Life Balance for Mid Life Women:  Myth or Reality?

Life Balance for Mid Life Women: Myth or Reality?

Women at mid-life have one of the highest levels of stress found in our culture today. This is not surprising, given the multiple roles they carry, the expectations of our culture, and the speed of our lifestyle. Mid-life women are working in positions of responsibility on a scale never previously reached by women. At the same time, there is a 50 percent chance they are single, and another 50 percent chance that they are caring for children or parents (or both) in some capacity. More than four out of 10 adults in the United States between the ages of 45 and 55 – mostly women – are caring for a child as well as for an older adult, usually a parent. Of those caregivers, 64 percent are employed full- or part-time, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.

What are we talking about when we talk about life balance? I was prompted to write this article when I realized that most women don’t need yet another set of instructions for “traditional” life balance. I am weary of life-balance articles that give women the message that there are “ten easy steps.” We mid-lifers grew up with the feminist movement that gave us a model to “do it all” − make the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Many of us, including me, have found this does not work.

What are the real underlying issues of life balance that affect most women? What do we want, and what stands in our way? Are we given a cultural image of “life balance” that is a myth? Do we need to consider another model so we can feel a bit better about this whole concept?

Life balance, the basics. So what exactly is life balance? At the most basic level, for me and for many other mid-life women, it is about head space.

Within that head space, that inner process, a multitude of possibilities exists for me. For one, I can sort my priorities and not just go on autopilot. Recently I went through one of those times where I lost sight of my head space for too long. I found that my diet had gone south, and I was working each day without any personal agenda. In essence, I was getting nowhere.

Most significantly, if we don’t have head space, we lose the ability to really be alive. What could be more important?

Expendable time. This peace of mind requires that we have time. Although each of us has 24 hours deposited into our daily bank account, we all have very different auto drafts from our account. Two of my good friends are examples.

Consider, Christie, a full-time hospital scrub nurse, aged 45 and married mother of two children who are 12 and 14. Christie’s husband is in sales and travels Monday through Thursday. Christie’s mother, aged 71, lives nearby and is recovering from cancer. Christie helps her mother with doctor appointments and various other needs, shuttles her kids to sports and activities, and also keeps the home “running.” Christie frequently goes into over-draft on her time and finds herself up before 5 am in order to get head space.

In contrast, is Lucy, aged 46, a rural support nurse who is married and has no children of her own, although she does have 20- and 22-year-old stepchildren. Lucy’s parents are in great health and live in a different part of the country. Lucy’s husband is semi-retired and has taken over many of the household chores. Although Lucy does travel on her job, she is able to come home and enjoy herself. She participates in triathlons and is learning to do stone carving.

It is clear that time is an asset that can have a great impact on our life balance. Understanding this concept can help mid-life women to quit beating themselves up, and instead to start to move forward and discover ways to find life balance.

Support. Support allows us to feel safe, and to have peace of mind. Women need support in the four quadrants of mind/body/spirit/emotions. How do we get this?

One of the biggest lessons of my own mid-life has been the understanding that the “mind-reading” my mother taught me doesn’t get me anything. In other words, slamming the door, sighing heavily, or crashing pots and pans does not get my needs met. I was taught, as many women were in my generation, that we are to do it all and never ask for help. This is nonsense.

We need to learn how to ask for help. Take out a piece of paper, and make four quadrants. Label them “mind,” “body,” “spirit,” and “emotions.” List how and where you get support for each area. Where are the holes? Chances are you feel unbalanced where you have no support. Where do you need to ask for help?

Beyond the basics. Sue Shellenbarger, in her recent book Breaking Point, says that mid-life crisis for women is driven by an underlying need for creativity and life meaning. Once you are able to gain the head space needed to balance your life, and the support to do it, you have the capacity to create opportunities to do the things that you love. I find that many mid-life women don’t know what they love to do. They know that something is missing, but can’t put their finger on it. One way to find out is to ask yourself, if you had a day to do anything you loved, what would it be? If you have lived whole your life making the bacon and frying it up in a pan, you have not explored your playful side. Life is too serious.

Balance for mid-life women is not a myth if it can be defined and experienced in its smallest denominator, that of head space. For some woman, achieving head space is a monumental step and a true beginning. Beyond that basic, balance is individually driven. As women, our homeostatus, or equilibrium, meter is complex. We have years of expectations and beliefs that cover our sensing mechanism. We must take pains to ensure that life balance is not another achievement where we fall short. We are worth it!

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