Are you in the throes of menopause, career confusion, relationship malaise, caring for elderly parents, and empty nesting? Perhaps you are dealing with just one or two of these and feel you can’t cope?
None of these midlife transitions are easy in and of themselves, and yet middle aged women find themselves trying to cope through all of them within a very short period of time.
Is this a cruel twist of fate?
The life transitions women face from their late forties to late fifties can feel devastating, and can often lead to feelings of depression, grief, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, and despair. Yet these life transitions are rarely talked about or taken seriously. We are taught from an early age that the role of wife and mother are the quintessential must-haves, but no one tells us what to do when those roles change and we experience the loss of our childbearing years. The children leave; we realize we haven’t put much into our marriage for a couple of decades; we wonder what on earth we are doing with our career (or if none existed then what do we do now?) and our hormones are wreaking havoc with our bodies and moods. Add to that the challenge of looking after elderly parents and life can suddenly look and feel very different.
Could the midlife crisis have some validity? Sadly, such talk is often infused with jokes and assumptions, which leaves people feeling uneasy about talking about the realities of what can be an extremely difficult time in a woman’s life.
The good news is that midlife can also be a very exciting time for a woman—a time of self-discovery in her personal and spiritual life, her intimate relationships, her career, and her hobbies. But getting there can take time and often requires the support of others to reach this new place of discovery and acceptance. The kind of support where she is heard, seen, and understood.
Empty Nest Syndrome
When children leave home to begin independent lives, the effects on a mother can be akin to grief. A mother is used to being physically present in the lives of her kids, and if she was a stay-at-home-mom, she may well have dedicated every day of the last 20 years to this role. She may now be asking herself what she does now she is no longer needed in the same way—this experience is commonly called empty nest syndrome. Sadness and loneliness are both common feelings as she tries to adjust to this huge change and re-examine her life.
Menopause is more than the physical changes that occur in a woman’s body. She may also be grieving the loss of what she perceives as her womanhood and the foundation of her sexuality. Knowing that she will never carry another child can be a huge source of loss for many women. Her body has reminded her monthly over an average of 40 years that she is a child bearer, and then suddenly, she is no longer needed in this role. Add to this some alarming and frustrating symptoms, as well as some major mood swings and we can see why the incidence of depression increases in women at this age.
That decade between the late forties and fifties are when we see the highest rates of divorce in western society. Why? Researchers cite a variety of factors but in all likelihood it is a combination of many of these midlife issues. A focus on childrearing can cause boredom and disconnection in a marriage, as can the pressures of caring for elderly parents, meeting career demands, and dealing with the side effects of menopause. Another factor can also be that midlife is the time when many people re-examine their goals, who they are, and their purpose in life. We can change significantly between the early decades of marriage and babies, and the midlife decades when the move towards an authentic identity is strong. If a couple doesn’t grow and weather the storm together this can cause an irreparable rupture in the relationship.
Confusion around career may or may not be applicable for women in midlife. Much of it depends on whether she had stayed home to raise children and now finds herself back out in the workplace. She may have worked part time, or in a role that didn’t fulfill her, but it worked due to her demands at home. But now career is no longer in the background; she is thinking about her needs, her goals and her ambitions. Who is she at this stage of her life and what does she want to do?
Unfortunately the challenges of reentering the workplace at this time are many. Skills may need updating and society has little regard for the life skills she has developed outside of the workplace. This is a time when we see women shift careers and choose roles that more closely match her values and worldview. She may decide to retrain, which can add an exciting component to offset some of the challenges of midlife.
Caring for Elders
As a woman approaches menopause her parents often begin to need more care. Whether she is doing the caregiving herself, or simply taking care of arrangements in a facility, this can add a stressful component to a life already in deep transition. Not only is there the worry that accompanies the fading health of parents, there is early grief as she recognizes the inevitability of impending loss. And it may be that she does experience the loss of her parents during these years.
Counselling for Midlife
As we can see, midlife for a woman is a challenging and emotional time. It needs to be approached with compassion and understanding, rather than ridiculed as a “midlife crisis.” Each of the difficult circumstances that contribute to a woman’s experience can impact the next, commonly producing a domino effect. It isn’t necessarily the one thing that is causing her feelings of grief, depression, and loneliness, but a combination of the many changes she must adjust to.
I am passionate about supporting women through this life stage and helping them to see it as a time of opportunity and flourishing in the midst of challenge. I find women often experience low self-esteem during this time and I like to focus on helping her recognize her value outside of her previous roles. In our work together we will address the following:
- Who you believe yourself to be and who you would like to be
- Your needs in your close relationships
- Grief symptoms and how to work through them
- Confusion around career and next steps
- How you envision your second half of life
**We will not work on any physical symptoms around menopause. Please visit your family doctor or naturopath to address these.**