A friend recently sent me an article that depicted the mid-life crisis for the 40-something mother. These mothers were described as party animals; while their dependable husbands are at home, caring for the kids, these women are living it up on the town and unabashedly drinking, cheating, and [gasp] dressing too young. They are trying to recapture their lost youth, the article implied, rebelling against the constraints of motherhood and domestic life. While their husbands are cooking 5-course organic meals and monitoring bedtime schedules, these floozies are inebriated in dark alleys with strange men, searching desperately for a momentary release from the overwhelming responsibilities weighing them down.
I didn’t initially understand the focus on the 40-something mother in this article. Was the implication that these women were young when they first became mothers, and that after 15-20 years they felt like they had missed out on their youth? Or, rather, was the implication that these women were older mothers, who had already had a significant taste of string-free life, and were now trying to recapture that?
My first reaction to this article was how sad. If this is indeed an accurate – or even marginally accurate – representation, then how sad for these mothers. Sad that they are unhappy, looking for an escape, and burned out by the tedium of their lives. Sad that they are unable to enjoy their families in a way that fulfills them.
And then I wondered… Will I become like that? Will motherhood ultimately make me miserable in my own skin, wishing for a life that I no longer have?
After thinking it through, I don’t think so.
I am going to take the liberty of making the assumption that the writer of this article was focused on mothers who had been young when they had children. In my own experience, this is what would make the most logical sense. They became mothers at an early age, and then after 1 or 2 decades (and along with their own aging), began to feel like they had missed out on a carefree youth. So they began to chase that – the impulse, the experience, the autonomy.
In my own short experience as a mother, I’ve definitely noticed some differences between older and younger moms. In no way am I saying that this is representative of everyone, or even the majority, rather that these are interesting differences I’ve noticed just in my own social circles.
The primary difference is the theme of sacrifice that I pick up on from some of my younger mom friends. A general sense that the children, while loved immensely, resulted in significant sacrifices for the mothers. Sacrifice in terms of time, finances, personal enjoyment. Comments about “giving up” major components of their lives for the kids. My own mother, who had me at age 24, would often point out how she had sacrificed her life for us – and I don’t think she was being dramatic… I think she meant it. And I get it with the younger mother… Isn’t she truly giving up a lot? Much of her freedom and youth become secondary once children enter the picture. Careers are stalled (if begun at all), marriages take a different focus, and finances become tighter. Travel and simply partying all become much more complicated, if even possible. All at an age when the mother may still be coming into her own and figuring out her own identity.
Conversely, with many of the older mothers (myself included), I tend to notice a theme of overwhelming gratitude for the children. And I’m not saying that this is any better than the theme of sacrifice – as the excessive gratitude is clearly leading to spoiled and entitled kids. But why the gratitude in the first place? My guess would be the fact that the older mother knows an adult life without children. She has had the opportunity to be selfish for longer, to travel, to live it up, to live for the moment. Chances are, she has had the opportunity to build a career for herself such that financial woes afflicting those in their early 20s no longer pose as much of a challenge. Perhaps, at this later moment in life, she has had enough of a taste of the childless life to feel fulfilled – and ready to give it up to enter a new phase.
In my case, the gratitude is partially driven by fear. I know I’ve discussed this in another post but, in a nutshell, I never knew if I wanted kids. I loved our DINK lifestyle. But then I got pregnant. And got excited and attached. Then lost the pregnancy.
And it was heartbreaking. I had just assumed that I would be having the baby on the due date. I had just assumed that everything would work out. Plans were in motion. It never crossed my mind that it could be taken away from me, just like that.
So when I got pregnant again, I spent every day worried that something was going to happen. Googling every potential thing that could possibly go wrong. Overanalyzing every pregnancy sympton for an early warning of impending miscarriage. I just knew something would happen. It was all too precious, too easy for it to slip through my fingers.
But then a miracle – I delivered a healthy baby boy! And at that point and every day since then, I have been so overwhelmingly grateful for every day I get with him. I am still scared. Worried that something is going to happen. Concerned that I have been, simply, too blessed… And that at any moment, it could all be taken from me.
I believe that my miscarriage, therefore, has contributed significantly to my ongoing gratitude for my child. I also believe that my age, and all those years without him, are huge components. I remember life without him; I have a reference to compare my new life too, and I can confidently say that it is better now, sweeter. I have an established career, and am not worried about caring for him financially. My marriage is stable and has continued long enough that I’m not expecting it to crumble in the face of new challenges. I have the self-assurance that comes with age, that confidence in myself and my abilities (although I will admit that when it comes to motherhood, I still feel like I’m bumbling my way through the dark).
In short, what I definitely do not feel, is that I have missed out on something. I don’t wonder what it would have been like. I don’t have the What-Ifs. I was fortunate enough to experience the things I feel I needed to before I had children: love, heartbreak, travel, partying, success, failure, and merely the time to mature into the “calmer, gentler” person that I am today. For me, the time was right. And I think the theme of gratitude is a result of all that – and drives the fact that I don’t want to spend a minute longer away from my son than I have to. I want every moment, every memory, to include him.
So, back to the 40-somethings, I wonder if and I wonder when they will be able to answer their own What Ifs. Continuing under the assumption that they were young first time mothers, I wonder when they will get their fill of the lives they feel they missed out on. I wonder what becomes of their stories 10 years from now. I wonder if these are simply classic mid-life crises that ultimately fade away. Or if these are decisions, impulsive or not, that will shape their futures.
I also worry that perhaps my own perspective will change as the novelty of new motherhood begins to wear off. Who am I, a smug new mother still aglow in the light of blissful ignorance, to sit here and dare feel sadness, even pity, for these women? They’re further along in the motherhood journey, and in their lives. And they have a perspective I couldn’t possibly have at this point of my own journey.
So who knows? Perhaps a few years from now, I will be the subject of a like article. I will be the one shunning my family responsibilities for another taste of the freedom-enriched life. I will be the one wanting to recapture what I had before kids.
I don’t think so. I don’t feel it. And I can’t even imagine it.
But only time will tell.