Last year, I turned 50, I was in the final throes of menopause, and my firstborn son graduated from high school. To say that 2019 was an emotional rollercoaster is a gross understatement. I like to refer to this time period as “The Perfect Trifecta of Hell.”
Turning 50, menopause and high school graduation
When you couple the natural progression of emotions that come with a milestone such as your child’s graduation with the hormonal tsunami that is menopause, it’s a scary thing. There were days when I felt completely out of my mind.
There was a lot of crying. I cried because my son was now grown up. I cried because I now felt “old” for the first time in my life. My normal anxiety (which, if I’m being truly honest, is anything but normal) skyrocketed to new heights about issues both big and small: Would my son be able to function on his own at college?
How are we going to afford college? Why is my stomach so bloated? My face looks different. Why does my face look so different? I need Botox. Am I going bald? Is my son going bald?” It felt as if I was spiraling out of control.
What will I do when my nest is really empty?
What was I going to do NEXT year when our twins went off to college too?” I was a mess. My husband didn’t get it.
Somehow I made it through 2019. My son had a good first semester at school and although he lives on campus, we see him often. The chaos of college essays and applications is over and the twins are settled on where they will go in September.
Mentally, I’m much less stressed than I was last year at this time. Physically, my hormones seem to have leveled out and although I don’t particularly like most of the changes my body has gone through, it’s ok because, well, life is a gift. You start to realize that more and more when you turn 50 and you see how many people sadly haven’t made it this far.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to look in the mirror. I see a middle-aged woman instead of the young, hip Mom I thought I was for the last 19 years. But I’m grateful to be here.
The place I am in emotionally is a bit of a gray area. Picture one of those post-apocalyptic movies, where the survivors are walking around surrounded by dust and debris and not quite sure what just happened and what will happen next. That’s how I feel on many days as I begin to navigate my new normal. The whirlwind of school projects, sports practices and games, music rehearsals, and teen drama is quickly winding down.
When your main purpose is mothering, what’s left when the kids leave?
During the last 19 years, my main purpose in life was being a mother to these three kids. And while I know that purpose is never really over, the day-to-day life I knew is never again going to be what it was for that big chunk of time. I’m not “needed” as much on a daily basis. I find myself walking around aimlessly, whether it be in my house or in Kohl’s, and wondering what’s next for me.
I remember when my kids were in elementary school and I would see the “older” moms out and about and I would think they looked so tired, so spent. Indeed, they were! Hair pulled back in a ponytail, no makeup on, wearing a college hoodie. My critical younger Mom self wondered how they could go out looking like that. That’s me now. Now I get it. As rewarding as those years are, they are so incredibly draining at times. I’ve learned that it’s ok to admit that.
Despite this, I feel like I’ve come out of those years victorious, and I’m beyond grateful. My husband and I raised wonderful kids. On the days where I feel lost, I search inside myself for fragments of who I was before motherhood, and I wonder if I can resurrect my old aspirations that were mine and mine alone. I pat myself on the back for surviving “The Perfect Trifecta of Hell,” and I look ahead to this next phase of my life with optimism.
It took 19 years to get to this point, so I don’t expect to figure it all out this year. I’m just patiently waiting for the dust to settle.
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Patty Coughlin is a Title Insurance professional with a lifelong love of writing who lives in NJ with her husband of 21 years, 3 kids (a 19 year old son and 17 year old boy/girl twins), and her spoiled cat. Her other hobbies include worrying, having full conversations in song lyrics (often with herself), and stalking her kids’ grade portals. As the nest becomes semi-empty, she is looking forward to spending more time with her husband, writing more, and finally cleaning out some long neglected closets.