A twist on an old Groucho Marx quote sums up one challenge of life we all know well – it isn’t just the hard times coming but also the soft times going. Yet we understand those good days will be back again because change is constant. We may not always like the disruption. We may want to fight back. At times we can even refuse to acknowledge, but it doesn’t matter. Change will continue.
At this point in life, there are monumental transitions on the horizon, if they haven’t already arrived. Kids leave home. Some boomerang back for a while. Our parents need care. Then it’s time to say goodbye. We may be retiring from a job that held more of our identity than we suspected. There are also physical changes. And even though we know it’s what’s inside that matters, our reflection in a mirror can still surprise us.
But one of life’s harder lessons is accepting what we cannot change. The truth is we’re not always in charge and may feel powerless over much. Yet we can still learn how to adapt, adjust and prepare. Here are 7 suggestions that can help get you started.
We know the big milestones in life are coming. If you’re approaching retirement age, don’t wait until the last day at the office to figure out what you’d like to do next. Spend time considering if you’ll travel, volunteer or launch a second career in a field you always wanted to try. If you’ll be short of funds, plan now for how to close or narrow the gap. If you’re going to sell the house and downsize, have the kids start taking their stuff with them when they go. Taking action is empowering.
There’s a reason an empty nest causes pangs of sadness. The primary people you just guided the last 18 or so years are starting their own adventure and leaving you behind. So you adapt. But then one flies back and you assume things will be the way they were. Except that now roles have been altered. Many studies find there’s a significant decline in the parents’ quality of life when this happens. Set parameters and talk openly about an end date to encourage a child to try out those wings again.
No matter how hard an experience may be, there’s almost always something of value for you to learn. If you’re providing care for your parents, there will be times when you doubt those words. Many will wonder aloud, but hopefully alone, how two people that once helped you navigate the teen years could be so stubborn or obstinate. Remind yourself often that what’s really happening is they’re hanging on to an independence they see slipping away. Take time to see this from their view. It will come in handy when you’re sitting where they are.
Most of us aren’t good at this but it’s one of life’s most profound experiences. Spending time with a parent pays off in ways you might not have expected. We tend to think they only came to life when we did, but listen to their stories and you’ll get a glimpse of who they were as people, not just parents. No matter what other relationships you have, coming to terms with the fact that you may not ever be that special to someone again isn’t easy. But if you were lucky enough to have had that in your life, it never truly goes away.
One of the hardest experiences is feeling powerless over a situation. But if you look carefully there’s something you can control. Over the years we learn that our desire to make something happen isn’t the same thing as having the power to do so. If your parent has dementia, you can’t restore their health but you can talk to a professional about different ways to communicate meaningfully with those having cognitive issues. The same goes for wanting to always fix our kids’ struggles. This may be more about us than them so spend time learning if and how to let go.
Even happy transitions in life can cause a little more wear and tear than we realize. Start with the basics. Are you getting enough sleep and eating healthy for most meals? The older we get, skimping on these needs can have a bigger impact than before. Make some time for yourself. Try early morning or evening walks which is a great mental and physical exercise. Spend time in a hot bath with a great book. But don’t underestimate the reinvigorating power of good friends, laughter and a glass of wine
Too many times we struggle, believing we have to shoulder the load alone, but that’s not true. Friends, families, even professionals are available if you need them. But no one can read your mind. Women often put on a brave face and insist everything is fine, but that doesn’t help anyone, including yourself. There is a limit to how much you can juggle. Ask for someone else to cook dinner or pick up the prescriptions. Don’t volunteer for every project at work. Let another friend make the plans instead of having to always be in charge.
I hear there are people who thrive on change. I’m not one of them. But I’ve learned that while endings can be sad, there are often unexpected joys just around the corner. We’ve been dealing with ups and downs for many years and what got us here will get us where we need to go.
One of the great advantages of growing older is that we learn how to roll with life’s punches. We may get knocked down but we always get back up. Having our boat rocked with unsettling change can be frustrating, especially if it was smooth sailing. But we’re strong women who know how to adapt, get out the oars when we need them and adjust our course.
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