The years described as ‘middle age’ are arbitrary, but commonly believed to occur later now than one hundred years ago. The middle years occupy about one-third of our life cycle, and can last between twenty and thirty years. For the purposes of this article, I’ll suggest ‘middle age’ is the period when you feel past your prime until you reach old age.
Realising you are approaching middle age can be either exciting or daunting. Exciting because your children, if you have any, are preparing to leave or have already left home. You may be looking forward to the freedom that brings, alternatively, you may be dreading it, worrying how you are going to fill all the time you’ll have. This is certainly true if you and your partner are not getting on.
You may never have had children, and now those opportunities are gone
you could feel depressed, wondering what options are left for you now. Illness will certainly affect how you see your middle years too. Take heart; life is still what you make it.
You can choose to sit back and practice for your retirement years, or you can grab the new opportunities open to you. From my point of view, life is for living. Now is the time to try all those things you thought you would never have time for. Research your family history, write poetry or a book, take up a sport, read more, or learn a new craft. The list is endless. So many things you can do even if you have impaired mobility. I went back to college when I was forty and I loved it.
Join a club and make new friends. You may not have had time for friends before, so grasp this opportunity now. If you are lucky, these middle years– where you can finally do all the things you’ve ever thought of doing– will last a long time.
Some people, however, will go straight from looking after their children to looking after their parents. For those middle-aged carers with children still at home, it can feel like a lifelong cycle. Having two competing parties demanding your attention is often crippling. Many middle-aged people caring for their parents are also looking after grandchildren while their parents work. They too have the problem of split loyalties, like those still caring for their children.
For those caring for elderly parents, as the years go by, they will find their parents regress into babies. You care for your own babies as they progress into toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults, and then start all over again with your parents’ in reverse order. In the beginning they are just adults who need help with certain things. As the years move forward, so the list of everyday things they need help with grows. You watch helplessly as your parents get frustrated at the things they cannot do. Soon they are like children looking to you for their every need, and eventually, if they live long enough, they regress to babies. Dementia sufferers are often waiting around for their mum or dad to come, and will talk as if they are still living with them. Even worse is when you have to cope with parents who have lost control over their own bodily functions.
Be cheerful though, caring for elderly parents isn’t as miserable as it seems. Do you remember how much laughter your little ones gave you? How hilarious some of the things they did were? Well, I’m pleased to tell you, you’ll also have those wonderful rib-tickling laughter moments, peppered in between the despairing ones, when you care for your elderly parents.
I can recall many incidents with my mum and dad that had us giggling. One morning my dad telephoned us, and my husband picked up the phone. My dad thought he was phoning Liverpool County Council to tell them he needed the toilet seat replacing. No matter how many times my husband told him he was speaking to his son-in-law, dad kept strongly insisting the council replace the toilet seat in his rented flat. He was using his trump card of being ninety, and he was growing impatient and angry. Frustrated, because he could not make my dad understand who he was speaking to, my husband pretended he was from the council, and told dad someone would be there right away to fix it. So we bought a new toilet seat, took it to my parent’s flat, and fixed it for him. Dad could not understand how we knew he had broken it again. This was the fourth one he had broken in a year and probably did not want us to know he had done it again. The funny thing was, he had left Liverpool more than thirty years earlier, and so had not been under Liverpool County Council for many years.
on another occasion, he telephoned us to ask for his grandson’s telephone number. We tried to give it to him over the phone, but it was a disaster. Each number took about eight attempts on his part to get it right, and when we got to the sixth number, he just could not get it at all. My husband put the phone on speaker and we were both in hysterics with him. Dad was laughing too, and I would not be surprised if he was doing it deliberately to get us over to his place again, because that is what we ended up doing even though we had only just come back from there.One time he rang us, and when my husband answered, dad wanted to know what we had called him for. We tried to explain it was him who telephoned us, but he would not have it and insisted we had called him. There were so many funny incidents as they aged, it is impossible to recall all of them. So if you are currently facing that situation, cheer up, it’s not all bad. If you are not dealing with that particular situation, then you are lucky.
There’s another tension packed scenario I have not mentioned yet. That is when married children come back to live with you, often bringing their partner and children with them. This is potentially a stressful time for all. Take comfort from the fact it won’t last forever. The younger ones will find the situation as harrowing as you. They will strive to get their own space again.
So those of you who so far have none of these complications, make the most of these middle years while you can. You just never know when your situation will change.