I want to clarify right off the bat that I am actually in one of the best places of my life up to now. There are so many great things about getting older alongside my children that it almost goes without saying. I am much more comfortable with who I am. I care much less about comparing, competing and keeping up. I have figured out what makes me tick, what I truly love, and how to live in a way that brings me happiness and my own brand of success. As for the kids, they all sleep through the night, wipe their own noses and bums, feed and dress themselves, and get themselves in and out of the car. (How awesome is that?)
I’m just barely at the beginning of this new stage of motherhood with my youngest turning six and starting kindergarten last fall. After seventeen years, all my kids will finally be in school full time next September. And while my youngest still hasn’t totally phased out of needing help with some of the things above, for the most part, I am free and clear of the physical demands of early motherhood that pretty much dominated my life for well over a decade. And I admit, it’s nice. Very, very nice.
The 40’s always sounded great to me when I thought about my kids being older and how I would still have so many good years ahead of me. And in most ways, it is just as I had hoped. I can go to Target or a lunch date without a diaper bag or the companionship of a whiny toddler, I have built-in babysitters, and again, I can sleep all. night. long. But there are some things about being a mid-life mom that I never anticipated, and occasionally they get the best of me. Like what, you may ask? I’ll give you my Top 5.
- Getting old(er). Yes, getting older is all the things mentioned above, but it is also stubborn weight loss, lagging energy, gray hair and wrinkles, and the realization that you should never frequent the junior section ever again unless it’s for your teenage daughter. And I can only speak for myself, but I had to go through a little mourning process when I realized I was truly done having babies. I will never be that cute, young mom with a baby on her hip ever again, and I am closer to being an empty nester than a brand new mom. And sometimes, that makes me sad. Questions loom about life after children. I ask whether or not I’m on the correct life path. The adventures in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” look like viable options as I wonder if I’ve really lived enough and see certain doors closing. I guess what I’m saying is, women have mid-life crises, too!
- Coolness replacing cuteness. Just an hour ago I was cutting sandwiches into cute shapes for my youngest and her friend while they were pretending to be cheetahs and listening to the Frozen soundtrack. I eat up every one of these innocent, adorable moments because I know how quickly self-consciousness will set in and “coolness” will be more attractive than the cute, insulated world that revolves around home and Mother. Something happens to the entire family dynamic once the oldest hits the tween and teen years. Not only do you have someone who has lost all interest in the children’s museum, Nick Jr., and happily checking off their chore chart (which makes “family” activities more complicated), but they make fun of/roll their eyes at anything smelling of early childhood. They have to separate themselves from the “little kids” somehow–it’s natural–but it can still be a bummer when you cross that threshold.
- No longer being the center of your children’s universe. Sure, we all understand that one of the main purposes of motherhood is to prepare our children to leave the nest one day, but after years of having an adoring fan club constantly attached to your body (luckily, my 6-year-old is still in this zone), it can hurt a little to see your offspring “moving on”. Unbelievably, when you don’t have someone tugging at your leg every moment of the day, it can be a bit unmooring. As a result, you have to completely re-think your role as a mother. Older children are independent creatures who make decisions of their own (as they should), and that can be unnerving if you’re used to being both needed as well as in control of your child’s life (as most mothers are). The irony is that our older children do still need us, but they don’t want to need us, so they resent us for reminding them of things they already know that are still hard for them to do. And so the mom and adolescent tug-of-war begins.
- Worrying on a whole new level. For years, my worries were dominated by fear for my children’s lives. Would I accidentally fall asleep and suffocate my baby while nursing? Would my toddler run out into the street and get hit by a car? Would one of my kids be kidnapped at the mall? There was no such thing as total relaxation until they were all safely tucked in bed each night. But now I worry the most after they are in bed. Should I be pushing them more or letting them make more of their own choices? Do I have them in the right extracurricular activities or too many/not enough of them? Do they have good social skills that are helping them make good friends, the kind who will help them reach their goals? How is their self-esteem? Why are they so quiet? Who is this new person they are texting all the time? How do I motivate them to get their GPA up so they can get into their college of choice? How do I help them want to work hard, be responsible, serve others, and manage their money? Are they getting enough sleep with all they have going on? Do they have health or emotional issues I should be addressing or is their behavior simply due to lack of sleep and typical teenage hormones? How will they handle the inevitable invitations to experiment with all things horrible for them? And of course, will they accidentally die in a ditch tonight because they are distracted while driving? Yes, if the drudgery of babies and small children is changing endless diapers and cleaning up the same messes over and over again, then the drudgery of older kids is feeling inextricably driven to be the personal assistant of someone who didn’t hire you and doesn’t want your help. It’s worrisome.
- Life actually getting busier. I know this seems like an impossibility when you have young children demanding every last bit of your attention every day, but it’s a very different kind of busy when your kids are older. I have four kids in four schools this year. They leave at 7:00, 7:30, 9:00, and 12:30, and then come home at 2:30, 3:10, and 3:30. Once you’re on the hamster wheel, there’s no getting off until the last child graduates from high school and moves out. The school schedule, the after school activities schedule, and the homework schedule take over your life. If “it” isn’t done by 3:00, then it’s not getting done. From that time on it’s homework, driving around, chores, dinner, and bedtime madness. Even weekends are filled with homework projects, recitals, games, etc. and summers are only a minor reprieve since you now feel responsible to help your older children be “productive” during the summer months so they don’t become lazy/get into trouble/become entitled. Gone are the days of slow mornings, flexible (or even empty) schedules, looking for “fun” ways to fill up free time, and children tucked in by 8pm so Mom and Dad can have some alone time together. Gone.
- Getting old(er). Sure, I might not have the ability to get my body in shape like I used to, but I also care a lot less than I used to. Now I’m focused on my overall health and well-being, which is so much more than tight abs. I love dressing like a grown up now instead of feeling stuck somewhere in between, and I would never trade my wrinkles and gray hair for the things I’ve learned over the years. Also, carrying babies around all day gives me a backache (even when I was younger). I actually love being hands free!
- Coolness replacing cuteness. It’s so fun to share music, books, and movies with my older kids. From Enders Game to The Hunger Games, my kids and I can relate to each other in a way that just wasn’t possible when they were younger. I don’t have to pretend to be interested and amused by what my older kids say because they are genuinely smart and funny in an adult-ish way. And even though they think I’m a dork, I can relive some of the better parts of my teen years with them just like I relived the better parts of my childhood with them. We talk about funny things, deep things, intellectual things, and I can really count on them to help me out around the house for real. I’m still their mother, but we’re also becoming friends. It’s cool!
- No longer being the center of my children’s universe. I neglected myself for so long while taking care of everyone else that I don’t feel the least bit bad about taking care of myself now. This is my time in life to re-evaluate what I really want and start making goals and plans for the next stage. What do I want to contribute to the world outside of raising wonderful human beings? What cause can I take up? Maybe I will get another degree, start a small business, backpack across Asia, work for a non-profit, or commit to being the world’s best grandma–the possibilities are truly endless. How exciting!
- Worrying on a whole new level. It’s true that my worries feel heavier now than when my kids were little, but I worry because I love them, and that makes me work even harder to help them. The truth is, I’m starting to see the fruits of all my worrying and hard work. There is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing your children grow up and become “themselves”. Sure, they will still struggle, get hurt, and make choices you don’t always agree with, but if you keep your head on straight, your love for them will only grow. Love for a newborn is kind of like love for a new husband. Both are new and sweet, but also young and untested. It’s the love that lasts over the years of challenge and difficulty that are the most rewarding. And as a mother, that kind of love comes with a lot of worry.
- Life actually getting busier. Thank goodness for schedules or I might just be in my pajamas all day long (like when all my kids were little). Even though I have monster checklists now, I can actually make my own schedule (within the schedule) and get things done without interruption or caffeine. And because I sleep all night, I have the energy to take on my days with enthusiasm. It actually feels good to have a full schedule when you have the ability to get things done. Bring it on!