How many of us read—in fact, poured over every word of the famous pregnancy handbook, What to Expect When You’re Expecting? I know many people whose copies are well-used and worn. Despite some of the worry it created—“Why isn’t this happening on Day 94 like the book says it should?!”—I still appreciated being able to check the book for what might happen next.
If only we had such a guide for adulthood. Much like a baby guide, it could never be completely accurate for everyone. We all have unique experiences. Still, it is sometimes comforting to know that you’re pretty normal. So many times, I’ve had a freak-out over a life change only to realize later that most of my friends were experiencing the same thing.
Well, I’m here to help with What To Expect When You’re Adulting.
Hopefully, our parents and education covered a lot of the basics—cooking, laundry, driving, maintaining a positive bank account balance, developing marketable skills. But there is so much more to being an adult, isn’t there? Adults still do an amazing amount of learning and developing. No one coasts unchanged from high school graduation to retirement and grandparenthood. Looking back at the last twenty-five years of my life, I noticed clear themes that evolved over time.
The Twenties: Community Building My twenties were largely devoted to creating a community of friends. Right after college, my husband and I moved to a city where we had no family. During that time, we made our own. Much like college, there were parties and fun and adventures, but in the process friends were becoming our chosen family. They would soon bring us food when a baby was born. They would be the ones who answer midnight phone calls and come stay with sleeping children in emergencies. Theirs are the names now listed on medical authorization forms for summer camp. Even though I wasn’t a parent yet, the bonds created during my twenties are one of the foundations upon which we built our family.
The Thirties: Growing a Family The thirties focused on becoming a parent. My first baby was born when I was twenty-nine. With two more arriving right behind him, it felt like I didn’t come up for air for an entire decade. “Becoming a parent” sounded as simple as a trip to the hospital and coming back with a baby. Of course, it turned out to be so much more.
Instead, the skills of motherhood took years to learn. Simply making sure everyone’s basic needs were met—healthy food, clothing that fit, baths, walking, talking, going potty, manners, playing, socializing. Figuring out how to still be a wife when tiny humans seemed to take all my energy and focus. Finding someone to care for our children when I wanted to do ANYTHING but take care of them—meet a friend for coffee, shop for new jeans, work. Having small children was all encompassing in a way that wasn’t clear until the fog started to dissipate. (For those of you engulfed in that fog right now, let me just tell you that it does clear. The load lightened significantly around the time the children could all dress themselves, get in and out of the car independently, and make themselves a sandwich.)
The Forties: Designing My Life’s Work This is where I am now, and there’s a lot going on. As a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, I thought my work life was pretty settled during my thirties, but the forties have surprised me and provided new clarity. Whether I am working for money or working at being a mom, aligning my personal goals and my career goals is more important than ever.
Home schooling has transformed my “job” as a mom. Around the time I turned forty, home schooling started nagging my mind. When my kids were in school, I struggled to balance the value of family with the value of education. Too many committees, meetings, clubs and homework meant our family time suffered. Too often, personal values and the school’s values conflicted. I struggled to explain why, all too often, kindness was not reciprocated, honesty was not appreciated, and hard work was not rewarded. Now, my work makes more sense. I have less internal conflict, the kids love learning, and we have more time, less stress, and closer relationships. That’s a job I can love.
The work I do for money also demanded some changes. As someone with my own business, I have a lot of choices—when I work, how I work, who I work with. Yet, I hadn’t taken full advantage of those choices. So at age forty, I decided to do just that. My work may not look a lot different from the outside, but just like with home schooling, it is a better fit for me and my life.
The forties are also reminding me of some interests that I had pushed aside. With babies to care for, I simply didn’t have time or energy for the political causes that are important to me or for the writing that I love. Even if they are unpaid, these jobs still hold an important spot in my life’s work. The forties are turning into a decade about fitting my many jobs into the shape of my life.
The Fifties: New Roles, New Freedom Since I am not in my fifties yet, I asked for opinions from friends who are. Answers included concerns about aging parents, questions about their life’s work and legacy, retirement worries, and their changing role as mothers. Children are busy but (at varying degrees) more independent. While they may need less hands-on time, kids still need plenty of support, not to mention money as college expenses approach.
One major theme stood out with every fifty-something woman I talked to: freedom. Over and over, everyone mentioned an increased sense of freedom at this age, whether by circumstance or choice. For some, it is the freedom of time as family duties decrease. Others felt menopause brought sexual freedom and ended worries of unwanted pregnancy. Many have freed themselves from the opinions of others, concern over their appearance, “putting up with people’s crap”, and holding their tongues. The fifties are sounding pretty awesome to me.
So what about you? Have you noticed themes in your life? Are they similar to or different from those I’ve found? And what about The Sixties? Anyone want to tell us what to expect in our sixth decade? No matter what, I am sure some interesting surprises await!