When people talk about life in your 40s, they often rave about the IDGAF attitude. They talk about rediscovering yourself. They talk about the keen focus on what matters and what doesn’t. You really settle into yourself, people say. You don’t care about all the bullshit anymore. You know who you are.
And there is certainly all of that.
But what folks don’t say is that your 40s can be a bit unsettling too. They can be confusing as hell. And they can feel lonely sometimes.
And no one seems to be talking about this.
When my oldest son was born, I feel a similar kind of loneliness. Many of my friends didn’t have kids yet, and the ones who did lived far away. Over time — and after several awkward “mom dates” and painful mommy and me classes — I eventually found a solid group of friends. We had playdates while our babies crawled around the basement. Later those friendships developed as we endured swim lessons and painfully long t-ball games.
But with my kids solidly in the tween/pre-teen years, those friendships have started to shift and change. Our kids no longer need us to be gatekeepers of their social calendar, and they make their own plans. Drop-offs and pick-ups happen without getting out of the car, instead of coming inside to chat for few minutes when you pick your child up from his friend’s house. And we can no longer vent about the gory details of motherhood because those stories aren’t really ours to tell anymore. We have our kids’ privacy to protect. Besides, there is something about your kids’ struggles with school and first heartbreaks that is far more vulnerable and personal than sharing stories of tantrums and diaper blowouts.
We’re pulled in a million different directions — between work obligations and kids and aging parents and, oh yeah, a marriage that needs tending. Does everyone else feel like they’re failing at everything? Like they’re doing nothing well? Is anyone else confused and too exhausted to even think about why?
Who knows, because we’re either too busy or too scared to talk about it.
Our late-30s and 40s bring a lot of changes too. Your career might be taking off or you’re moving on to a second career or pursuing a new passion, which is also amazing, but it can leave you feeling shaky and uncertain. You’re excited and thrilled about the new opportunities, but also feel low-key terrified all the time.
You spend far less time making kids’ meals and snacks, getting them dressed and overseeing their bath time, but far more time driving them here and there and everywhere. The physical demands of motherhood are fewer but the emotional demands are enough to nearly break you. You stay up late drying tears, and you wonder about what drama is going on in your kid’s life because they are very clearly upset but won’t tell you why and you need to respect their privacy but — man, oh man — is it hard to not make it better for them.
And then there’s the anger. Where the hell did this anger come from? Because you’re so fucking pissed sometimes that you think your head might literally explode. Or you might crumble into the fetal position and sob for hours. Either one.
Because you no longer have a tolerance for bullshit of any kind (they were right about that), but that also makes you keenly aware of just how prevalent it is. Bullshit, dumbfuckery, and douchiness is everywhere. Every. Where. Your higher expectations and lower tolerance for bullshit means that you’re more frequently disappointed in people (including yourself when you don’t live up to your ideals). You’re pissed a lot. Is it hormones? The shortcomings of the human condition? The assholes who are running the country right now? (Yep, it’s probably that one).
And then there’s the constant awareness of our own mortality. Within the past few years, one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, more friends than I can count have lost their parents, and my own dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other life-altering medical conditions. Not to mention our own changing bodies and health problems. On a daily basis, I have a handful of annoying physical ailments to contend with. And are those hot flashes that I’m having? No, they couldn’t be. I’m only 41. But dammit, did someone turn up the heat?!? Why is my knee creaking all the damn time? And don’t even get me started on the random headaches, indigestion, and cramps.
Don’t get me wrong, your 40s really are amazing in a lot of ways. I no longer obsess about finding the perfect pair of jeans, and I’ve given up on trying to fix the lines on my forehead. I have a few, solid close friendships who I have no doubt will stand the test of time. I know who I am, and while I have changed a lot, I’ve never felt more like myself. Maybe this is what they were talking about when they said all those glimmering and shiny things about being in your 40s.
But let’s not pretend that all this time in our lives is some kind of liberating utopia. It’s hard AF too. Just because we don’t have kids literally hanging off of us doesn’t mean the emotional toll of motherhood (and womanhood, for that matter) is any less.
But for some reason, like those very early days of motherhood, it feels like we can’t talk about it. Like we need to wax poetic about how ah-mazing it is. About how fast time flies. Well, you know what? Bullshit. I didn’t buy into that nonsense as a new mom, and I’m not buying it now.
Life is hard. Motherhood is confusing. Your 40s are confusing and lonely as hell sometimes. And let’s stop pretending otherwise. It doesn’t do anyone of us any good.
Instead, let’s talk about it. Let’s admit that we’re scared and confused and lonely. Let’s admit that we feel ragey some days even though we aren’t really sure why. Let’s admit that we’re mourning and grieving — the loss of family members and friendships and our youth.
And then let’s take care of each other.