by Nancy London, M.S.W.
The Clash of the Titans:
Motherhood Meets Menopause
Reprinted with permission from Hot Flashes, Warm
Bottles: First-time Mothers Over Forty. Copyright 2001 by Nancy London,
M.S.W., Ten Spepd Press, Berkeley, CA.
By the time I hit forty, my friends had put me into
the category of someone who could cope with anything. But now I've
got night sweats, mood swings, my energy level is dropping, and I'm
a single mother with a six-year-old daughter. It took me awhile to
admit that I'm in a whole new category.
Bella, forty-six-year-old mother of six-year-old
Motherhood and menopause are considered two distinct
phases of a woman's reproductive life cycle. But what if they happen
just years apart? What if the activities and sacrifices appropriate
to motherhood-giving selflessly to a child any time of the day or
well into the night, postponing short-term pleasures and long-term
goals for the good of the family-are at odds with the impulses that
rise up inside the midlife woman-the physical call to slow down, the
desire to ingather and reflect on the second half of her life, the
hunger to put her own needs first? What happens when these two sets
of developmentally appropriate needs collide? I call this the "Clash
of the Titans," the detonation that sounds inside the older woman
who is caught between responding to her own mounting needs and to
those of her young child.
A woman who has postponed motherhood until her forties
looks forward to showering her child with all the unconditional love
that she has been saving up for decades. Unfortunately, she may not
have factored the following into her biological timetable: as a woman
in her forties, she is more than likely entering perimenopause. This
means that, although she is still menstruating, her hormones have
probably begun to fluctuate as they did during the wild ride of puberty.
We roll our eyes when we talk about self-centered
teenagers. "Hormones," we say, to explain their often unexplainable
erratic emotional behavior. They forget to feed the dog. They space
out when you talk to them. They spend hours in their room alone or
on the phone with a friend. This self-absorption seems to come with
the teenage turf.
Midlife presents the older woman with the same hormonally
predisposed imperative to turn inward and focus on herself. It's a
time to take stock of how she has lived the first half of her life.
With whom has she shared her time, her love, her money, and her energy?
Has she followed her dreams and passions? Has she contributed to the
community? When midlife women look in the mirror and know for sure
that youth is fading and aging is inevitable, many of them seize the
opportunity to make big changes as they head into the second half
of their lives. They go back to school, get married or divorced, start
the business they put on hold twenty years ago, sell it all and go
traveling, or retreat to a monastery. Many of these women say they
feel like they are becoming outrageous, like the lid is coming off
and they can't control what they say anymore. All that has been repressed
steps forward, right smack into the middle of their personalities.
If they were "good girls," the midlife woman from hell is
about to step from behind the curtain and yell, "BOO!"
Perimenopausal women make up the group that most often
reports fatigue, wild mood swings, and mental instability to their
doctors. Unfortunately, many of these doctors overprescribe antidepressants,
which can be as great a disservice to the woman poised on the threshold
of the second half of her life as it would be to the teenager struggling
to find her emotional and mental balance on the brink of adulthood.
This same woman will eventually ride out the hormonal storm and find
her footing, mentally, physically, and emotionally, but if it will
be years before her child is grown, she may find herself wondering
if she'll have enough energy left to pursue her own dreams.
This is the essence of the conflict many women bring
to my First-Time Moms over Forty support groups. They ask: "How
can I reconcile the time I need for myself with the endless responsibilities
(and joys) of motherhood?"
Up until now, older first-time mothers have been offered little guidance
in resolving this clash of needs and were left feeling guilty, confused,
and privately ashamed. This chapter is designed to help you successfully
resolve this conflict. There is nothing more reassuring than hearing
the voices of other older mothers who, like you, adore their children
at the same time they struggle to honor their own midlife imperatives.
The suggestions are specifically geared toward helping you claim guilt-free
time for yourself by learning to identify and accept your ambivalence,
setting healthy limits, scaling back expectations as a way of coping
with fatigue, and putting yourself on the list of people you regularly
nurture. These suggestions never assume that you have more time for
yourself than you really do, nor do they underestimate how daunting
the clash of needs can be. Like the emergency instructions on an airplane,
you'll be shown how to secure your own oxygen mask first, so that
you'll then be able to help those who need your time, attention, patience,
Accepting Your Ambivalence
Many of the first-time older mothers I work with have
a hard time admitting that they have feelings of ambivalence. Ambivalence
simply means having mutually conflicting emotions, but in our linear
society, it's hard to understand that we can hold two seemingly disparate
feelings at the same time. For instance, we love being a mother and
miss our children after a two-hour separation, but we also remember
our single days with longing. We adore the security and warmth of
our family, even as we dream of taking refuge in a Buddhist monastery.
Mothers who know that this will most likely be their only child not
only feel required to "do it all," but also to be unambivalently
enthusiastic while they're doing it. Doris, a forty-nine-year-old
teacher who dotes on her nine-year-old daughter, wonders, "Am
I the only one who wishes my child would dematerialize, get beamed
up and away for the day, and return ready for bed?" Sherry, a
forty-seven-year-old woman devoted to her two-year-old son, confides
to our support group that she has fantasies of buying a red Harley
and disappearing into a "witness protection program for older
Does this ambivalence mean these women don't love
their children? Not at all. It means that after decades of cherished
autonomy and independence, first-time older mothers find their previous
lifestyle and all its freedoms altered beyond recognition. It means
that this surrender of self-rule comes at precisely the time most
midlife women with grown children are just beginning to reclaim their
lives. To acknowledge the inevitable ambivalence that arises when
the demands of putting another person's needs first clash with the
midlife call toward selfhood is not an admission of failure. It simply
means you are human and are feeling more than one thing at the same
Suzanne, a forty-nine-year-old business administrator
and mother of eight-year-old Sara, had the support group groaning
and laughing as she described what happened the day before she was
about to leave on a much-needed two-day weekend retreat by herself.
"Sara wanted to know why she couldn't come with
me," she said, "so I had to explain about how I needed to
take some time away for myself. But still, I was feeling pretty conflicted
about it. So by the time she asked me to take her to the Laundromat
to help her wash her giant quilt, I said yes. It had been an intense
day at work and I was feeling pretty hormonal. I probably should have
known better, but my guilt got the better of me. After two hours of
sitting in this smelly Laundromat, watching really bad TV, with the
bathroom out of order, she drags the damn quilt through an oil spill
on the way to the car. I totally lost it and began haranguing her
about how she needed to focus more. So then I got into the car and
I proceeded to back up over one of those concrete row dividers they
have in parking lots. Men came out of the Laundromat to watch me.
Blessedly my daughter didn't say a word on the way home. But while
we were eating dinner my husband asked us how the day had gone, and
of course she told him everything-how I had given her a 'big old lecture
on being focused' while I was backing up over this thing, and how
half the town had come out to watch me. So my husband put his fork
down and said to her, 'Honey, that's why Mommy needs to go away.'"
Anna told the support group she felt devastated because,
after spending thousands of dollars and three years undergoing infertility
treatments, she was now feeling increasingly frustrated and impatient
with her four-year-old daughter. "I'm forty-seven," she
began. "My periods are irregular, and sometimes I feel so hormonally
out of balance and so desperate for time alone that I lock myself
in the bathroom. Last week I yelled so loud my daughter burst into
tears and said, 'I want my real mommy.' How could this possibly be
me, the same woman who tried to have a baby for so many years? Sometimes
I say I'm going to the store, but really all I do is just sit in the
car in the parking lot soaking up the silence, knowing no one can
find me and ask me for anything. My husband knows I need time to be
alone and encourages me to take it, but I'm torn. I'm not going to
have any more children, and if I leave, I might miss something precious.
But when I stay, I'm crabby and I want to escape. I guess you could
say I'm caught between a rock and a hard place."
These women are incredibly relieved when they understand
that this powerful urge to claim time and space for themselves is
an inherent component of the midlife passage. Taking this time away
allows them to return to their families recharged and rebalanced.
But if this impulse is ignored or condemned, they stay caught in unresolved
ambivalence, often growing irritable and depressed, and end up alienated
from the ones they love the very most.
Learning to Set Limits
A number of older moms who come to my support groups
often tell me that one of their greatest difficulties is learning
to say no to their children when their thoughts, feelings, and body
cues are telling them that they are too overwhelmed to say yes. Yet
significantly the one regret that older parents with grown children
consistently express is a wish that they had set more limits with
their children early on. So what is it that prevents us from drawing
a line in the sand and establishing these much-needed limits with
For many midlife moms, the difficulty arises because
they know they are only going to have one child, and they can't bear
being too strict. Other women say that they hold themselves to unrealistic
expectations of perfect parenting, which includes never having to
say no. Those who came of age in an era that encouraged breaking free
of limitations now equate limit setting with restricting their child's
developing self-esteem. It's also common for older parents of only
children to relate to their children as friends because they spend
so much time together, but it then becomes that much harder to switch
into the role of boundary setter.
Most of us truly enjoy the pleasure of caring for
our children, but if we judge ourselves when we attempt to establish
boundaries, we may be resurrecting old beliefs about setting limits
that have slipped into our unconscious and now influence our behavior.
"A loving mother always puts the needs of her child first. If
she doesn't, she's selfish" is a common misperception. Or, "I'm
no better than my mother was. She was always off somewhere when I
needed her." Another thought that can stop us in our tracks is,
"If I go off and take time for myself, something horrible will
happen to my child." While most mothers logically know that they'll
be better parents if they take care of themselves, these beliefs have
had decades to solidify and can prevent us from meeting our own needs.
Julie found it particularly difficult to set limits
because, after years of waiting to have a baby, she had enormous expectations
of herself and a hidden belief that prioritizing her own needs made
her a negligent mother. "For all my years of growth and success
at becoming a better person, once I had Katie I began to feel like
I was unraveling. I couldn't find my center. I had been in recovery
for thirteen years before I had her at forty-three. I waited because
I wanted to make sure there was enough love inside me to go around.
Before I had her, I used to devote a big chunk of my day to yoga and
meditation and running. Now I have to squeeze all of that into fifteen
minutes. Everyone tells me to put her in day care now that she's three,
but I can't do it. This is my only chance to be a mom. But still,
I push myself past the point where it's healthy to be with her. Sometimes
I've had enough after twenty minutes, and I really want to go take
some quiet time, but I continue playing with her for another hour.
Then I find myself yelling at her and being a really uptight mom.
It makes me feel so bad. I don't know why I wait so long to take time
for myself. One time I let her come into my room when I did yoga,
but she was too young to understand, and she kept crawling under my
legs. I blew it and yelled and then felt so bad that I didn't even
try to do yoga again for months. But the thing is, when I do finally
take time for myself, I come back filled up and nothing bad has happened
to her. I expect myself to be Mother Teresa, patient and wise, but
she spends hours a day in prayer and meditation and I don't even give
myself twenty minutes to recharge."
This reluctance to set limits and claim time for herself,
as well as the ensuing negotiations and constant infringements on
the time she has set aside, can be one of the most fundamental causes
of an older mother's short fuse.
"Mommy, are you mad at me? Are you okay?"
four-year-old Allison asks Rae, her forty-four-year-old mother who
has withdrawn behind closed doors for five minutes of recharging.
"I don't want her to think I'm angry, so I let her come in, and
then we do whatever she wants to do," Rae told me. "I've
never said, 'No, you can't come in. I need to be by myself now.' It's
getting harder and harder for me to take any time alone now. She can
talk me into anything."
Your child will test your limits, and it's developmentally
appropriate for them to do so. But we are doing them a great disservice
if we give them the impression that they never have to learn how to
manage the disappointment of not always getting their wishes granted.
While we may be afraid that setting limits jeopardizes the relationship,
in fact, kids feel loved and thrive with the security and safety this
kind of structure provides. Clear-cut, well-established limits also
provide the means by which we can meet our own needs without having
to resort to erratic, unpredictable behavior. When the time is right
and the emotional waters in the household are calm, sit down with
your family and establish the fact that there are going to be times
of the day or night when mommy takes time for herself. Instead of
a child thinking that she must have done something wrong for mommy
to go away behind a closed door, he or she can begin seeing this as
normal, predictable behavior. Life begins to feel safe again for a
child who may have been frightened by mom's shifting moods. By normalizing
the need to take time away, children come to expect that mommy will
not always be available and that it's not their fault. One creative
mother I know utilized an "Off-Limits, Quiet Time" sign
on her door, which she and her eight-year-old daughter made together.
It was so appealing to her daughter that she asked if she could have
one for her room too.
I encourage older women to create a parenting style
that builds in adult time and interests from the beginning, whether
that time is made possible by day care, paid help, or trading with
other parents, family, or friends. Kids adapt well to clear messages.
If the message is that mom loves you a lot, and mom also has a life
of her own, beyond work, that needs tending, they'll do fine. A major
part of the developmental task for a child is learning to live with
a certain amount of distress when they don't always get their own
way. And part of the developmental task of loving parents is to discern
that this distress is not only not life-threatening, it is essential
to the emotional well-being and growth of their child.
The Body Knows
After several years of parenting, most of us know
what to expect when we don't set limits with our children. We lose
our patience and yell, we feel resentful and frustrated, and then
we're overcome with remorse. Here's a technique I have found that
allows your body to tell you when you are about to say yes when you
really mean no, when you are about to go over the top of what you
genuinely have to give, when you need to stop and set a limit. I have
a small muscle in my right shoulder that twitches madly when I am
dangerously close to denying my own pressing needs in favor of someone
else's. I've come to think of it like Jimminy Cricket desperate to
get Pinocchio's attention. It's my own personal warning signal. If
I don't set a limit now, I'm heading over the cliff into an emotional
danger zone. When I pay attention, I pull back just in the nick of
time, and the reward is acting like the loving human being I know
I can be. When I establish and respect my limits in an interaction
with my daughter, I feel like a virtuous June Cleaver for the rest
of the day. When I ignore my internal radar, I end up yelling in order
to get my needs met. Afterward, I slink around feeling like Mommy
Dearest. Once the mothers in my support groups begin to listen to
their body cues, they report telltale twitching eyelids, tight stomachs,
and sweaty palms. Learning to interpret these messages from your body
will mean you have a choice in the cool of the moment to set a healthy
limit and stop short of having to blow a fuse in order to get your
own needs met.
Authority versus Abuse
For some of the older mothers I counsel, a reluctance
to set limits is even more pronounced if they were emotionally or
sexually abused as children. Their difficulty acknowledging and establishing
legitimate limits stems from confusion around the difference between
authority and abuse. They vowed that when they became parents, they
would make life perfect for their children, free from the suffering
they endured. Now they fear that asserting their parental authority
is perpetrating a form of abuse. They shrink from setting limits with
their children for fear that they will harm them. If you are having
difficulty distinguishing between the healthy authority you need to
assume as a parent and the abuse from your past, I encourage you to
seek out the professional help of a therapist or counselor. Working
through this issue will enable you to become a more effective parent
as well as a more fulfilled individual.
Coping with Fatigue by Scaling Back Expectations
While all mothers feel tired, the perimenopausal mother's
fatigue is compounded by her post-birth/premenopausal hormone cocktail.
This potent mix creates a bone-deep fatigue that is poignantly juxtaposed
against the high-energy needs of her young child. These women felt
young and vital before they had their babies. Now it's common to hear
them say, "I can't believe how tired I am most of the time."
One mother lamented, "I'm always too tired to play with my daughter.
I can just hear her talking about it in therapy twenty years from
now." Another added, "Now I drool thinking about sleep the
way I used to thinking about sex."
In group sessions, when I mention the memory lapses,
fuzzy thinking, and lack of concentration associated with midlife
fatigue, I can count on hilarity in seconds: "I found the missing
scissors in the refrigerator. Did I do that? That's it, I thought.
I've got a brain tumor." "I couldn't remember my best friend's
last name. Hell, I can barely remember my own last name!" "My
daughter and I went to a spring equinox ritual. Everyone had to bring
a slip of paper with their wishes for themselves and their families
written on it. We put them all in a bowl and burned them in a very
beautiful ceremony. The next day I found my wish list in my pocket.
I must have burned my shopping list."
Not only is there a biochemical component to the fatigue
at midlife, there is the additional exponential factor that comes
from always being on call. You can't follow the body's imperative
to rest if it's time to pick your child up from school or cook dinner.
Successfully devising strategies to cope with this level of fatigue
may mean scaling back on your expectations of yourself, and often
it involves seismic shifts in self-image.
Carmine was a high-powered computer programmer before
she had her daughter three years ago. Now at forty-five, she's creating
a new lifestyle that includes concessions to a fatigue that she admits
"caught me by surprise. I used to be a career woman-panty hose,
high heels, the whole scene. After my daughter was born, I switched
to part time, and then to running my own consulting business from
home. At first, I got dressed up every day like I did when I worked
in the city. Then I just admitted to myself that I was pooped and
switched to wearing sweats. I had "day sweats" to work in
and "night sweats" to sleep in. But one day I came out of
my office around lunchtime and my daughter asked me if I was going
to work or to bed. Believe me, it was a shock to see how far I'd come
from my power suit days."
Laura, a forty-five-year-old client of mine, has been
a successful commercial artist for twenty years. She had her first
and only child five years ago and has been juggling motherhood, marriage,
and career ever since. "I don't have the reserves of energy I
used to have," she told me. "I used to pride myself on my
gourmet cooking, but now, if I'm involved in a painting, and it's
dinnertime, I don't stop to cook. I know I'm fooling myself if I think
I'll have the energy to cook and get back to work later. I probably
would have been pulled in more directions if I were younger. Now I
want time for my family and my art. These matter. We can always order
The Luscious Horizontal Position (but Not What
Feeling too tired and spaced out to play with your
child can be a great disappointment not only to your child but also
to yourself. Fortunately, children care more about you being with
them than they do about whether you're sitting up or lying down, so
at the end of the day I recommend scaling back your expectations and
playing "lying down" games. You and your child can read
together, play cards together, watch movies together. Despite the
fact that I always thought I would outlaw videos in favor of more
"creative" endeavors and certainly thought I would be more
physically active when I became a parent, some of my most treasured
memories come from the humor my daughter and I have shared watching
cartoons and movies together, all from a luscious horizontal position.
The Party from Hell
I wish I always followed my own good advice. Last
week was my daughter's twelfth birthday, and she wanted a mammoth
Romanesque celebration: a trip to the amusement park with four of
her best friends; a dinner party for eight with all of her favorite
foods; an elaborate birthday cake, ice cream, and helium balloons;
and a sleepover in her tree house. Now it may be easy for you to say
no way, but I got caught up in my desire to grant her every wish.
Against my better judgment, I created this three-ring circus and then
paid dearly for it. These preteen girls were so hormonally wound up
and so overstimulated that they climbed up and down the tree house
ladder giggling, whispering, and needing flashlights, snacks, and
comfort well into the night. The next day I looked at my bedraggled
self in the mirror and thought about the expectations that had created
the Birthday Party from Hell for the introverted older mother that
I am. Next year, when that lying, thieving little birthday fairy whispers
in my ear, "Go on, you can do it . . . give her everything she
wants," I'll have my wits about me and be lying in wait.
Fighting Fatigue with Better Nutrition
If you are among the many first-time moms over forty
who are experiencing the fatigue or mild depression associated with
perimenopause, never underestimate the positive effect that increasing
your vitamin and mineral intake can have on your energy level and
your moods. Go to your local bookstore or library and check out the
many good books available that detail the changing nutritional needs
of the perimenopausal woman. I have worked with many mothers who thought
they were candidates not only for the old folk's farm but for antidepressants
as well. Many of these women responded successfully to boosting their
vitamin and mineral intake. Some of my clients also report increased
energy and a brighter mental outlook from acupuncture and Chinese
herbs. And if you don't already do some form of regular exercise as
a means of boosting your energy, refer to chapter one for painless,
If you suspect that part of your fatigue is due to
your hormones fluctuating and you want to find out the specifics,
I recommend that instead of relying on traditional blood tests, which
are not highly sensitive to subtle shifts in hormonal levels, you
seek out a health care practitioner who offers the more advanced saliva
sample method. See Resources (page 196) for more information on how
to find a hormone testing service.
Putting Yourself on the List
In your quest to maintain a career, a relationship,
and a dust-bunny-free home, and to meet your child's needs plus still
have time left over for romantic interludes with your partner, the
needs you most likely are not tending to are your own. This is all
the more poignant because as older first-time moms, we have had years
to grow into the individuals we are today and probably can remember
lots of ways we used to restore and nurture ourselves B.C.-Before
Children. One forty-six-year-old client told me, "The realization
hit me on about day seven after my son was born that my life was over
as I had known it. My routines, my private time, my time for journaling,
thinking, writing, painting, it was all just gone."
To make matters worse, most of the popular books written
for midlife women that encourage them to use these years as an opportunity
for personal transformation and creative exploration are clearly not
written for women with young children. One woman told the group, "My
friend sent me this really great book that recommended that women
going through menopause spend three days every full moon and three
days every new moon retreating by herself to gather power. I put the
book down and took stock of my life. I used to do things like that
all the time. Now it was three o'clock in the afternoon. I was at
home with a kid who was either playing Legos or jumping off the sofa
in a Batman costume. I was about to start dinner. Then I'd do the
dishes, give him a bath, read a story, and tuck him in. It would be
9:30 before I had a moment to myself again. 'Get real!' I wanted to
shout at the book. I'd be lucky to get my teeth brushed, let alone
six days a month to myself."
These losses are real. Midlife motherhood has granted
us our most heartfelt wish, while it has taken from us cherished parts
of our youth and freedom. I fervently believe from my experience working
with older first-time moms that by remembering, honoring, and incorporating
parts of ourselves that thrived before we became parents, we can stay
sane, balanced, and recharged. It's like swimming upstream, back to
your place of origin.
I was reminded of this several months ago when I went
for a walk and ended up in my neighborhood park, where a primitive
but beautiful labyrinth had recently been created out of our indigenous
adobe soil. Impulsively, I walked through the archway and began circling
my way through the maze. When I got to the center, I sat on the stone
bench and for the first time that day appreciated the breathtaking
New Mexico morning. High puffy clouds hung in a bright blue sky, red-winged
blackbirds called to each other from crab apple trees bursting with
bloom. For a moment I was transported back to my years as a single
woman when I took delight in traveling alone to foreign countries.
I loved going without companions because it left me free to follow
the spontaneous call of adventure. Walking through that arch and following
my impulse to sit on that stone instantly recalled the woman I had
been before my career, my marriage, and my family. Before pets and
gardens. Before taxes and PTA meetings. Before I had a clue what havoc
midlife hormonal changes could wreak. I knew I didn't want to be her
again, I just wished I could visit with her more often.
I (she) had a great fondness for watching a sunrise
from a hilltop, but-I'm sure this will come as no surprise-I have
only managed that feat once during the last five years. Other pleasures
I (she) enjoyed that I indulge in more frequently include going out
to breakfast alone, rummaging through flea markets, foraging for wild
medicinal herbs, spending luxurious time on the telephone gossiping
with my best friend, getting a massage from a woman with strong hands
and a kind heart, buying too many platform shoes, and going to a 1:30
matinee. I have a girlfriend who puts on a nostalgic old pair of cowboy
boots and goes dancing every time she feels like life has nailed her
to the ground.
Sit quietly and remember the life you led before you
became a mother. Remember the ways you had of taking care of yourself.
Let your mind run wild and imagine how you might incorporate some
of this good medicine into your life now, each day or each week. It
doesn't matter if you're inclined to gather and drink wild herbs,
or meet a friend for a shot of scotch, straight up. Personally I've
done both. What matters is that you take the time to care for yourself.
And while I believe there is a special hell reserved for those who
urge hormonally challenged and physically depleted midlife mothers
to "just do it," there are instantaneous and life-affirming
benefits to putting yourself on the list of the people you regularly
Seek out and connect with other older first-time moms
like yourself. Put up notices on bulletin boards or in local classifieds.
You'll find sample ads and an eight-week curriculum in the appendix
(page 183). When appropriate, help each other with childcare and housecleaning
so that each of you gets what you need-precious time to be with yourself
and with others so that you can return to parenting renewed and inspired.
Individually and collectively we've pushed the envelope
and extended the time line for fertility. First-time mothers over
forty are a rapidly growing demographic-fast becoming commonplace
rather than exceptional. We've proven that we can have healthy beautiful
babies well into our forties. Now the challenge is to draw new maps
for the next generation of older first-time moms, illuminating the
territory where the needs of the midlife mother and her child can
The Journey Book
When you have the time, sit quietly with your Journey
Book. Think of five situations in which you would like to set clearer
limits. Write them down.
Are there any beliefs or judgments you hold that may be preventing
you from setting these limits?
Reflect on what happens when you say yes when you
really need to say no. Write for five minutes, stream of consciousness,
the completion of the following sentence: "I know I've neglected
my own needs for too long when I. . . ."
Embracing Your Ambivalence
The following exercise has proven highly effective
for the women in my support groups who are grappling with issues of
ambivalence. It is designed to help you get comfortable with the fact
that there are several voices inside of you that are clamoring for
equal airtime. Some of these voices are ones with whom you are familiar.
Others may be ones you are repressing because of the pressures and
responsibilities of motherhood. All of them need to be heard and accepted
if you hope to successfully reconcile your dual identities of individual
Pick two of the distinct parts of you that are seeking
resolution and reconciliation. Wild woman and devoted mother? Solitary
world traveler and neighborhood carpooler? Now imagine that each one
of these characters has come alive and has invited you into her home.
Visit with each one separately. Write a description of each character
and note the specifics of each personality. What are they wearing?
Is one dressed in lace and a low-cut dress and the other in jeans?
Does one plan for the future and one live in the moment? Is one's
refrigerator empty except for wine and cheese? What do they do for
entertainment? Work? Are they married or single? What kind of music
do they listen to, and who are their friends? What would the ideal
vacation be for each of them? How do they prefer to spend their time?
Give your imagination free rein as you flesh out the various tastes,
styles, and, most important, needs that are coexisting inside of you.
It is a safe first step toward embracing your ambivalence without
judgment or censorship, and restoring those parts of yourself that
may have been suppressed, denied, or forbidden. (Thanks to Deena Metzger
and her wonderful book Writing for Your Life for the inspiration for
Putting Yourself on the List
There was a you before motherhood. Make a list or
create a collage that reflects who you were and what you liked to
do before you became a parent. List five creative ways to make contact
with this other you at least once a week.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause all happened within eight years
in my life. Each event has had a huge impact on my body and how I
Bette, forty-nine-year-old mother of nine-year-old
My daughter is going through puberty at the same time I'm going through
menopause. It's hard to tell which one of us is more hormonally crazed.
Susan, fifty-two-year-old mother of twelve-year-old
At forty-two, with a two-year-old, I was overloaded, angry, and losing
it. I went to three female doctors who all told me that menopause
couldn't be happening because I was still getting my period. Maybe
they thought you had to be fifty and you had to have stopped your
period. I finally found a
doctor who thought I was perimenopausal. What made me really want
to deal with it was not wanting my daughter to grow up thinking I
was just a crazy old lady. What kind of role model would that be for
Virginia, fifty-five-year-old mother of fifteen-year-old
Diet, exercise, rest, meditation, gardening, dancing, writing, whatever
centers you. Self-care is a critical factor for an older mom. It's
so easy to put yourself on the back burner. You eat last if at all,
you exercise if you can fit it in, you sleep when you can. There has
to be a real conscious effort to take care of yourself, because if
you don't juice yourself up, your child is going to suffer.
Debra, forty-three-year-old mom of three-year-old
Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward;
to look forward we must believe in age.
I felt like huge pieces of my old self were being vacuumed up in being
a parent until I arranged my schedule to be home alone once a week.
I put fresh flowers on the table, turn off the phone, and take a hot
bath. I make a point not to accomplish a single, tangible thing.
Jesse, forty-five-year-old mother of five-year-old
Every five minutes I spend setting consistent limits with my child
saves me fifteen minutes of turmoil.
Ella, forty-four-year-old mother of three-year-old
Feeling selfish when we prioritize ourselves above someone else is
a gene defect, and most women have it.
Donna, forty-nine-year-old mother of six-year-old
To love without role, without power plays, is revolution.
Rita Mae Brown
I was breastfeeding at forty-seven, the same year my periods began
getting irregular. When my thinking got a bit fuzzy, I chalked it
up to my menopausal lactation brain.
Carla, forty-nine-year-old mother of three-year-old
I used to make elaborate custard pies when I went to a potluck. Now
I think of the time it will take to buy the ingredients, do the cooking
and the clean-up-all precious time when my son is in school-I think
I'd rather spend the time taking care of myself and bring pies from
the local health food store. Frankly no one really cares what kind
of pies I bring, but if they did, I'd say, "What you think of
me is none of my business."
Kimberly, forty-five-year-old mother of four-year-old
Before I got my hormones tested and knew which supplements to take,
my mood swings were very erratic. I felt irritable and fragile, like
I was inside an egg about to break. To be hormonally depleted as an
older mother of a young child is a real double whammy. Now I feel
like I can hold my life together.
Marla, forty-eight-year-old mother of four-year-old
NOW! (click here)
Reprinted with permission from Hot Flashes, Warm Bottles: Firs-time
Mothers Over Forty. Copyright 2001 by Nancy London, M.S.W., Ten Spepd
Press, Berkeley, CA.
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