Growing Up And Growing Old - Kimberly Thompson

When children grow up, do moms grow up too? Or do we just grow old? Today’s women may be anywhere from our mid-thirties to almost seventy when our last chick flies the coop … it’s hard to make any generalizations about us. It is safe to say that some us come into our own once the kids are grown, and that others struggle to find purpose and meaning.

I have identified five issues that nearly all midlife moms have to wrestle with … there’s no need to feel alone. We may be stumbling around in the dark, but we have plenty of company.

        1) We have to face the consequences of the choices we made earlier in life. The roads not taken, the opportunities turned down, the mistakes made … night sweats aren’t the only reason we wake up at 3:00 a.m. Even we believe with our whole heart that we have made good choices, the “what-ifs” don’t go away on their own. We have to face them and make peace with them, and that is not easy to do. If you gave up a career to raise your children, now you are faced with the job being done. If you spent years juggling career and family, the pace has slowed dramatically. You may have been “mommy-tracked” with or without your permission, and that’s a hard track to jump even after the kids are grown and gone.

2) Dealing with a loss of power and control over the choices and stressors our children face. Adult offspring face adult-sized problems and make adult-sized decisions. You are a parent who has had years of orchestrating good choices (“Do you want to wear the green shirt or the yellow one?”) and now you can’t fix anything or even mitigate the damage. If your child is crushing it at college or at work, you worry about their love life. If they’re in a relationship, you worry that it’s not the right person or that they are getting too involved too soon. Some parents have even more serious stuff to worry about – alcohol or drug abuse, unemployment or underemployment, and outright destructive relationships.

3) Dealing with being single or with a marriage that is radically different the last time you were alone in the house. Maybe you are still married to your kids’ other parent and maybe you aren’t. Even if your marriage has weathered the ultra-trying kid years, the world looks very different than it did before. You both look different too – and you ARE different. Somehow you have to learn to navigate that. If a marriage or two has splintered over the last few decades, or if you’ve lost your spouse to death, you may be facing the scary thought of dating again (or not).

4) Dealing with other kinds of loss. We live in a culture that idealizes youth. The physical signs of aging represent loss of many things – loss of the things we thought we were going to do and didn’t, loss of perceived vitality, loss of potential, loss of choices. We have lost our parents or may lose them soon.

5) Dealing with a need for values and priorities to shift. And so we come to the crux of the matter. We can cling to what defined our earlier life, or we can mature and adapt. Father Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, puts it this way: “There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”

Maturity only comes to us as we wrestle with the hard and simple questions: What now? What makes my life a good one? What do I have to give? What do I take with me into this unknown future? and What do I leave behind?  You’re not expected to know the answers to those questions, and maturity is not gauged by how well you have answered them. Rather, you find out about yourself by asking them; what you find out creates a kind of bread-crumb trail that keeps you growing, healing, and becoming right up until life’s end.



           I’m Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist with a maternal mental health practice in Lubbock, TX. I work with mothers across the lifespan – from pre-conception, pregnancy, and postpartum through menopause and the empty nest.