Midlife Mother Musings

In the new year, we allow ourselves greater latitude in contemplation, in resetting direction, in capitalizing on the sense of a clean slate to start fresh. This is a time for finding the courage to look at ourselves and our families with a clear eye.

Silver haired girl next door beautyI am pondering what it means to be an older mother. I am considering my future – mine – rather than that of my sons. And I am doing so wavering between feeling fit and fabulous – and exasperatingly exhausted.

Go figure!

As an “older” single mother, establishing lasting romantic relationships – and even friendships – has been challenging.

As a midlife mother of college students, the likelihood that I will live to see and enjoy an extended family is less than if I’d had my children in my twenties or even at thirty.

As an “older” single mother, the costs associated with 20 years of child-rearing are more than apparent in my finances, and naturally, there is less time to recoup.

So these are my realizations with which I wake, and thus this musing: I may never live to see grandchildren (or a larger family), and my finances may always be something of a mess.

These indisputable facts of my circumstances (not necessarily yours) sit side-by-side with the joys of parenting, even as I find myself newly tickled and tired by the presence of my children and their friends in our home.

Midlife Mothers, Far More Common

According to the Pew Research Center, fewer women in the U.S. bear children now than a generation or two ago. Specifically, 2010 data reflects that one in five American women is childless, whereas that figure was one in ten in the 1970s.

While fewer women are bearing children, statistically speaking, it’s no surprise that the number and acceptance of older mothers (over the age of 40)  is on the rise, and while we might raise an eyebrow or two, so is the phenomenon of new (bio) mothers, over the age of 50.

Yet most of what I’ve seen in the media focuses on conceiving and possibly dealing with infants, rather than the roughly 18-year commitment which is active parenthood. 

Healthy babies are happy news for most of us, regardless of the age we have them (through birth or adoption). And I admit right here and now, as difficult as it would have been (and seemingly a contradiction), if I could have had one or two more children by 40 or 41, I would have been thrilled.

That’s either a testament to my insanity (all things considered), or to just how deeply I love my sons, have adored raising them, and by proxy, have delighted in their broad circle of friends.

Raising Children Solo

I did not start out to raise a family essentially alone; it’s simply how things turned out. My spouse traveled, there were no parents, siblings, or other relatives to assist, and while I had a network of divorced moms as friends when I was married (ironically), when I found myself divorcing, most were moving or remarrying.

The women friends I mention were typically 10 years – or more – younger than myself. Seemingly overnight, I was 40-something with still elementary-aged children, an ex who lived hundreds of miles away, and no support system to help – much less the money to afford one.

It has been more of a struggle than I can ever say, and certainly less of a struggle than for millions of single parents in this country, regardless of their age.

I am proud of my sons, and yet having them home I am more aware of my aging, of what they still expect of me, and the haziness of my own future. And I know is this: if you are a midlife mom and divorced or widowed, you need a boatload of support.

If you’re entering older motherhood by choice or by circumstance, I believe that forearmed is forewarned and knowledge may help you to manage what is to come.

Factors in Midlife Parenting

Writing purely from my experience and that of other solo midlife mothers I know, I believe these are reasonable factors to consider when embarking on older motherhood or finding yourself holding the parenting bag on your own at 45, at 50, and into your 60s.

  • In your 40s or 50s you may indeed have the stamina to deal with six weeks or six months of sleepless nights, a teary toddler, the terrible twos, and even make it through to preschool. You should feel pleased and proud of yourself, and your child(ren). But that’s the easy part.
  • You may be fortunate in having a spouse, partner, or ex-partner who takes some of the load, or a family member that does so. Even a few days or nights here and there can help you recoup. Create a network! You’re going to need it!
  • Don’t underestimate the physical and logistical burdens that come next: kids fight and you must referee; there are carpool lines and homework help; babysitters go mysteriously MIA; if you date, you need to manage everyone’s expectations gingerly; sports, music and other activities require driving; tweens and teens can eat like bottomless pits; traveling for work may leave you worrying about what’s happening back home, and requires special accommodations.
  • If marriage or other partnership comes to an end, it’s inevitable that splitting into two households will leave both financially worse for wear; the one with primary duty for children is likely to take more hits over the long run.

Older Mother, Midlife Divorce, Raising Kids

The cost of raising children is mind-boggling, but momentarily setting that aside, I’d like to speak to the emotional, physical, and social toll. I do not regret a minute of the time I’ve shared with my children, but I will clearly state that in my circumstances with my particular ex, at times the experience has been nightmarish.

Had I been able to share more of the responsibilities with another adult or adults, and had I been younger while raising my children (infancy and preschool years being the easiest in my opinion), I believe the experience of family would have been richer, less stressful, and more readily savored.

Dealing with tweens and teens can be grueling, and more so at a time when you’re more likely to be living with some sort of illness, possibly fatigue, and no doubt some hormonal or other physical changes of your own.

Kids are rebelling (as they must), confronting the seductions of drugs and alcohol (don’t think they aren’t), fighting off or succumbing to peer pressure in all sorts of ways; they are exploring their sexuality and we can only hope – safely – and in general, testing limits.

School places additional pressures as do we, attempting to prepare our children for their future. Again, enlisting help (friends, family, neighbors, teachers) is a good idea. And returning to expenses for a moment – and this is especially important to the single parents in the crowd – don’t forget about the big ticket items that come along before college: braces, wisdom teeth that may need to come out, school trips, substantial out-of-pocket costs even for public schools, special (summer) classes, SAT prep courses, driver’s education, car insurance, college applications – and more.

Aging Elders

And if you’re part of the Sandwich generation?

Not only are you juggling work and raising your children, but you’re dutifully caring for aging parents. It’s stressful. Wildly stressful. The strain on your time and your wallet is coming from all directions – your own needs in midlife, the growing costs of growing children, and care-giving to the elders who raised you.

A relationship?

Maybe you’ve been lucky to build one. A good one. Your children have accepted him or her, and you recognize that finding love, respect, and passion in a compatible partner as a woman over 45 or 50 or 60 is no small feat. But your partner may come along with aging elders as well.

You are living the benefits and sweetness of a larger extended family, yes – and also, a more complex set of responsibilities.

The Future As I See It

I don’t tangibly imagine my future. I haven’t in years. I’ve spent a decade taking each day as it comes in order to raise my children well.

This past week with my sons has sparked strange wrinkles in time as years have folded in on themselves, and I’ve revisited moments that occurred ten and twenty years ago. I’ve been propelled through dream as well as recollection, and encouraged to “let go” of what I can, and perhaps what I must.

So I return to my morning’s preoccupation: the importance (to me) of family (and indirectly, my sense of being alone), and practical considerations like money.

Lovely 50-something woman smirkingIt is a reasonable assumption that my sons will take their time in settling down. It is an equally reasonable assumption that I may never know the pleasures of seeing my grandchildren, if there are grandchildren. It is a reasonable assumption that I will never fully recover from these years of disproportionately shared parenting expenses.

Oh, the former (grandchildren) is hardly a raging concern at this moment; I’ve barely embarked on Empty Nest and I’m still adjusting. I come to this stage with the knowledge of an uncertain road with its pros and cons, not to mention the gift of a good relationship which I hope to enjoy – however long it may last.

But the latter? Money? It’s a hard reality. One I’m still chewing on, as a midlife “freelance” mother, in a roiling recessionary world.

Count on Nothing, But Count Your Blessings

My life experience has taught me to count on nothing, and yet, I certainly do count my blessings.

My boys and I are healthy, but that doesn’t mean that this little midlife momma isn’t tired! I must take the clarity of who I am now and what I know to be my challenges along with my strengths, and focus on creating my future – by being smart, by taking calculated risks, by trusting my gut.

As an older mother, a mature woman, and one who confesses to intermittent irritability at the moment, I also believe unequivocally that yes is a powerful word and even more, a powerful attitude. So I will mix my maternal musings with that dash of positive perspective, and I will see what I can conjure – preferably, something meaningful.

 

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© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. Knowing some of the struggles you’ve endured, I’m certain that this is your time, BLW, to do whatever you want. I can only imagine how that transition must be for you; from getting through each day to making choices, but I am excited for the choices that you have in front of you!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      April, thank you for the good words. I know you know that what churns in the background (for years) can take a considerable toll. And none of us can anticipate that sort of thing when we have our children – anymore than we can imagine accident, illness, job loss, or the departure of the other parent. Midlife makes it all a bit harder (in my experience), but is offset by maturity, which is no small factor.

      Here’s hoping I do indeed have some of those choices – and that we all will, as we navigate the journey.

  2. Very wise words, BLW. I love the “F” words, feisty, flirty and fearless. :)

  3. This post sounds almost cheerful. Count your blessings, indeed!

  4. “Yet most of what I’ve seen in the media focuses on conceiving and possibly dealing with infants, rather than the roughly 18-year commitment which is active parenthood.”

    I never know whether to tell new parents the truth — they should enjoy whatever attention they are getting as new parents, because they will get much less attention as parents of older children. Also, that older children are harder on parents than younger children, in normal circumstances.

    And don’t think that you’re off the hook once they turn eighteen. No way.

    I’m fortunate with mine, now in their thirties and independent. Fran’s two are in their twenties and we are in our sixties and still often in the “parental” role — paying insurance and helping out some other ways.

    Fran is amazing but can be a challenge at times. I’m not exactly the usual type. We have each other. We are confident in our togetherness.. Hurrah! Hang in there, BLW.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I hear you Paul. And believe me, I’m increasingly aware that I’m not off the hook when they turn 18.

      Woman wearily hangs in (by fingernails), courtesy of Excedrin and counting the hours until sleep…

  5. Wow…I feel your pain, your joy, your exhaustion and exhilaration. I can imagine that your boys have known and will know how lucky they are to have you. While my own children are in their late 20′s, college graduates and living independent lives, I am still very involved with them. I am also caring for a WILDLY resistant 86 year old mother.
    I feel like a sandwich most of the time. A dear friend reminded me, that my life today is among the living, not the dying. I do all I am able to for my mother, but stop short of total and complete sacrifice. I think our generation of women have little to no idea of what it means to care for themselves; to love thy self. I appreciate that while we are all caring so diligently for others, regardless of their ages, needs, wants and desires, we so easily overlook our own.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Kristine, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hear you, I feel you, and boy have you captured the dilemma of today’s midlife woman in this:

      I think our generation of women have little to no idea of what it means to care for themselves; to love thy self.

      You couldn’t be more right. How we change it, while still hanging on to the integrity (and identity) we take from being responsible and loving to those in our lives – that’s our challenge. I can’t help but believe that if our societal framework provided the fundamentals of health care and some small measure of security, we would feel less trapped by encroaching age (and financial fears, and fears for our future).

  6. I had my kids when I was young early 20′s but I can identify with your thoughts. I remember years ago I met a woman during little league who had a 16 year old son and she was 56. She said having the kid at 40 was nothing compared to having a teenager at 56. It stuck with me. But now so much has changed and parents are older and older when they give birth. The idea is that they are better prepared and financially able to support children, have a career and are wiser. But life has other ideas and sometimes it doesn’t work out like that. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. I now have grandchildren 10 years later than my parents did when I had kids. My kids started later as did most of their friends. We’ll have to see how this all plays out. I am also taking care of a parent who is 84 and in terrible shape. The good thing is she has the money to provide for herself but it takes a toll on both my sister and myself. BLW, I love your honesty and love sharing your travails with you as well as the pure joy. Can’t wait to follow along on your journey.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Thank you, Madge. All I can say is that the mother you mention “gets it.” And it can be so wrenching dealing with our elders simultaneously, when we’re so tired ourselves and there’s really no one taking care of us, and as Kristine eloquently said, our generation of women isn’t good at taking care of ourselves.

      And yes, to the joy along the journey, which is not without its many bumps.

  7. I nodded the whole way through this, even though some of our circumstances are different. I, too, learned the lesson of expect nothing, and have come to understand that that isn’t a niggardly truth, a negative view; it’s a simple acceptance of the fragility of life. And once I accepted that, I was much better able to carry my own fragility and love my precious, tender self. Sounds the same for you! Brava, Wolfie, brava!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I love the way you phrase it, Stacy. It isn’t at all a negative view – it’s a simple acceptance of the fragility of life.

      Exactly!

  8. As a thirty something caring for my Mom and Dad has proven “wildly stressful.” So many of my peers and friends can’t relate. But even with all our struggles, it is an honor to be in a position to have the ability to take care of them.

    I love the raw quality of this post. And your honesty is always refreshing.

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