I live very differently from the way my grandmother and even my mother did at my age.
The clothes we wear, how we get around, the things that fill our days. Our plans for the future.
‘Middle aged’ doesn’t mean what it used to.
This is a photo of my grandmother when she about my age (with me on her lap).
My grandmother in her mid 50’s wore shirtmaker dresses, stockings (always) and low heels. She always carried a handbag. And a handkerchief, and a comb. She played lawn bowls and hosted Bridge afternoons. Socialised with the ladies. Wrote letters. Drank sherry before dinner. Completed the cryptic crossword in the newspaper before lunch. She made delicious shortbread biscuits with pink icing, stuck together with lemon butter and always had pressed tongue and jellied beetroot in her fridge. She had a driver’s license but rarely drove. By her mid 50’s she was probably beyond what was at the time considered to be ‘middle aged’.
Life was more casual and relaxed by the time my mother was in her mid 50’s.
She wore jeans, and shorts, and windcheaters, and sneakers if she felt like it although she wore stockings for work and ‘going out’. She had returned to teaching once my youngest brother was at school and worked for the next almost 30 years (my grandmother had to resign from her work when she married). She kept teaching because she enjoyed it. She learned how to reply to email, back the caravan, attended Rotary dinners with my dad, polished the silver with her grand-daughters, had a personal trainer. There was always stewed apple in her fridge and sometimes Anzac biscuits in a tin. By her mid 50’s she was probably approaching the end of what was then considered ‘middle aged’.
Now at the same age, in my mid 50’s I can wear whatever I like, very few choices would be frowned upon ‘for a woman of my age’. I drive a tractor, build rock walls, travel independently, walk for weeks at a time. I rarely have biscuits home-made or otherwise in my house, because no-one eats them these days. I do own some stockings but they only see light of day on rare occasions. I don’t own any silver or have any grandchildren, and I work from where ever I happen to be. Life is full and opportunities abound. I expect to lead an active life for many more years. In fact I am more active at this stage of life than I was at probably about any time since I was a kid.
I have resisted ‘middle aged’ as a label for almost 20 years (when I first saw myself classified as a ‘middle aged woman’ on a form at the age of 37!). The age bracket may have been updated in the last 20 years, there seems to be some confusion about what ages are classified as ‘middle aged’ now.
What ‘middle aged’ doesn’t mean
To be honest I’m not even clear any longer what ‘middle aged’ actually means. It doesn’t mean stepping back from life, it doesn’t mean ‘past it’, it doesn’t mean getting to the end of your productive years. But there isn’t really a better word to describe this stage of life that is in common usage.
Even though our children live at home longer than in the past, at this stage of life the nest is likely to be empty or the empty nest is within sight.
That now means years of opportunity.
When my grandmother was born average life expectancy for a woman was 58 years. That wasn’t a lot of years with an empty nest to be filled. In her case it would have been 4 years, although she lived for another 40 years longer than that, years she may not have expected to have, nor have planned for.
For my mother, average life expectancy had stretched out to 67 years.
When I was born it had further stretched to 74 years and is now mid 80’s. For those of you, like me in our mid 50’s, it potentially gives us a whole lot of years to live in. The Empty Nest years are an opportunity, not a sign of the slide into waiting out our last years.
Not just a footnote
Jane Fonda talked about what she calls ‘Life’s third act.’ in her TEDxWomen talk in 2011 . She is emphatic that these extra years ‘aren’t just a footnote’. We have potentially a whole extra adult lifetime to plan for and live.
These extra years are an opportunity to be fully engaged with life. To really live, to contribute. It’s a gift, a perfect time to work out what matters to you and to plan to live those years vibrantly.
If you need a hand with working out what matters to you and to make sure you don’t drift through those years, get in touch. I’ve got a few things that might help you on your way.
You don’t want to waste a minute.