Motherhood meets menopause: Accepting your ambivalence

book cover Reprinted with permission from Hot Flashes Warm Bottles: First-Time Mothers Over Forty, Copyright (c) 2001 by Nancy London, M.S.W., Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward we must believe in age.
Dorothy Parker

Many of the first-time older mothers I work with have a hard time admitting that they have feelings of ambivalence. Ambivalence simply means having mutually conflicting emotions, but in our linear society, it’s hard to understand that we can hold two seemingly disparate feelings at the same time. For instance, we love being a mother and miss our children after a two-hour separation, but we also remember our single days with longing. We adore the security and warmth of our family, even as we dream of taking refuge in a Buddhist monastery. Mothers who know that this will most likely be their only child not only feel required to “do it all,” but also to be unambivalently enthusiastic while they’re doing it. Doris, a 49-year-old teacher who dotes on her 9-year-old daughter, wonders, “Am I the only one who wishes my child would dematerialize, get beamed up and away for the day, and return ready for bed?” Sherry, a 47-year-old woman devoted to her 2-year-old son, confides to our support group that she has fantasies of buying a red Harley and disappearing into a “witness protection program for older mothers.”

Does this ambivalence mean these women don’t love their children? Not at all. It means that after decades of cherished autonomy and independence, first-time older mothers find their previous lifestyle and all its freedoms altered beyond recognition. It means that this surrender of self-rule comes at precisely the time most midlife women with grown children are just beginning to reclaim their lives. To acknowledge the inevitable ambivalence that arises when the demands of putting another person’s needs first clash with the midlife call toward selfhood is not an admission of failure. It simply means you are human and are feeling more than one thing at the same time.

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