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!
Wonderful article! Love your blog too!
Allyson Reynolds says
Thanks, Diane! (And sorry my blogging has been so sporadic lately!!
Tasha Bradshaw says
Allyson, this is another wonderful article! When I had little preschool age children I wish someone would have told me that when they are in school it is so much harder because you don’t control your own schedule. I know some people may ask mothers who are home all day when their kids are at school what they do. From your schedule, you can clearly see that once you get them all out the door and off to school they just start coming home again 🙂
Allyson Reynolds says
It’s so true! Like I said, if I don’t get it done by the time everyone gets home, than it doesn’t get done. Grocery, errands, housework, paperwork, Power of Moms work–I like that all to happen while they are at school, but the school day goes by so quickly and my day is so broken up that I don’t have many good blocks of time anyway. When they are all full-time next year, I am really hoping things will be a *bit* easier. Maybe???
This article is spot on! My kids range from 2nd grade to 7th grade. Everything you said is exactly my life right now. Many of the moms around me are still thick in the toddler stage — It’s so nice to know that there are others who are experiencing the same thing as me! The challenges and the joys. Thanks for articulating this “stage” so well!
Allyson Reynolds says
There are lots of us out there! That’s why I wrote this–to bring us out so we could support each other. Thanks for the comment!
Awesome thoughts! I can relate as I’m in this stage of life & mothering too 🙂
Allyson Reynolds says
Good to know there are so many of us out there!
oh my goodness. Thank you for this post! This: “But now I worry the most after they are in bed” and this: “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.” Amen and Amen. My youngest went to school full time 3 years ago and I was completely unprepared for this second phase of life. I experienced a deep period of sadness at the end of that season. Unfortunately, I didn’t know anyone who felt the same and even worse, most moms suggested if you were feeling “sad” about your kids being in school all day it was likely due to the fact that you didn’t have anything exciting you were pursuing. One of my lifelong dreams was to go back to school once all of my kids were in school and I did just that the minute my youngest left. But that still didn’t take away the deep ache inside. After many months I finally realized that it was ok to grieve! I had experienced the loss of a season I loved and it was ok to feel sad! This post made me feel so validated, I just wish it had been around for me to read 3 years ago! And yes, I am in a much better place today. I worked through my sadness and I am fully enjoying all of those good things you listed. Thank you so much for your insight.
Allyson Reynolds says
Good for you going back to school! I totally agree that just because you have something to fill your life and your time once the kids are older doesn’t mean you don’t mourn the loss of that stage when they are all little and needing you so much. I know it’s going to be a slow mourning process for me, especially since next year is my first year in seventeen with everyone in school full time. I’m anticipating very mixed feelings and hoping the transition isn’t too rough. Thanks for the comment!
I loved this! I am not there yet, as my kids are 10, 8, 6, and 3 but there are days that I wish everyone was in school all day just so I can think and get something accomplished without someone attached to my leg or cooking dinner with one hand because I am holding someone.
Then, I think, am I bad to wish for a full nights sleep without anyone visiting us in our bed? Will I regret that I was making to-do lists and thinking of other things while painfully playing barbies and Thomas the train? I know you are supposed to enjoy each stage, but I tell you I am envious of the moms who look so put together and don’t have a baby attached to their hip. I wonder though, when they are all in school. that I will miss these days and miss that I am the center of their universe, so I do try each day to remember to enjoy each messy, juice on the carpet, temper tantrum, but big sloppy kisses and hugs days…
Allyson Reynolds says
It’s tough to enjoy every stage when every stage has it’s really tough elements. Just the fact that you are aware and trying to be in the moment is huge, but you can only love constant messes and being needed 24/7 so much, you know? Don’t be too hard on yourself for not enjoying the hard stuff, and keep enjoying the truly good stuff! The next stage is going to come so fast though. Just think, in THREE SHORT YEARS you will have a teenager and everyone will be in school. Crazy, right?
Wow Allyson! This article really hit home for me. We should start comparing notes in September when my youngest goes to school full time. For me it will be 21 years of having children in my house all of the time. Right now my youngest is going to school 2 full days and one half day a week. At first, I would just sit there for about half an hour wondering what to do. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Silence, complete silence. It took some getting used to. Then I realized I was wasting MY time! It is giving me a taste of what is to come and I like the idea. I used to have goals before all of these kids other than surviving one day at a time. Now I have found my book from 21 years ago that I wrote them in and I’m rewriting them. I don’t have the same goals I had 21 years ago and that’s ok. I have a new perspective because I’m a new person. I’m a mom, battle worn and tattered, but I’m still a person with dreams and ideas. I have good kids and I’m enjoying all the stages they are going through. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Allyson Reynolds says
21 years! You totally beat me!! I LOVE that you had a goal book and that you found it and are now updating it with your “new and improved” perspective! That is so completely fatastic!
Thank you so, so much for putting words to the feelings that have been floating around in my heart. My kids are nearly 13 and 11, and I marvel at how much different this stage has been. In so many ways, they need me more than ever, but less hands-on and more in a support role, a coach, a guide-on-the-side. There has been tremendous pressure to work full-time since the kids are in school, but the days go fast, and I feel like mothering and home keeping are as central to my life as ever. I keep trying to squeeze in work here and there, but my family will always come first.
Writers like you and forums like this are incredibly reassuring. Thank you!!
Allyson Reynolds says
I have a dear friend who finished up her PhD shortly after having her first and also received “tremendous pressure” from her colleagues to work full-time but, like you, feels so strongly that the “mothering and home keeping” are still so central to her children’s lives–even more so as they get older. This is wisdom! Thanks for sharing!
Koni Smith says
How do you know how to write what is in my head that I can’t put into words, Allyson? Get out of my brain! 🙂 Love this!! Even though I had a caboose baby and still have him at home, the other 5 are at school, so I am experiencing all you’ve written with the other kids, but am still at home with a little one. I feel like I got a bonus baby with this last one to do it all “right” this time (hope I don’t mess up). I am enjoying my 2 year old WAY more than I did my other ones – maybe because as I deal with teenagers, I see how fun and innocent the little ones are. I can easily put a grumpy 2 year old to bed, not so much a grumpy 17 year old. 🙂 Thanks again for your words of wisdom, my friend!
Allyson Reynolds says
Nothing like a teenager to help you love a toddler! I think you’re pretty amazing, Koni!!
Just wait until you get to the last stage of rearing children – when all the kids grow up and leave. . . I wasn’t prepared for this stage at all. I moved through each of the other stages smoothly, adjusting and loving each one. However, finding and re-inventing yourself as an individual without children in the picture is a whole new ball game for me. I’d choose to raise another 8 children, if it meant I’d never have to face this stage again. I’m slowly adjusting, but it definitely caught me off guard.
Allyson Reynolds says
Ack! I DO want to wait! My brain can’t even go there yet because it makes me kind of sad, but I’m really hoping that by thinking about it *enough* in advance I won’t be totally blindsided when that next tough transition comes. (The things nobody ever told us!) Hang in there TKTANNER. With eight kids, surely you’ve got some serious grand mothering in your future, right?
Allyson, I really enjoyed your article! I am new to Power of Moms, actually stumbled on it via a share on Facebook. It appears there is a lot of great support here. You really put into words where I am now. It’s nice to know that I am not alone. I never thought about it as Midlife Mom Blues but that’s exactly what it is! I will be 45 in a month and my 6 and 9 year old daughters are in school all day now. Now I’m realizing that there is still someone in me besides Mom, and I am really struggling with what I’m what to do with my life now. I honestly feel like my brain is full of fuzz;)
Thanks again for the sharing your story.
Yes, mamalamaof2, you are not alone! It is a strange place to be after so many years of being needed in such a hands on way, but I suppose this is good practice and a warm up for when they really leave home. I’m confident you will figure it out and come through it beautifully!
Wow, another great article by you. Yours are always my favorite articles on this site! You have a way of offering both empathy (“I’ve felt how you’re feeling…”) and hope (“But on the bright side…”) I’m still a “young” mom of three, but always in need of both of those things. Thanks for your honesty – I respect that so much; and for an optimism tempered by your own experience – I can trust it and take it to heart.
Wow! What a wonderfully specific compliment! That is exactly what I’m going for so thank you so much!
Thank you so much for this post. I homeschool my kiddos who range in age from 2-15 which makes things a bit different, but I related with much of what you’ve said. I too went through a mourning period about not having any more babies and I was so surprised by that! I am also starting to struggle with a couple of health issues (things that run in my family) at this season in my life and that is surreal to me. I’m doing my best to adjust to this time in my life and find a way to thrive.