Oct 20, 2015

The Midlife Lull

By Jenny Jordan

I turned forty-one this past summer. Now that I've been in my fourth decade for two years, I've mostly gotten used to people expecting me to be bothered by it. Truth is, I'm enjoying these years. My daughter, who was quite a challenging baby, toddler, and grade-schooler, is now a middle-schooler whom I genuinely enjoy spending time with. I'm finding time to write, something I hadn't been able to do in the daily grind of the small-child years. I find I have time to think ahead to the years to come, the years when my mothering will change shape, when my house will be "empty," (I don't care for the term "empty nest:" does my husband count for nothing? He's not leaving the nest!) and imagine what my days might be like as I start to slow down. I'm also finding out just how weary I am at times, now that the survival mode of early motherhood is lessening.

There's a lull at mid-life that we can use to our advantage. Our children are probably now old enough that they don't require our constant attention and supervision. They are starting to have their own lives, apart from us, little by little. Our parents are likely still "doing okay." There may be some signs that they are starting to slow down, but unless they were older than average when they had us, they are probably still driving themselves to their doctors' appointments, living in their own home, and involved in whatever sorts of things they've been involved with all along. Or perhaps they're trying some new hobbies and activities.

In another ten or fifteen years, our parents will need a little more of our help. We'll be on call a bit more, if not in person, then by phone, as we assist with their transition to their sunset years. A lot will happen in our next decade: a daughter's wedding to plan and celebrate, graduate school for our baby boy-man, a cross-country move for a grown kid's First Real Job, helping parents move to a smaller house, a vigil to keep at the bedside of a dying parent or auntie or grandpa.

But right now is before all that. Now we're at the landing that marks the halfway point. Because of that, these are the years we need to learn take care of ourselves. We didn't have time to do so the last fifteen years, and it shows. We. are. beat! We're not good at taking care of ourselves, most of us. We go and go and give and give until we crash or burn out or become bitter. Or all three. We must learn to be gentle with ourselves, to restore strength, to ration our reserves of emotional and physical energy, for the years following are likely to be more challenging than where we are now.

As women, we are born to give, to care, to nurse, to love unconditionally. It is our great gift from our Creator. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Gen 2:24) We become one flesh and we love that flesh as our own. But every gift is damaged by the Fall (save that One Gift, our Second Adam). And so our giving, caring, nursing, and loving make us weary, scramble our days, and become burdens rather than the joyful vocation they are meant to be.

Selfishness is sin because it makes a god of ourselves. Making a god of the good we do for others is sin, too. But allowing ourselves to heal is not. Sleeping at night so that we can serve during the day is not sin. Taking care of ourselves physically and emotionally is no different. God rested on the seventh day, remember? And Christ, who knew no sin, withdrew from the crowds at times.

Now, in the lull between the toddler years and the vigil-sitting years, is when we need to learn how to rest, recuperate, conserve, heal. . . and to withdraw, when necessary. And we should learn how to do so comfortably and without guilt, because in a few more years, we'll be too busy to change our habits.

So, how? Of course, there are the obvious things. Eat right, exercise, take time for relaxation, blah, blah, blah. But those lists feel like just more obligations, don't they? Let's see if we can find a way that is a little more soothing, definitely more simple, and a little less, "Ugh. More Stuff I Have To Do." Here are a few of the ways I’m trying to take better care of myself, offered for your consideration.

1. Listen to your husband. He likely knows your energy level better than you do yourself. He's seen first-hand what happens when you're exhausted or lonely or bored, so if he says maybe you shouldn't take on a second volunteer gig, listen to his reasons. Or, if he says, "You've always wanted to sing in choir, and never had the time before, why don't you go ahead?" go do it instead of arguing with him about all the reasons you feel guilty leaving him with your teens to make supper on Thursday nights. Part of your husband's vocation is taking care of you; let him do his job. So when he suggests going easy on yourself, listen to him. When he suggests you get out of the house and go do something, go ahead. By listening to him and taking his suggestions seriously, you'll also reap the benefits of a husband who feels respected by his wife. 
2. Care for your marriage. It's likely suffered some neglect during the baby and toddler years. There is lots of advice out there for marriages, but I'll highlight two things that I've found to be particularly helpful. If you don't have a regular habit of time set aside each week for just the two of you, now is the time to start. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive; it can be as simple as having coffee together each Saturday before your sleepyheads wake up, a weekly visit to a favorite restaurant, or a drink together on Friday night out on your front porch. My next suggestion is related, and may be controversial: dress for your husband, at least sometimes. This can take many forms; in my own case, it means showering in the late afternoon and putting on something cute for his arrival home from work: no runway styles here; my "for husband" wardrobe consists of a pair of jeans a little too tight for public wear, a lace bra or two, a few classy skirts, and a couple of cute and comfortable polo shirt-dresses. Maybe you'll wear his favorite dress when you eat out each week. Or maybe you'll choose to slip into bed without panties, knowing it will please him. However you choose to serve your husband in this simple way, the benefit comes back around to you in compliments, in a happy, helpful, loving husband, and in feeling good about yourself. 
3. Do more things that feel good. That sounds very Sixties, yes, but I don't mean "do what you want at the expense of others, the law, or common sense." Instead, pay attention to what sorts of activities (or lack of activities) make you feel calm, relaxed and rested, and do more of those things. Hobbies, crafts, reading, visiting friends, volunteering, playing an instrument in a local orchestra, scrapbooking, sewing, starting your own business: none of these are necessary, but if they bring you joy, do them. Conversely, this is also the time to take stock of what you're involved in and ask yourself if those things are good for you or serving a useful purpose for you. Find out what makes you anxious instead of calm, stressed instead of relaxed, and tired instead of rested, and step back from some of those things, if you can. 
4. Be at the Divine Service, receiving God's good gifts of Word and Sacrament, given for you, every week, and more if it is offered. You may choose to serve more at church now that your children are no longer small. Or you may find that you're needed a little less at church and you crave a bit less time in the church kitchen or Sunday School rooms. Either way, remember that what you do for the church isn't the most important bit, what Jesus has done for you is. And that, my fellow sisters of the "metallic hairs" (as my daughter calls my increasing number of grey strands) is where our true rest and comfort lies, no matter the stage of our lives. 

***

Jenny Jordan is a missionary kid married to a pastor's kid. She and her husband met at church, after being set up by their respective mothers. Both husband and wife are life-long Lutherans, born with a ham roll in one hand and cup of bad coffee in the other. She is a homeschooling mother to a very imaginative teenage girl. When she is not yelling spelling words across the house or discussing political systems on the Cat Planet with her daughter, she sews, gardens, attempts to teach herself basic car care with an old Mercedes (her husband usually bails her out of trouble), and is active online in a car-enthusiast forum. She blogs at elephantschild.typepad.com

Image: Portraits in the Countryside by Gustave Caillebotte, 1876

2 comments:

  1. This is just what I needed to hear for this season of my life. thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank-you, Jenny. I am in my forties; your post gave me a good "big picture" of this stage of life, as well as practical ideas for not overextending myself.

    ReplyDelete

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