The World Doesn't Know How To Handle 40-Year-Old Women

by Christine Organ
Originally Published: 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your 40s are weird.

Some days you feel all forty-and-fabulous about your life, wearing that IDGAF attitude like a cape. Other days next you feel more like forty-and-fuck-off.

Our kids physically need us less, but emotionally they need us more. The challenges of parenting teens and tweens are so deeply personal that we can’t share them. They aren’t our stories to share, after all. So we parents of tweens and teens struggle in silence.

Our careers might be taking off or pivoting. We might be jumping into another lane all together. And all of it is deeply unsettling, because in the back of our mind, a tiny voice is asking, Is this what you really want? And we honestly have no idea.

We have aging parents and friendships that need tending. We’re better able to filter out the bullshit, but as a result, we realize just how much in our lives is bullshit. We’re volunteering, trying to do our small part to make the world a little better, but none of it seems like enough.

You lay awake for hours at night, worrying about your kid who’s failing algebra and feeling guilty for not spending enough time with your mom who has been sounding a little lonely lately and fretting about the email that your boss sent at 9 p.m. and regretting just about every decision you made when we were 19 and replaying that awful thing you said to your neighbor 15 years ago when you were in the throes of postpartum depression and he was bitching at you for dinging his car when you opened your car door and just when you start to drift off to sleep, the acid reflux starts and OMG it has got to be 110 degrees in this bedroom and, for the love of god, can we just relax for two damn seconds. (Just me?)

Then when we do get a few minutes, or maybe even a couple hours, we are paralyzed with overwhelm and it hits us like a ton of bricks just how lonely and scared and confused we are.

So yeah, your 40s are fucking weird.

This is normal. And common.

The trouble is, no one is talking about it. We hear about how absolutely ah-mazing your 40s are. I hear women talk about how they really “settled into their skin” and figured out who they are in their 40s, and I’m like whah? Did I miss that memo somewhere? I must have, because that isn’t how I feel at all.

Here’s the reality of life for a 40-something-year-old woman: Most days I feel mostly content, profoundly grateful, low-grade terrified, a little bit lonely, and exhausted with all of it. I feel this constant tension between wanting to soak up the too-few years I have with my kids before they leave for college and impatient for the freedom that I imagine will come during the empty nest years. I trust my intuition more, but I regret my mistakes more as well. I want to focus on my career while at the same time I want to go off-grid, rescue half a dozen dogs and tend to them. I mean, life is short. Why not?

I think that’s what’s at the heart of all this internal conflict – the awareness that life is short. So we want to grab yourselves by the shoulders and say, GO. DO THAT THING YOU’RE AFRAID TO DO. And then we realize, oh wait, I have all these not-yet-adult, big kids who need rides to baseball practice and reminders to study for their AP science test and I want to be near my parents and I really don’t want to say goodbye to my friends and then you circle right back to where you started.

Experience has taught me how to finally trust my intuition, but experience has also made me super self-aware and self-critical. Which means I basically second-guess myself while deep-down knowing that my hunch is probably right. Life is complicated and I contact multitudes, dammit.

So we try to walk this tightrope with the wind blowing all around us. We have big ideas and aha life-changing moments and bold dreams. The trouble is we can’t do anything about them, because we have teens who are in driver’s ed and aging parents who need rides to the doctor and committee meetings that need to be planned.

So we tell ourselves that those big ideas and bold dreams don’t matter, that all these conflicting emotions and complicated feelings and bewildering confusion must be a “mid-life crisis.” Because the world tells us that’s what it is.

But you know what?

The world is wrong. We’ve been fed a bunch of lies about what it means to be a woman in your 40s. Because quite simply, the world doesn’t know what to do with all of this fierce, enough-of-the-bullshit badassery that we have.

So we dismiss it as hormonal changes or the proverbial mid-life crisis.

Let me be very clear: Feeling all these super complicated and confusing AF feelings is NOT a crisis. It means we are waking up.

We’ve been trained to think that wanting something outside the norm of “go to college, get married, work at some job for 30-40 years until you retire” ladder of life is bizarre. The world doesn’t know what to do with people who are bold enough to say, ENOUGH. This is not the life I want. People don’t know what to do when someone quits their job to go back to school at 45 or finally gets that tattoo they’ve wanted since they were 15. People don’t know how to respond when we admit that we want a little more from life than chauffeuring kids around town, or when we admit that we don’t actually care about climbing the career ladder and are perfectly content to chauffeur kids around town.

The world doesn’t know what to do with all this bravery so the world calls it a crisis. But this is not a crisis. It is a coming home to oneself. It is a realization that life is, indeed, way too short – too short to spend your time on bullshit and nonsense and other people’s tunnel vision of what women of a certain age should be and how we should comport ourselves.

It is not a crisis to ask for more out of this one too-short life we have.

And the world is just gonna have to get used to it.

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