There have been some big changes in my life of late. General changes, mostly, which you'd expect in life, but it can become overwhelming when they all coincide and you expected a more gradual adjustment.
As my daughters take their first steps into adulthood and their own lives, I thought I'd be facing it with my husband by my side, but the economic situation has taken him so far away in his work that we only see him at weekends and then for barely more than a day. Then peri-menopause (or stress symptoms very similar) has also chosen this time to start setting in, leaving me realising that I'm going to have to accept the fact that I'm entering my cronehood. The other day a friend sent me this message when I expressed that this was something I needed to adjust to:
“Change is our biggest constant, part of the issue with women is we get so caught up with being what everyone needs us to be that we forget what we wanted to be when we grew up. I can’t even remember anymore as my dreams became the role to support others reaching theirs. I wonder if you are in a similar position. Then add the reduction of oestrogen and our bodies and brains faltering at an increasing rate and we then lose our confidence as well.
It’s not a negative, just means we have to be better at reminding ourselves of our greater purpose and ask ourselves what do we want, we also need to put ourselves first at times when it is uncomfortable for others.”
Probably not surprisingly, all this has gotten me thinking of something I came across a while back on the Maiden-Mother-Crone in pagan religions. I'm not a feminist, nor a big advocate of traditional roles, however, I do recognise the fact that we can't always help falling into certain roles.
Growing up, life is about learning, so it makes sense that a lot of importance is put onto education. The goal of education these days, of course, is working towards employment. I guess this is where the idea of dreams comes in. We're asked what we want to be when we grow up. If we don't really have an idea, then the pressure is on that we should have and if we do have ideas then we can often be discouraged from them as being unachievable. Does this help to steer us towards falling into stereotyped roles?
I'd originally wanted to be a vet for many years, but the feedback I received on the school qualifications I'd need wasn't very supportive. It seemed like the assumption was that my grades wouldn't be good enough. I took the hint and started training in childcare. A term in, after my first work experience placements, I realised I wasn't going to enjoy this and tried moving over to fashion design; something I still have an interest in. I entered the course part way through, felt completely lost and had no idea what my goal was supposed to be. On top of that was the overwhelming impression that this wasn't really something I could make a living in, because there weren't really many jobs in this industry, so I quit that too. I spent some time on jobseekers allowance while I tried to unsuccessfully find unskilled work.
By the start of the next school year I'd determined that I needed some form of further education. I enrolled in English and German A levels, because those were the subjects I'd graded best in at school, and supplemented them with dance and Spanish GCSEs (dance was my dream one) and some office skills. Many of the classes started out full and some dwindled to only a few students by the end, namely dance and German. At times I hated that commute to college, but was determined not to give up and complete it this time. I'm not sure how, but once I'd completed the subjects I fell into an apprenticeship as a hotel receptionist via the college. I completed one year before I changed to a manufacturing job for the better income (a mistake in hindsight).
I met my husband to be when I was 17 and we saved to buy a house, which we did when I was 21. At that point I took on the role of housewife. I still worked, but I was the lower earner, in an unskilled job in a factory. I was usually the first one home, so I would do the cooking and cleaning.
At 25 I became a mother. Now I had another person to be responsible for and two years later another baby joined our family.
I'd often feel something of a failure for not having a career, but gradually accepted that my role as a mother was also important, so I guess this is how I came to define my worth. This is probably also why seeing my motherhood role coming to a close has left me feeling like my usefulness is coming to an end.
It's not that I have nothing I am capable of doing or wanting to do, more that these things aren't really valued in today's society and don't bring an income. In another age, I would have likely transitioned to being a grandparent as I finished raising the last of my children, but what roles do the middle aged to elderly really have these days?
At one point an elder would have been a teacher, passing on skills and knowledge to the next generation. These days few youngsters even want to hear what the elderly have to say. With just two words, “okay boomer,” people are putting a divide between the generations and there seems to be a general view of the elderly not being useful contributors to society. Even my own daughter will sometimes show exasperation for what she feels is me clinging to obsolete ways which have no place now in our modern society.
I'm still trying to find my role and with the current events happening across the world it may still not end up being a role of my own choosing, but more an adaptation to what we need to survive moving forwards in a world that's likely never going to be quite the same as the one I grew up in.