Some years ago, I read “The Happiness Curve: Why life gets better after Midlife” by Jonathan Rauch and was delighted to discover that studies showed that at around 46 our happiness was at its low point. As I was 46 at the time and feeling pretty satisfied with my life I saw this as an encouraging sign.
However, I am, and have always been, what my mother refers to as a ‘late bloomer’ and so, instead of being incredibly happy at 51 as all the studies predicted, I am instead incredibly ‘blah’ which makes me suspect that I have arrived at the bottom of my happiness curve a little later than the experts would suggest.
Fortunately though, even though I do bloom late, I do not bloom ignorant and I have already figured out what the cause of my ‘blahs’ is; my own children’s burgeoning independence which brings with it the necessary reinvention of myself. A reinvention I am not certain I am wanting or ready for.
My mother suffered a similar experience when her youngest son moved out to a new city 4 hours away from his childhood home about the same time that my husband and I went on a two year adventure half a world away with our 3 year old and newborn. My mother, unlike me, had virtually raised two sets of children thanks to the 13 year age gap between my two brothers and so had been out of touch longer with who she was away from the role of ‘mother’, so much so that I don’t think she knew where ‘Mum’ ended and she began. There were days when she would call me and just cry.
I am ashamed to say that even though I understood this grieving on a intellectual level, I failed to understand her pain on an emotional level, especially as I was struggling with two small children half a world away without any support network and a husband who worked ridiculous hours at the behest of his company’s corporate ‘expectations’. Her supposed freedom from the shackles of motherhood was something that I longed for and so I didn’t really understand her sadness.
I do now.
Despite priding myself on my ‘hands off’ approach to teenage rearing, where I offer detailed advice to help the girls arrive at their own decisions and encourage their independence by getting them to essentially organise their own lives (after seeking permission obviously), I find that I am dreading the time when they walk from the front door as residents of our home for the last time. I am dreading that day when they seek advice from their significant other and not from me, which is stupid because that sort of partnership is the sort that I now enjoy and one which so many others envy. Also, I am dreading the idea that maybe one day, they will go live halfway across the world to support their partner in their dreams, like I did.
And I understand my mother so much more than I ever did before.
So, now I find myself looking for things to focus upon beyond my children and my work thus this writing thing which is providing an outlet because, unlike my mother, I can’t paint and I hate gardening. I suspect that I can’t outrun this ‘dip’ in my happiness curve because after years and years of dedicated parenting where my world was my children, I need to allow myself to mourn just a little bit before the near future where everyone gets to become a different version of themselves.
I just hope I am as comfortable with the new version as I am with this one.
By Ca Venz