In the refreshment line at a wedding recently, I saw my friend’s face from a distance, smiling her polite public smile. Attractive children of various heights stood close by. Seeming only half present, maybe she was remembering her oldest daughter’s wedding a year before. I stopped to chat. After a few minutes, I leaned in a bit. “We need to get caught up.”
“Yes, sounds great,” she said. “How about coffee next week?”
I often say, “The fifties are the best!” And I believe it with all my heart, even more since I’ve passed that decade. But I knew the stress on my friend’s face. The never-ending drives all over the county to sporting events, big meals to prepare in exhaustion, in the middle of menopause. I remembered wondering how the “prime of life” could so miserably fail to deliver. I remembered the anxiety surrounding my heavy responsibilities.
We’d both made the same decision– to continue bearing children past the forty-year milestone. Why did we do it when the most challenging job of our lives might have been done by the arrival of autumn?
The question has varied and logical answers. For one, motherhood gives most women a profound sense of purpose. The job itself can become a fulfilling identity, one of gargantuan, generational proportion. The sense of its significance can trump all thoughts of “How old will I be when this last one turns 18?”
Also, The Empty Nest (or the idea of it) seems to carry a fear of “oldness” or “doneness.” It leaves a slight sense of being set aside, of having to reinvent oneself. The sole role of grandmother, though a wonderful experience for the “older” woman, doesn’t fit me “just yet.”
And those tiny eyes, so full of adoration, intoxicate! As utterly exhausting the prospect, a baby’s perfect innocence softens the hard crust around our hearts. Infants’ care and nurture produces oxytocin in our brains, and this euphoric hormone makes us feel relevant and alive, even young! Today’s moms can design the day’s agenda, look great with makeup, exercise to boost energy, and choose clothes to make pregnancy and “infant wearing” quite sexy.
Together, Boomers and Gen Xers have pulled off the sleight-of-hand trick of the century- shaving at least decade from the stereotypes of age. Thirty became the new twenty. Forty the new thirty, and fifty the new forty. Those who chose the miracle-working fields of dermatology and plastic surgery led the charge toward the “Fountain of Youth.”
Slick sleight-of-hand? Well, our children don’t think of sixty as old as we did when we were young. They do think of it as old, just not AS old. (Hollywood certainly helped in this area! So the empty nest comes later. Way later. Many women who, at fifty, might have embarked on a new career and enjoyed grandchildren, instead find themselves up to their neck in plans for one child’s wedding as well as the promised birthday party of a seven-year-old.
Sound familiar? It does to me. My daughters came thirteen years apart. To feel young enough to make the older one proud, (who am I kidding?… to feel good) I primped more for an event. My skincare routine made what once took minutes now take almost an hour- an hour I couldn’t quite find in my day. I had to be Super everything…friend, mom, and wife, all in virtual perpetuity.
That’s what I saw in my friend. Heard in her voice. The weight of perpetuity.
Stress. And guilt. Because we often feel required to choose between the younger ones and the older ones. With only so much energy, one set would sometimes have to manage without me. How would we not feel guilty? And what does guilt do? It quickens the fade of the younger woman.
She’s standing there in the reception hall in a designer outfit. Her eyes say, “How do I hang in to see the littlest one married – or off to her own life? And isn’t that a terrible question?”
What does she want now? Or Need? (She actually told me. I was grateful for her honesty.)
In two words, More Husband. In one word, Romance.
And I can relate. It has been reported over and over again, that of the many themes of the fifties, a return of interest in romance tops the list for women. In the forties romance often takes a dive due to the raising of kids and teens, plus wide hormonal swings. Afterward, the windfall of extra time in the fifties causes couples to once again notice each other across a crowded room.
Husbands have been patiently waiting for that spark. They want quality time again, like the pre-children era, eons ago. And well they should. For we are all designed for lasting romance. Our hearts long for it, even as hormones settle down. We instinctively welcome a new dawn of enjoying all the hard work of the decades behind us. With or without kids at home, however, this takes intentionality, work.
The following list of helps for the Autumn woman with children still at home comes from the lady who’s been there. Me. These rules of engagement helped my husband and me keep both alive and sane..
1. Take more time for yourself. With older kids to watch the little ones, get the mani-pedi. (Looking back, I wish I’d just spent the money.) Read more books. Delegate all the work around the house you possibly can. Take long baths and long walks. Go to the gym. You need it all, now more than ever.
2. Guard a once-a-week date night with a vengeance. Now you have built-in babysitters. And for goodness sake, don’t come home until all are in bed. (Getting back while the kids are up doesn’t end the date, shall we say, nicely.)
3. Make a household quiet curfew several nights a week. This will allow time for peace and quiet. All will benefit from it! Get the young ones to bed earlier, and older ones to their rooms by nine or ten. The curfew might well extend to mornings on Saturday. (We tried to take one Saturday morning a month for hanging out alone- either in our room or out for breakfast.)
4. Make your bedroom an off-limit zone to all, unless invited. Make it a romantic haven, complete with sofa or soft chairs. Have candles and music easy to set up. Make it a place for you to recharge – alone – at any time. (A lock on the door? Yes.)
5. Reward the older kids, date the wee ones. With more responsibility teens should get some perks, as well as special outings with adults. The young ones love special dates individually. Ours “littles” felt sidelined with all the schedule demands of the older ones, as well as the needs of the married ones! (I wish I had given our “second set” more special time.)
6. Take a Weekend Getaway per quarter (3 or 4 times a year) to set aside time for romance. This means away from home. (An “in town” overnight trip qualifies.) Guard these times to recharge your romance.
Are you raising a second set of kiddos? Don’t let your marriage suffer. If you work hard to set aside time for your husband and you, you will be recharged for the next social event. When someone with all their kids gone (like grown up gone) comes up to you, you’ll smile, knowing that in practically days, it will be you.