Recently I came face to face with an overwhelming question, one that hundreds of thousands of other women are facing (or soon will): When did your perspective change from a self-focused one to one in which other people came first – children, spouses, significant others?
For many of us, it was the birth of the first child, or the day of the wedding; but for many others, the change was gradual – so gradual it would be impossible to put a date on it. Similarly, it is very often difficult to pinpoint when that perspective shifts back to a more egocentric one – or should.
In today’s world, the boundaries are blurry. Once, in a more traditional era, the change was marked by the departure of the eldest child from the household, bound for college or marriage, or the death or departure of a spouse. Now, children may not leave home at the exact moment of college age or chronological adulthood; and, once the kids are gone, the distaff half of a married couple may find it necessary to develop a new perspective, with or without the emotional support of her partner. More so than ever, too, a woman may opt for a single or alternative lifestyle not dominated by heterosexual and/or marital considerations.
For me, the process of shifting paradigms was extremely protracted. About four years ago, I completed the transition from an urban soccer-mom lifestyle to a more independent space in a little country community south of Atlanta, where I have deep familial ties. But I had been in need of repurposing my life for at least ten years.
I had tried for three years to sell my Druid Hills cottage, but it sat on the market for six months without a single acceptable offer. Until I had that mortgage off my back, my mobility was limited. Owning a house, having pets, taking care of a yard, shopping and cooking family-style, are parts of a lifestyle package – one that is appropriate for a woman bringing up children, with or without a partner – but may or may not be the best course for someone whose children are grown and gone from the home.
Many people with adult children, men and women alike, choose to stay in the house their children grew up in. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s working for them. Having a place for the kids to come back to, and bring their own children to, can be a good thing as long as the price isn’t too high for you personally. If it is, find another way to cope with entertaining the extended family on traditional holidays and other family occasions. Remember, it doesn’t take a mortgage to make a home.
So why should you stop and think about changing your perspective after you reach the age of 40? It’s not a magic number. But, biologically, you are a different woman beginning sometime around this age, as you move toward perimenopause. A woman’s metabolism and her nutritional needs are much different at 50 than they were at twenty-something and thirty-something.
Physical changes generally involve other kinds of transformation as well. Wrinkles, gray hair, the ravages of gravity . . . these will sooner or later take their toll no matter how hard you exercise, how often you have your roots done, how stringently you diet, how carefully you apply cosmetics. Even more extreme solutions such as regular infusions of Botox or plastic surgery don’t stave off the Age Genie forever.
Relax. You can’t hold on to your youth, but you can be beautiful at every age. The process begins within. Acceptance, and a kind of inner peace, reduce stress and promote a new kind of beauty — that of serenity.
Five Tips for Shifting into High Gear
With fewer of the distractions that stem from being a parent, you have more time and energy to devote to self-actualization (and with a little luck and preplanning, more money). Like a fine automobile that’s been road-tested and broken in, you are ready to shift into a new, more fulfilling means of moving forward. Here are some guidelines as you begin:
Help the process along by being very, very good to yourself. Give yourself the gift of good health: as much sleep as you want; lighter, more nutritious meals; long walks with a friend, two-legged or four-legged; immersion in a good book on a rainy evening. Self-nurturing once came naturally, but that instinct has been, for many mothers and wives, submerged for decades. It’s a new day and you now have more resources to devote to your own well-being, so take advantage of them. The new you is like the old you, only different and better – fall in love with her! Nurture and care for her as if she was your beloved child, because, guess what? She is.