The past eighteen months have been uncertain for everyone, but that doesn’t mean the usual life changes have stopped happening. Maybe you’re reflecting on an uncertain young adulthood. Maybe you’ve raised some children, and have possibly experienced milestones like becoming an empty nester or celebrating a big birthday over the past year and a half. How are you feeling about those changes, and the normal factors that come along with aging?
Many mothers in particular are struggling as the pandemic continues to unfold. On top of that though, many middle-aged women in particular are starting to think about potential health concerns that are typical for this age—but are still added stressors. This can range from routine things like menopause, minor health struggles such as managing a changing metabolism and weight, all the way to more chronic illnesses like high-blood pressure and diabetes.
But as any health and wellness clinician can tell you, your health isn’t just impacted by physical factors. The emotional toll of things like career challenges and changes is a major stressor for mothers of all age groups experience, even before the pandemic. Many mothers today are struggling with this more than the generations that came before them, but I’ve found that there’s always hope. There are ways to incorporate interventions and new life skills to help mothers in middle age through this uncertain time.
What’s Your New Normal, and What Do You Want It To Be?
Middle age is a great period of reflecting on our achievements, but it’s also easy to feel discouraged that you haven’t accomplished everything you’ve wanted to. I’ve also noticed many people expecting their transition to look similar to the one our parents made—like having one job your whole career and retiring after 20 years. That’s not the reality for many people entering middle age now, and that can feel uncomfortable. Parenting, work, and middle age in general is not the same for us as it was for our parents.
Women generally don’t have the same number of years in one job as their male counterparts. This could be for any number of reasons, one being that job-hopping actually enables women to build up more skills and advance in their careers. Lack of access to adequate and affordable childcare also has an enormous impact on where and how much women are able to work. Neither of these factors are inherently negative, but if you began your career thinking you’d have just one job, and are now looking at a spotty resume in middle age, you might be feeling some discomfort.
In the turn to remote work during the pandemic, many people, mothers included, have come to understand what’s really important to them about their careers. Many people have changed them altogether, and many women were forced out of jobs they may have wanted to keep. Rather than try to hang on to a career model that worked for previous generations, many people are learning new skills or training for new professions that allow for better work-life balance and earning potential.
For these reasons, this might be the time to potentially go back to school, or take online classes to help reignite a passion that had to be put on hold. But since mothers are traditionally the caregivers and nurturers of children and communities, finding the time to pursue those passions can be challenging. Try to find ways you can lean on your community for help, and potentially share responsibilities with your friends and family.
For instance, if you are trying to find time to take a class or practice self-care, you might be able to find a friend or family member to watch your children while you do so. In exchange, you can watch their children another night, or offer to run an errand for them or bring them a meal. Feeling trapped at home or unable to escape responsibilities for the things that bring us joy can be mentally debilitating, and an arrangement like this one would allow caregivers some more freedom to take care of themselves and manage those negative feelings. It can also reinforce existing friendships or help you deepen others.
Managing Health in Middle Age
The limitations brought on by the pandemic have had a large impact on women entering their middle age. It’s more difficult to exercise and make social connections in gyms or other exercise classes, and the stress of being home all the time with family members and children has physical and emotional impacts on your overall well-being. If you’re able, I would advise anyone entering middle age to schedule appointments for routine health maintenance.
Although finding the time for such screenings can be difficult, especially for mothers who are trying to balance family appointments along with their own, in my experience it’s been worth it. Common concerns for women in middle age, such as difficulty maintaining weight or challenges associated with menopause, can be greatly alleviated with a doctor’s help. My own doctor was able to help me manage hot flashes and sleep disturbance through education and diet changes, something that’s had a direct positive impact on my day to day life.
It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor about preventative care procedures that you may be due for, like breast cancer screenings or a colonoscopy. Some insurance companies also offer a monetary incentive if you take a yearly physical or participate in other wellness programs, which can help offset the time and cost. Making that initial appointment is key, and will help women feel a sense of control that may feel lost or non-existent.
What Can You Look Forward To?
Think about what you’d like your future to look like. How can you shape it to meet your needs, while still maintaining your values? Even though middle age can be challenging, it can be exciting also. The pandemic has started to shed new light on the importance of caretaking, both at home and in the professional sphere, and this will pave the way for mothers and caretakers going forward. These stories and experiences can reshape the expectations of future generations, bringing greater self-awareness and managing the challenges that we’ll be engaged in.
As the pandemic continues to unfold and you continue to navigate a changing career, your health, and your caretaking responsibilities, it’s important to practice actions that promote self-care and kindness. One way to do this is by taking time to write affirmations or practice gratitude. Maybe it looks like checking in on an old friend, or setting aside time for the things that are rejuvenating to you. Meditation and journaling also allow you to work through emotions and gain insight and reflection, and are relatively easy to incorporate into your daily routine.
No longer do mothers and caregivers have to suffer in silence and manage these issues alone because of stigma. Building a care team of mental and physical healthcare providers can help fill your own cup so you can continue to help others. If you aren’t taking care of yourself properly, you won’t have the strength or stamina to continue to the next rewarding phase of your life, and you owe it to yourself to enjoy it once you get there. Celebrate it with exuberance and optimism for it to get even better.