Specialists studying the lives and progression of women note that the ages between 40 and 65 are marked by numerous changes and stresses. Life is punctuated by great moments of joy and happiness, but also sadness, and challenges.
In a study published by Women’s Midlife Health, authors Annette Thomas, Ellen Mitchell, and Nancy Woods identify five general themes that point to some of those challenges.1 The women in the study took part in “The Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study.” A total of 81 women completed the study and were able to answer the question, “Since you have been in our study (since 1990 or 1991), what has been the most challenging part of life for you?” The study spanned up to 23 years, so as to be able to really trace those challenges and changes in women’s lives.
In this blog, we will examine the first of five themes that were identified in the study. That first theme is a large, complex one: changing family relationships.
The term “family” can be overarching and touch-on so many different people. Long gone is the generalized ideal of the “nuclear family” that dominated society for decades. Much more prevalent are different types of family units. There are single-parent families, families living with extended family members, foster families, step-families/blended families, same-sex families, and more.
The study examined evolving relationships within these family categories:
- with husband or partner
- aging parents
While beyond the scope of this blog to examine every category in detail, this piece will address three.
Changes within a marriage or partnership
Stresses and changes within a relationship were one of the chief factors affecting women who partook in the Seattle midlife study.
Many women had to deal with a separation or divorce. Few things in life are more difficult to deal with than the end of a marriage, unless for good reason (e.g. abuse, alcoholism, infidelity, etc.). Even then, having to sever something that has been familiar for so many years is not an easy transition to make for anyone.
Other women identified changes in health with one’s partner that added considerable stress. Many had to deal with partners who had to undergo surgery, rehabilitation, or any other number of health challenges. Some women ended up becoming not just a wife or partner, but a primary caregiver due to a partner’s incapacitation.
And of course, arguably the most difficult of all changes, the passing of a spouse or partner. Some women may find it very hard to let go and move on, but that is a decision each person must make for themselves. It is also a decision they should make in talking with family, friends, or therapist, if required.
Relationships with a child or children
The changing needs of aging children present significant hurdles for many women. Pressures brought on by peers, social media, and media in general, can lead some children down the wrong path, especially as those children age into their early- to mid-teens.
And, as noted above, sometimes it’s not even a woman’s own children they are concerned with. Partners often bring in children from previous marriages or relationships. Being able to grow a bond with those child(ren) is not always an easy task. Some children may never perceive the step parent (or foster parent) as an authentic parental figure, resulting in a wall that may be difficult to overcome.
A child’s moving out can cause upheaval, but so can the return of an adult child. Many couples probably do not intend for their grown-up children to return home, but circumstance sometimes leads to that happening (e.g. the divorce of the child, financial problems).
Coping with aging parents
Last, having to deal with parents whose lives change due to aging can be a fundamentally difficult challenge. Some women end up becoming full-time caregivers to their aging parents, as it often falls on them to do so. Having to take parents to medical appointments, checking on them often (if not daily), only add to a woman’s burdens.
The roles become reserved in this situation: the child becomes the caregiver, and the parents become the children.
Finding ways to deal with midlife changes and challenges
That’s one reason why I began Amintro, a social community platform for people 50+ to meet people of a similar age. Whether you’re a single mother, have no kids, are a married couple, everyone faces challenges as they age. Having people who understand what you’re facing can be an enormous boost for your morale and wellbeing as you know you’re not alone in any of this.
Self-care, self-love, and self-advocating are all key ways to cope and deal with any of the situations noted in this blog. This may include:
- Having time for yourself to do things you enjoy
- Being social with others, making new friends and connections and building a support group (like using Amintro!)
- Being okay to say “no” when people – even family – make demands of you
- Taking enough time to rest
- Making time to exercise
By looking after yourself as you journey through family changes, you won’t just be in a better place to deal with your family, you’ll be in a better place to support yourself too.
Written and contributed by Charlene Nadalin, Founder of Amintro. Amintro is the online social platform and information hub exclusively for those 50+ interested in expanding their circles of friends and staying involved, informed and connected. Another great thing about Amintro is that it’s FREE and easy to join! To learn more about Amintro, please visit https://amintro.com/
- Mitchell, Thomas, and Woods, Women’s Midlife Health, The challenges of midlife women: themes from the Seattle midlife Women’s health study, June 15, 2018. https://womensmidlifehealthjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40695-018-0039-9
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