“If what shone afar so grand
Turn to nothing in thy hand
On again; the virtue lies
In the struggle, not the prize”
I consider myself fortunate to have a close loving family, the strong bond between us having been strengthened through my experience with breast cancer in 1988, but I’m conscious that not everyone is as lucky as me. Even though we are a close family we still have our share of worries and heartaches as do most families, which surround, births, marriages, illness and deaths. And sadly we haven’t escaped the miseries that divorce brings with it. I have been divorced twice, and one of my sons has also experienced the trauma that accompanies a marriage break up. As a united family we are all involved in helping one another come to terms with the problems arising from these situations.
One of the blessings of getting older is the arrival of a grandchild. A child you can indulge, enjoy, and then return when you’ve run out of patience and have just had enough! Well that’s the theory anyhow. But in these modern times it doesn’t always work out that way. Today many grandparents find themselves looking after young grandchildren through necessity rather than choice. This may be the consequence of the increase in one parent families, or as a result of their own child’s divorce. A recent survey by ICM for The Guardian found that over a quarter of grandparents, the majority grandmothers, spent more than 26 hours a week caring for their children’s children. This enforced parenting can cause problems of its own, as we shall discuss later in this section.
As the years go by more and more women are likely to find themselves living alone, sometimes through choice, but more often through divorce or the death of their husband or partner. This situation can lead to loneliness, depression and isolation. I too live alone, not initially through choice, and I know from my personal experience that being active in body and mind can help reduce the feelings of loneliness, anxiety and stress. Getting out and about, and talking to people can help to lift the depression, whilst social interaction and the ability to share problems can raise the spirit. But I am well aware that to climb out of the spiral of depression takes a lot of effort, and sometimes requires medical assistance and counselling. It also requires a great deal of self-motivation. Expected increased longevity is likely to produce even greater problems of isolation, as more people, women in particular, find themselves facing many years alone. Family and friends can provide emotional warmth and be of support, but tend to shy away from neediness or desperation.
As we age we need to keep up our self respect and reassurance, to feel that we are still useful to society and not being discarded. I for one don’t intend to become invisible as I get older, and I think it’s essential that women of a certain age continue to be noticed, and have a strong voice that can be heard particularly when it comes to economic and health issues. This is no time for complacency, now is the moment in history for us women mature to do something for ourselves and for future women, by re-writing the rules and changing the conception of ageing. Just because the young think we’ve had our time and that they know best must not result in us losing our self-esteem or our sense of power. Older people deserve due prominence within the community, and mature women have so much to offer including experience. It is said that with knowledge comes power, so let’s not waste it, let’s utilise our power. But to enable us to stay strong in both spirit and voice. it is essential to maintain our good health as best we can. The link between ill health and inequality is very evident, especially to those of us who work in health related professions.
Approaching middle age or later on many mature people with families and responsibilities experience major changes within the family unit itself. Older children flying the nest to follow further education or careers create a void for some parents. Other parents view their children’s departure with blessed relief, and relish the opportunity to spend quality time at last, alone with their partners. I have always taken the view that as responsible parents we would try to teach our children to stand on their own two feet from an early age. Therefore we should be very pleased when finally the child leaves the nest as an independent, responsible young adult. From my observations however some offspring may require a gentle push at a certain stage in their development, to avoid them continuing to settle, just a little too comfortably into the nest! In my view parents deserve to be congratulated on a job well done.
when their children have grown and flown.
The moment of departure, when a child eventually leaves home for good, is a very significant time in a mother’s life. With her nest empty some women feel an intense sense of desertion and rejection. Having spent the past 20 years or so raising her offspring, making personal and financial sacrifices, she now finds herself floundering. She is like a ship without a rudder, unsettled and not quite knowing in which direction the wind will next take her.. Without a focus her future looks hazy and uncertain, and many women at this dramatic point in their lives, start rocking the boat. Most women will look back over the childrearing years and conclude with some satisfaction, that they did their best as they cared and brought up their children in the given circumstances. As good mothers they gave their offspring a mother’s love, supporting them through times of sickness and trouble. After much soul searching and reflection the majority of women feel without conscience that they did their duty and gave the family their best. At this point many women finally become themselves and no longer feel guilty about addressing their own needs.
I think an overdue word of praise is required at this point for all women, but especially mothers. It never ceases to amaze me just how much women achieve on an everyday basis compared to many men They multi-task and many juggle a family and a career. Many of these achievements are taken forgranted and go without due recognition. Initially of course, we should remind ourselves that biologically women are the weaker sex. But this is largely due to the fact that the female sex have menstruation to cope with on a regular basis, with all it’s hormonal complications as all women know only too well, but the majority take in their stride. Mother’s bodies are put under the stress and strain of pregnancy, and eventually the pregnant woman must go through childbirth itself, which isn’t exactly a picnic! I appreciate that modern caring husbands and partners try to comprehend and support their womenfolk during these times, but for the obvious biological reasons, a male cannot experience the intense physical, mental and emotional pressure his partner is going through. Despite the major biological disadvantage, modern day women are strong in all other areas, and can, and do compete with men at most levels very satisfactorily. Miraculously women are out there competing with men at work and play, and yet somehow they continue to juggle family, career and relationships. Many working women are the breadwinners and financially independent, possibly supporting partners children or ageing parents. What incredibly complex, competent, and downright clever creatures we women are! Well that’s got that off my chest – but it had to be said!
This is not a time of life to reflect on the past but to plan for the future, and for some women it can be a time of major changes, especially regarding relationships. Self-examination can be especially uncomfortable and disturbing for all concerned. Partnerships come under intense scrutiny at the time of a planned retirement, but when the early retirement is unplanned, partners find themselves increasingly together for hours on end when they least expected to. It can be an opportunity to talk, to face the facts, to be sensitive to partners requirements and aspirations, a time for honesty and openness.
For some people courage must be summoned up to express their disappointments, and to state their desire to implement changes if the relationship is to survive. Others need even greater courage and conviction in themselves to be able to move on to something different and hopefully better, and to go it alone. Women today are no longer content to be subservient to men, and are not prepared to stay in bad relationships. Neither should they, particularly once they have finished raising their children to adulthood. Many men and women still live together as a couple simply because they are scared of being on their own and alone. A woman of 50 years of age could possibly have another third of her life in front of her, so why should she want to spend it miserably in what she perceives as an unsatisfactory relationship? But as many women find out to their own cost when they move on, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the fence. When the going gets tough with unexpected or terrible things happening it’s rough, and then it’s easy to reflect on the past and yearn for what was. But sadly for many women it is only in retrospect that the familiarity and near normality of that lost former life is appreciated.
For many older couples retirement can be the blissful time they worked and planned for. With a good strong relationship, even the restrictions of limited finance doesn’t stop them from having a good time. Retirement comes up to their expectations. Finally they have time to do all the things they had wanted and dreamt about doing for so many years. Family and work commitments had previously thwarted their aspirations. For some couples or single folk there is the chance to travel, to experience other places and cultures. By taking advantage of pensioner’s allowances and travel concessions they get on a bus, train, coach or plane and they are up and away. At last there’s the time and opportunity to visit friends and locations both far and near, and people and places they have longed to see during those busy years. It can be a magical time for retired people, with time to quite literally “stop to smell the roses”. During a recent trip to the Royal Horticultural Society’s delightful gardens at Wisley in Surrey, I observed many people doing just that. It wonderful to see increasingly large numbers of quite ordinary people discovering the joy, peace and tranquillity of simply walking around beautiful grounds and communing with nature. You can count me in their number.
Sadly some couples will have reached the stage in their partnership where they have simply got bored with one another and find they have little left in common. The growing family has kept them together but gradually over the years, and perhaps with outside interests distracting them, they have allowed their relationship to go stale. Many couples will have been together for 20, 30 or 40 more years. Once they stop and take stock they realise that they have both been pulling in opposite directions and leading separate lives whilst living under the same roof. The situation isn’t all doom and gloom, especially if they can communicate their needs well and after discussion many decide to still be friends if not lovers. If neither partner wants for more, many couples will continue quite happily on their journey through life together. Many of this generation married in the 1950’s and 60’s and took their wedding vows very seriously, and have no wish to break them. They respectfully continue their life together, through the ups and downs, till the end of their days. There is a lot in favour of staying with convention, and if both partners happily agree there are many advantages. Though it must be said, some couples stay together more through familiarity than desire.
If both partners are allowed to pursue their own interests and friendships, neither partner gets hurt, as they would do in a divorce or separation. There is no financial pressure on either partner to give up their share of a treasured home or familiar possessions, and there need be little or no sexual contact. But there is economic security, and without the complications resulting from divorce, the pensions stay intact! These couples continue on together respecting each other’s differences, giving each other space within the relationship, and presenting a united front to the family and the rest of the world. I’m convinced that a large majority of the ageing population at this time live within these constraints, their boredom being channelled constructively into pursuits and interests of their own.
However this arrangement is far from satisfactory when both partners stay in the relationship but do not communicate their needs to one another. Courage is required to dissect the relationship and to look at how, if possible, it can be rebuilt in order to satisfy the needs of both parties. Sadly, many do not have the courage to face up to this uncomfortable process, or are too apathetic to even try. All too often these unhappy, dissatisfied people spend the rest of their days together, in a state of strife. Years ago the option to leave an unhappy marriage would not have been possible, because the average wife was dependent on her husband for her every penny. How things have progressed over the past 50 years. Women going out to work have changed all that, and today, with many women now being financially independent by their own efforts, and mentally and emotionally stronger, they have the ability to manage their lives and to be themselves in their own right.
MENTAL & EMOTIONAL ACTION PLAN
• Learn to say no – take time to think a request through
• Be interested in other people and listen to their point of view
• Start to delegate don’t try to do everything yourself
• Get your priorities right and focus on what is important to you don’t just let things happen
• Be selective and guard your time jealously don’t always do things you feel you have to
• Organise your time don’t let others control you
• Create a routine get a balance between hard work and having fun
• Express your needs
• Share your problems with trusted family and friends and allow them to share their worries with you
• If you have a strong point of view regarding ageism let it be heard
• Don’t be complacent – utilise your power
• Learn from the past but don’t dwell on regrets and look forward to the future with a positive mind
• Don’t be defeatist accept a challenge and try something new and different
• Defend your self esteem and have confidence in yourself
• Organise your time don’t waste it, spend quality time with your partner and loved ones
• Don’t feel quilty about addressing your own needs and communicate your needs to others but be sensitive to theirs
• Confront the facts, if situations are unsatisfactory have the courage to voice your opinions and move on
• Pursue your own interests and friendships
• Think situations through before you act – don’t be hasty
• Take time off to “stop and smell the roses”
• Nurture your female friends
• In the event of death or divorce allow yourself adequate time to grieve
• Don’t blame only yourself for failures and put aside feelings of guilt and self loathing – they are destructive
• Tell people you love them before time runs out and if at all possible make up past disagreements with family and friends
• Offer your support to those who are ill or unhappy
• Whenever possible try to put on a united front with ex partners at family occasions
• Adopt a positive attitude to life
• In some situations it pays to compromise
• Learn to like and respect yourself
• Consider platonic male friendships as an alternative to a sexual relationship and discover the practical solution to dating by “going Dutch”
• Don’t allow a male partner to put you into a sexual situation against
• against your will
• If you are starting a new sexual relationship insist your partner wears a condom
• Consult your GP if you have medical problems such a depression or sexual difficulties. Consider counselling if you are having serious difficulties in coping with life
• Organise your finances and take advice on pensions in order to avoid extra stress
• Seek out the company of young people and keep an open mind, re-evaluate your opinions and adjust to modern times
• Don’t force your methods or opinions onto others – especially the young
• Try to ensure that you can be regarded as neutral territory and a safe haven for your grandchildren, if you are a long distance grandparent – keep in touch
• Give yourself a pat on the back for being the competent woman you are!