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The challenges of mid-life parenting

Did you know that each female human is born with all the eggs that she will ever need throughout her entire life?
I told my mother this story soon after my own daughter was born. That while I lay nestled in her womb that the eggs that would become her grandchildren were all there.

All within me.

And all within her.

As I floated around in that warm cradle that was her body, we all made some kind of intergenerational Russian doll. There we all were: me and the eggs that would become the three babies I have given birth to (and the two I did not). All of us enfolded together inside my mothers body. I so love this Russian-doll like image, it also brings to mind some kind of fractal-like pattern, where we’re all turning and whirling like Sufi dancers, unfurling together into a unknown future.

I recall my pregnancy with my own daughter, and I try and feel into the ‘possibility’ of my unborn grandchildren; these dear half-beings that once resided within my body. My poetic soul likes to think that in some way I have already cradled them… within my body. If indeed she ever has them that is. And the truth is, I hope that she does.

I find it interesting that at the age of 44 I have already started thinking about being a grandmother. In fact I’m aware that the desire has grown stromger over the past few years. It has surprised me. I guess I thought that with children as young as mine, grandparent-hood would be the furtherest thing from my mind. At a time when I am still actively parenting my 7 and 11 year old children (my almost 20yr old having moved out already)? Why do my thoughts continue to wander to these unknown sweet ones whom I can already feel a love for?

Me: Grandmother in Waiting

Sometimes my daughter tells me she can’t wait to be a mother; and I feel a secret thrill in me when she does. I notice that sometimes this gets sharply countered by echoes of the feminist narrative I cleaved to so passionately throughout my 20’s “…better tell her that there’s a whole lotta living to be done before you start thinking about babies!!” it screeches, almost banshee-like. “Yeah, tell her that having babies too early changes your whole life; and also tell her that it limits a lot of the choices available to you…”

As she speaks of her future-mama excitement, closing her eyes and dreaming of her own little child in her arms, sometimes our eyes will meet: little-mother-in waiting smiling at me, excited-grandmother-in-waiting. Those moments are full of beauty and I have learned just to let them be; ignoring the other chatter in my head. There’s plenty of time for me to pass on some of the wisdoms I’ve learned about babies and the right time time to have them.
Best time to have babies? My thinking has been changing

The truth is, my thinking on this has changed.

Nowadays I completely surprise myself by saying to the young women around stuff like “If you want to have kids, don’t wait too long to have your babies now, will you!”. This bucks strongly against a whole lot of stuff I used to believe (women really can have it ALL!), and also against the general trend that sees women having their children later and later.

So, why have I changed my thinking around this? Part of it comes from my own life experince of having been parenting young children for 20 years now. Obviously my feelings, beliefs and values are coloured by this. I sometimes find myself wishing that I’d had all three of them in my 20’s. If I had done so, I’d have three teenagers now and in some ways this (and the kind of parenting that calls for) would feel more congruent with the life-stage I now find myself in.

You see, at the age of 44, I can feel the developmental issues of the mid-life transition beginning to work their special brand of magic (and discomfort!) within my consciousness. I feel infused with very similar developmental challenges to those that I faced as an adolescent, and many of them are focussed around identity. I find myseslf asking myself lots of questions like: Who am I? Like, really? What am I here to do in the world? And now (different to the adolescent stage) there is an added sense of urgency, with the good ol’ “mid-life life review” which can sometimes feel difficult as I tease through regrets, missed opportnities and sometimes a good dose of self-criticism for some of those things. I’m defintely more egocentric than I felt in my 30’s, and my focus feels like it is drawing back much much more into myself after the years of being focussed outwardly on my children.

So – is this discomfort within me simply a result of my having had my three children over a longer time period than most other people I know? Or is there something more archetypal going on here?

My core question is this: Is there a developmental life-stage clash between the midlife transition and the parenting of young children?

I am wondering if the very fact that I am in this developmental stage means that I am less able to meet the needs of my younger children; that the stage that pulls me more into myself is also pulling me further away from them. It’s a deep question I have.

My challenges of parenting at Mid-life

I’m aware of feeling a little uncomfortable when I ask these questions. I know that many women now are having their children later, many well into their 40’s. If I was considering these questions for the first time as a mother in my 40’s, I might imagine that it could evoke a few defensive feelings.

You might be one of these women, and maybe you think I’m going to accuse you of being past it, and unable to be a good mother. I want to assure you that this is not what this is all about. And hey, these questions may be way off the mark for you. Truly, I’m not here to claim any grand theory of 40+ motherhood.

What I notice in me when I consider these questions is that I feel a sense of sadness. I wish that I didn’t feel like I do, but I do. And how I feel is this: I feel like this stage of my life is supposed to be more focused on ME. I can feel all the distilled energies, skills and experiences of 20+ years of adulthood all merging together within my soul into this person that I call me. At this life stage, I now feel ready to pour all that out into the world in a more tangible way. What I find is that the time commitments that I still have with my younger children (which are REALLY important to me to be there for) create a tension within me in a way that was no-where near this big when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. I believe that the mid-life transition has changed my experience of being-in-parenting. It would have been great to have had some kind of preparation for these feelings.

I always imagined that by the time I was onto my third child that I would be so much more patient, wise and engaged. What I find is not so much the opposite but that its just “different” to what I was expecting. Yes I have more wisdom. I also have less energy. I am far more relaxed and have an appreciation for what is really important, and what it’s good to let of. I fid I also have less ‘interest’. That sounds harsh; and perhaps a better way to describe it is this: it’s like I can feel the pull of what I want to do in the world pulling me away from them. It’s that which makes me feel the sadness.

I don’t want to reject my inner reality, so I do my very best to be where I am. And I look for ways to meet these emerging needs in me: both my vocational needs as well as the needs of me-as-mother. There is no changing the fact that the paths of my children and I have intersected at this point in my life.

It’s a useless question really – “when is the best age to have babies” as life unfolds in such unexpected ways, and then we are left to engage with our lives in the most creative way we can muster. For me, one of the answers to this tension lies in learning to stay present, and I am deeply engaged in answering the “how” of that.
No matter what age we bear our children, it goes without saying that there will always be challenges. We move through life impacted by all kinds of variables: age, circumstance, environment, personality, choices, preferences; we all know that the list is long. Our children actively shape the experience of our lives, and just as I am impacted by the life-stage I am in, so are they shaping my life experience, and I theirs. All of us are like grains of sand within each others shells, providing the essential life friction we need to shape the pearl of the well-lived life.

Parenting – The Inner Journey

We feel happier and more at ease when we can truly inhabit the lives that we have, and discover what takes us away from ourselves. Please visit my parenting mentor page at www.hilaryjackson.co.nz. If you feel interested to explore further around Mid-life parenting issues (and perhaps contribute your experiences as part of a study) please email me: hilary@hilaryjackson.co.nz
© Hilary Jackson 2013

Hilary JacksonThe challenges of mid-life parenting

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