Midlife Signpost 1: Awakening to Midlife after two decades of Motherhood

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‘You don’t understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins, but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife, and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave, they take your life of details with them. And then you’re expected to move again. Only, you don’t remember what moves you because no one has asked in so long. Not even yourself’.

the BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY

Is this what the beckoning empty nest feels like?

Did you know that midlifers juggle up to eight different roles in the bustling lifestyles of the 21st century? We’re spouses, partners, and parents. We’re grandparents, siblings, and caregivers to ageing parents. You’re a friend, and co-worker, and also serve your community in various roles.  With so much on your plate, and days easily flowing into weeks, months, and years, no wonder Francesca Johnson lost herself in a life of details.

For those entering the midlife season, like fictional Francesca Johanson in the opening quote, the transition can sneak up on you, almost unnoticed. There are, however, certain moments that jolt you to the awakening.

Waking up to midlife is different for everyone but common factors like culture, finances and life transitions play a role. Francesca, in the opening quote, described one way.

My awakening felt like emerging from a dense fog after years of focusing on my children’s well-being, after laying aside my own dreams and aspirations.

For others, it may be an unexpected health issue that forces you to slow down and take stock of your life. Yet, for someone else, it may be a milestone moment, such as your child moving out, leaving you with an empty nest.

EMPTY NEST SYNDROME

According to a 2019 study, the empty nest syndrome is particularly triggering. After dedicating almost two decades to full-time caregiving, parents suddenly find themselves at a loss when children reach independence. A host of emotions can surface at this point that serves as an awakening:

  • A sense of sadness
  • A feeling of loss
  • Fear or uncertainty about the future
  • The realisation that you need to redefine your parenting role

Seven years ago, my eldest was wrapping up high school, got her driver’s license, and was excited to start college. While cheering her eagerness to embrace her beckoning independence, a niggling question surfaced – What do I do now? How do I move on to the next chapter because I don’t remember what used to move me? 

I grappled with several questions that helped me regain a sense of who I was before I became a parent, and how I had evolved since:

  • What sort of things did you love doing simply because it fuelled your joy?
  • What were your hobbies and interests that made you feel most vibrant?
  • Do your earlier career aspirations still hold an appeal?
  • What gave you a sense of purpose before stepping into parenthood?
  • Do any of these things still interest you today, or have they evolved?
Photo by fauxels from Pexels

I grabbed a coffee, along with my old journals, searching for in the younger versions of who I once was.

  • Family History: I caught up with the adolescent me who loved reading and journaling to escape a fishbowl community. There was a pull towards stories involving people and their unique cultures and life contexts.
  • Personal Development: My young adult self reminded me about my early missionary aspirations to help others feel supported and valued amid their challenging life contexts. I wanted to remind them of their inherent worth and uniqueness.
  • Psychology Literacy: I recalled the young wife who uncovered a growing interest in psychology and a deep desire to understand what makes us tick. What shapes and triggers our behaviours that impact our relationships?

How Can Hobbies and Interests Change a Person’s Life?

As I dusted the cobwebs off my old, almost forgotten dreams, a new excitement stirred.

While reminiscing about the things that fueled you earlier in life, chances are you’ll re-awaken old dreams, passions, and interests that you may be surprised to find are all still there. But now, with passing time there’ll be so much more.

My early fascination with people and different cultures evolved into the role of a family historian, who collects and records my family history for current and future generations. This hobby led to uncovering fascinating facts about my family lines that shed light on complex family history.

The desire to encourage others to uncover and embrace their inherent strengths evolved into developing resources to foster personal growth and purposeful living.

The interest in human behaviour lingered, patiently waiting for the right time to find expression. The opportunity came in midlife when a window of time opened, and I could pursue studies in applied social science. I shared some of my personal journey here.

If you wholeheartedly embraced the parenting role, chances are it was a season of silent growth. You may simply have been too busy to notice.

Take a moment to reflect on your parenting journey through the lens of Philippians 4:8 to uncover what growth looked like for you! You may be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.

Five ways parenting can shape your growth

  • In the role of caregiver, you learned how to live more selflessly by nurturing and helping to shape another human.
  • If you stayed the course through tough times, you deepened your perseverance muscle.
  • You may have discovered how to hold space for someone else and to be an advocate and protector of a vulnerable child. You had opportunities to practice setting and maintaining boundaries and structure in your life.
  • If you shifted your focus to a cause bigger than yourself, you gained selflessness and deeper compassion for others.
  • If in tough times you dug in your heels, uncovered your innate strengths, and persevered, you deepened your resilience.

Now, as your child steps into independence, one part of your life is shifting. So, too, are you, as you’re standing at the edge of something new.

As my daughter excitedly welcomed young adulthood, a new life phase was also beckoning me.

I was awakening to midlife!

What about you, midlifers? Can you recall a defining moment that alerted you to the beckoning midlife season? Feel free to share in the comments section.

The second article in the 2022 Blog series: Refining explores midlife as a season of deeper refining by nudging you to release what no longer aligns with who you’re becoming.

References

Bougea A, Despoti A, Vasilopoulos E. Empty-nest-related psychosocial stress: Conceptual issues, future directions in economic crisis. Psychiatriki. 2019 Oct-Dec;30(4):329-338. doi: 10.22365/jpsych.2019.304.329. PMID: 32283536.

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