accept the new you. But it is a very important opportunity for a richer more authentic life,” Lowinsky said.

Paula from Tioga, New York has stayed home with her children for 16 years and said her dream of becoming a writer is finally coming true. “I am actually looking forward to starting a new career as a freelance writer at 47,” she said.

“I have always wanted to write, but I am just now feeling I have the confidence to give it a try and deal with the inevitable rejection as well as the fulfillment of my dreams,” she said.

She is also excited to be back in college full-time, finishing up her Bachelor’s Degree and grateful that she stayed home with her kids “especially now that they will be moving on soon.”

“My kids are 13 and 16 and I have been feeling lately it is time for me to start a new chapter in my life,” Marcotte said. “I have pulled myself out of a depression by deciding to go back to school and making some decisions about what I want for myself and my future.”

Some 36% of women between the ages of 50-64 report to have reached some fulfilling goal in the preceding 5 years, suggesting midlife can be a valuable, productive time of life. Women also often see this period as a “spiritual awakening” to do something meaningful with the rest of their lives, rather than as simply a reaction to chronological aging or some fear of mortality.

Karen, 39 and a stay-at-home mom from Dekalb, Georgia said she has many goals she still intends to achieve, with one to compete in a Triathlon before she turns 40. “I’ve never been an athlete, so this is radical,” Zelif said. “I’m going to swim a mile a day at Boy Scout camp with my son this July.”

She also hopes to play her trombone when she turns 80 and has also always wanted to be an astronaut. “I got to attend space camp with my son and that was pretty cool. I still dream of being a space tourist and one day fly to the moon.”

According to a study by The National Center on Women and Aging at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., most women age 50 and over feel happier about aging than they thought they would. And women are twice as likely as men to feel hopeful about their future.

Much of the success women are experiencing can be attributed to more financial prosperity, leaving them with more possibilities and opportunities. They are also living healthier, fitter lifestyles than their mothers just a generation ago, giving them more autonomy, power and confidence to make just about any choice desired.

According to Jane Glenn Hass, founder of WomanSage, a non-profit group that supports women in mid-life, when women in the past suffered a mid-life crisis, they did not talk about it.

“Women today realize that their mothers never had a sense of options,” she said. Betty Freidan, frontier leader of the woman’s liberation movement wrote about women’s’ experiences in mid life as a “problem that has no name.”

By contrast, women today have so many options- they are truly all over the map, allowing enough security to comfortably leave the workforce if they choose. Women who have spent decades in successful careers are happily trading in their morning meetings for full-time play dates at the sandbox. In the past ten years, some 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their kids, a 15% increase in a decade.

“Stay-at-Home Moms are making a brave counter-cultural statement about their values,” Lowinsky said. “They could be out there making more money, getting more stuff, but they’re choosing their relationship with their children instead.”

She also said that stay-at-home moms “sacrifice” a certain standing in the culture for a deeper value. “The roots of the word sacrifice mean to make sacred. Remember that,” she said.

46-year-old Ann from Indianapolis said she feels blessed to have had so much success in her profession prior to the birth of her daughter and feels “quite fulfilled and ready to focus on helping her to achieve her dreams.”

“After working full time as a Speech-Language Pathologist for over 20 years, I feel so fortunate to have my daughter and to have the maturity to handle her needs,” she said.

She also feels “more confident” as a mother and as a person at this time in her life. “Honestly, I can't imagine having a child in my twenties-- so much to learn yet! I would say wait until you feel ready but I believe that every situation is so different. I feel very lucky to have had a great career and now a beautiful daughter,” Ann said.

Bonnie, 45 from Porter Co., Indiana said that unlike many younger mothers, she realizes how lucky she is to have a healthy, smart and talented kid because “so much can go wrong.”

“Younger moms are oblivious to this,” Bonnie said. “With age, one hears more horror stories, struggles and challenges with life situations. I really feel blessed with my child at a very real and deep level. Some young moms don’t understand that until they have some more life experience under their belt.”

“Aging gracefully requires finding your own true life path and living it,” Lowinsky said. “If you are finding joy and meaning in your days, it’s easier to accept some of the losses and difficulties of aging.”

Carolyn, from Tewksbury, Massachusetts jokingly calls herself a 26- year-old with 22 years of experience and a stay-at-home mom of two. She said if she has any regrets, it would be that she believed all the hype about “nothing being wrong” with putting off motherhood for a career.

“I feel cheated out of time,” Dvorak said. “Time to see my children grow into full adulthood and continuing to wipe the tears and cheer on the successes and the possibility of doing the same for my grandchildren.”

She said she also didn’t realize she wouldn’t have as much energy as when she was younger, that her husband would be facing retirement before her kids were out of middle school, and that she would be going through menopause before her daughter even hit puberty.

But even though her life is busier then she thought it could ever be, at the end of a good day, she feels truly fulfilled and happy. “Life is never easy and it shouldn’t be or we wouldn’t enjoy those things that mean the most to us,” Dvorak said.

“Even at the end of a bad day, as much as I feel I can’t do it one more day, I know I’m needed at home more than I was ever needed at the office.”

Many other women who have stayed home with their children are making brave choices such as returning to careers, starting new ones or even heading back to college with full-time college enrollment between the ages of 38 and 55 up 31% in the past decade.

“It’s not only possible, but it’s wonderful for women in their 40’s and 50’s to go out into the workforce or back to school,” said Lowinsky. “Women in mid-life who have raised children have so much maturity and life experience to bring to any career they choose. And because they know more about themselves, they are often much better students and workers than younger people.”

And according to Lowinsky, even though women love their children, it is understandable that they might want to work outside the home. “Many have a need that is more than financial, to be in the world,” she said. “The great thing today is that women have choices. The terrible thing today is that women have choices. Because whatever choice you make you wonder whether you are doing the right thing.”

Sue, a 40-year-old stay-at-home mom of two said she is looking for new career opportunities, to reassess what is working and what isn't, and to re-evaluate her priorities in every area of life. “Nobody mentioned women have a mid-life crisis,” Sue said. “All I ever heard about are men’s mid-life and, not women’s menopause!”

“I feel my life is more unbalanced as I try to navigate a part-time career and being a mom to two young kids,” she said. “I actually long to be home now full time; I feel I am giving only part-time recognition to my work, my kids, my home, my husband, etc. Nothing it feels is being done well.”

42- year-old Michelle from Elkhart, Indiana said that since she started working part-time, she has found it a real struggle to balance work and family. “I spent many years as a full-time caregiver but now I feel as if I am transitioning into a new stage in life. I am looking forward to the day when my four-year-old will be in school full time so that I can devote full time to my career,” Richards said.

“I feel anxious to begin this new segment of my life,” she said. “Being in transition is always difficult.” She said she feels confident in what she has accomplished, pride in what she has done to nurture her children as they've grown and more “confident in her abilities and worthiness as a person.”

What is truly exciting about middle age for women today is that they feel worthwhile because they have more freedom and equality and therefore more opportunities to discover and fulfill parts of their life they have always dreamt of pursuing.

Women today are also healthier and more energetic and feel more youthful, giving them even more confidence and leverage in the workforce and at home. New catch phrases such as 40 is the new 30 have left many women wondering if there is really such a stage as middle age after all, with both physical and mental stamina holding on steadily for women well into their late 60’s and beyond.

Bonnie said, “I might not be more beautiful on the inside than in years past and even though I have more wrinkles and gray hair, I am more relaxed about my physical appearance today. As a younger woman, I worried a lot more about my outer beauty. Looking back, that was silly, what was I thinking?”

And 44-year old JoAnn, from Washington and a full time mom with three children said she is definitely “more confident” now. “I had more beauty when I was younger, but I barely noticed the taut abs, smooth skin and sleek muscles for worrying about some perceived or real lack. Now I feel better about myself than I ever did before, regardless of the actual physical aspects of my body.”

43-year old Karen Henry from Cooperstown, New York said she is excited about her age and this time in her life and that until now she was constantly worried who she was as a person and if she fit into the societal norms.

“Now I think of what Ruth Gordon once said, ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know exactly how old you were?’ “She was right,” Henry said. “I don’t care about how old I am. I care about how I feel and how healthy I am. I am alive with freedom to be me. We’re not getting older, we’re getting better.”

“We all know older women who are beautiful because they shine forth with the wisdom and joy of their lives. They are fully themselves,” Lowinsky said. That’s not about conventional beauty. That’s about inner beauty. Actually, older women have more freedom to be their own authentic selves than younger women do. There are less of the pressures to find a mate and have children etc. Enjoy the freedom!”

Published: Nov 20,2008 21:40
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