This guest post is part of my blog break festival. The festival continues through December, so please check it out and consider submitting a post! Also, don’t forget to enter my birth jewelry giveaway.
Motherful at Midlife
by Peg Conway
“Life is so unnerving
for a servant who’s not serving.”
These opening lines from “Be Our Guest” in the musical Beauty and the Beast popped to mind during our daughter’s recent fall break from her freshman year in college. The departure of our oldest son two years before had certainly impacted the household, but with both of them away and the youngest now a licensed driver, the house feels like the empty castle that Belle happened upon in the story. A sense of expectation surfaces, waiting for . . . what? Like a phantom limb, my routine was accustomed to more coming and going, more conversation, just more people around.
The Sunday when Kieran was home, we planned a brunch for after church. As Joe and I worked in the kitchen together to put the meal on the table, a sense of having donned a familiar garment came over me. “This feels like ‘us’ in a way I haven’t known in a while” I said. Although our family table has long anchored our life, especially through the busy teen years, something didn’t fit quite the same way. Providing a nourishing meal was not creating the same satisfaction as before. In early September, my life felt unnerved by fewer nurturing tasks to perform. Just six weeks later our adaptation became clearer, with Kieran home on a weekend when I was booked with several activities related to ongoing commitments I have made. I had less time and energy for the style of nurturing that had been an essential part of my life for a long time, and I didn’t mind.
Yet at the core I remain a mother. The emotional and spiritual transformation wrought by the physical processes of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding feel permanent. What does this mean? Does one cease to be motherful when the children are grown? Or rather, how is one motherful at midlife and beyond? Physician and menopause specialist Christiane Northrup advises that the hormonal changes as childbearing wanes cause a shift in women. We truly are less nurturing than when we were caring for young children, but what emerges in its place can be creative, powerful, and immensely fulfilling. Rechanneling motherfulness, women’s midlife initiatives may arise from old passions re-discovered or the pursuit of new paths. I know several women who have entered politics, local and state-wide, now that their children are grown. Another started a school for young children to implement her unique vision for learning. Someone at my church took up pottery making and donates the proceeds from sales to charity. I can think of two other women who have started consulting businesses.
My own standard for future endeavors is the deep satisfaction I derived from homeschooling, especially being part of a weekly co-op where I team-taught writing and history with other mothers. I have struggled to articulate just what made it so rewarding, but I think it has a lot to do with community, forging relationships with a diverse group while engaging in a project of personal importance. Of course my enjoyment also related to spending generous time with my children, but I have had to accept the finitude of that experience. Grieving and letting go are significant motherful activities at mid-life.
Professionally, I’m still finding my way, but writing is figuring prominently. I started a blog two years ago, and last month realized a long-held dream by publishing a book, Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth. Involvement in several local non-profits is helping me discern further. I’m also discovering that simply being present to young people is a motherful mid-life outlet. Recently I began spending delightful time with my 2-1/2-year-old niece. We read books, take walks, play with plastic food and dishes, dolls, and blocks, talking all the while about what’s happening then and there. I also savor moments with my young adult children as they become companions present to me. The memory that endures from my daughter’s visit is not the food that I cooked on Sunday morning, but the hike we took together with our dog on Monday afternoon…
Peg Conway is a writer and community leader in Cincinnati, OH. She blogs about life and faith at pegconway.com. As a childbirth educator and doula, she was certified with Birthing from Within, Doulas of North America, and BirthWorks. She earned degrees from Xavier University and Northwestern University. Peg is in the process of becoming certified as a celebrant through Global Ministries University.