Middle age, second chapter, empty nest, menopause…these are all terms that are often used to describe the stage of life that you might be navigating right now. For many of us at the stage in life where our children are (slowly!) leaving the nest, it can be a time of excitement! For others, it may be approached with trepidation. As with any transition, we are faced with uncertainty and the “in between” stage can feel quite uncomfortable for a lot of us.
This stage of life can be a time of reflection and for many of us, we don’t know where the time went. It can feel like a blur; one minute our children were babies and the next, they’re young adults. Many of us can feel a bit of sadness, longing, and grief for how fast it all went. For others, we’ve been waiting for this moment. A time to get our lives back! Most likely, it might feel like a combination of both. This stage of life brings with it, a lot of changes and transitions.
Those of us who have older children in high school or post-secondary, this stage brings new challenges. We will be asked (or forced!) to parent differently – moving from a ‘doing’ role to a coaching role, which can feel quite different from what we’re used to. Many of us can feel hurt and sad when we feel we are being relegated to the sidelines in our emerging adult’s life. Just as it’s tricky for the child to stretch their wings, separate from us and still stay connected, this transition of letting go and yet still yearning to maintain a connection with our child can feel very painful. This transition for parents isn’t talked about enough.
This new definition of ‘parenting’ and being a ‘parent’ can feel confusing. We’re often confronted with the tension of wanting to encourage independence and, also wanting to still ‘parent’, which now looks very different from earlier years. Particularly if your children are out of the house and you’re seeing them less and less. Many of us can feel like our importance and role in their life is slowly slipping through our fingers. While we can feel some of these challenges, it can also be a wonderful opportunity to shift into a new, more mature relationship with our children. Expect some growing pains on both ends. You’re not alone, as this is an expected tricky period of parenting. As you move towards acceptance of the new reality, allow yourself the space to grieve and mourn what was. Give yourself grace and kindness, as you navigate this new relationship.
For many of us, these changes may occur at the same time as we enter perimenopause or menopause. There may be a feeling or sense of dread for this change that affects us on so many profound levels. Others may be excitedly sprinting towards the finish line! Regardless of our outlook, we’re all going to be faced with some form of upheaval. This is a time where we need to intentionally give ourselves more self-compassion and gentleness. Find a community of women to support you through this transition. Focus on self-care and reconnecting with our bodies and our emotions. Both have important things to share with us.
During this period of transition, you may begin to question your many identities. Just as we did when we first had our babies, it is very common for us to begin asking (again) the question, “Who am I”? We may start to question our relationships, our way of life and the things that used to satisfy us, may no longer satiate us. We can embrace this time as one of reflection and exploration. Beginning to ask ourselves the questions: what’s important to me, what are my values, what do I need and desire, what do I want my next chapter to look like? Sometimes this may mean a restructuring of our lives, which can feel pretty scary. We’ve worked so hard to create a comfortable life and, for many of us, that life begins to be questioned. Our relationships with our children, our partners, our friends, and family may be re-evaluated. Purpose and meaning may begin to take priority over the other things that felt important earlier in your life. It can feel like we’re sitting on a fence where we have one foot in the present – that may feel uncomfortable or intolerable – and one foot in the future that feels scary because it might mean that we need to make some changes in our life in order to become more aligned with our true self. This is one of the most uncomfortable places to be, as neither choice feels amazing in the moment. Give yourself permission to breathe. While you might feel some urgency to make changes, we still have time to pause and reflect and check in with ourselves.
On the very positive side, this period can be a time of great empowerment, as we can start making choices for ourselves. As we come to learn more about ourselves and what we need, we might find that we need more boundaries in our lives. We might start saying no to more things and yes to us! We might choose to do more things that bring us joy and peace. We may not feel as pressured to make choices based on what we think we ‘should’ do; based on societal conventions, the roles that were set out for us, or external pressures. We may start to check in with ourselves and ask, “What do I want”? This can feel very rebellious and bold, especially if that’s not how we walked through the world before. We may find that others don’t like this new you…and…that’s okay! We’re starting to include ourselves in the equation and that can feel empowering, exciting, and scary, all at the same time!
It’s no coincidence that all these major transitions happen at this time in our lives. All our experiences and relationships up until now, positive, and painful, have led us to this point in our lives. Think of it as a crossroads. Quiet the mind and access the wise knowing that we all have inside of us. There’s no right way to navigate this period of our lives and you’re definitely not alone.
Carrie Stevenson is a Social Worker at The WOMB Burlington. Carrie is passionate about supporting women and families across the life cycle. Sometimes our lives can feel like a roller coaster with shifting demands, new identities, and new challenges. Reaching out for support can be a very effective way to feel less alone and figure out your next steps. Carrie provides a safe, non-judgmental space to explore your emotions and remember who you are.