My four “children” are now all in their 20’s. They range in age from my eldest, 28, who is just about to embark on a world tour, to my baby, who is now 21 and almost finished in college.
When they were young I was fully engaged in their lives and invested in each assignment, music lesson, test, performance, match, party etc. In fact, the list of activities, obstacles, challenges and life lessons was seemingly endless. But alas, or perhaps just before I ran out of steam, their lives continue to change, and so does mine.
When they were very young, I knew, almost instinctively, that I was a kind of hero in their lives. I loved my kids, I loved being busy, organised, hectic, exhausted and at the same time completely happy and fulfilled. And that emotion was often echoed back to me by my children. So, yes, I was happy.
The teenage years proved to me to be a whole different kettle of fish! This was, for me anyway, the most tumultuous and fraught time for all of us.
There’s an enormous amount of change from childhood to teenage years. Some cope well while others seem to lose their way for a while. I know that there was uncertainty and a whole new skill-set that I really only learned in hindsight. They needed to begin to separate from us and yet we still needed each other in so many ways. I found it a time to impart lots of life skills, offer information and guidance and still encourage and support the kids in learning how to make their own decisions. One thing I’m glad I encouraged my teenagers was to listen to and trust their own “gut feeling”. I even think that they listened sometimes!
College time brought about the empty nest and with it new feelings of love, loss, loneliness and hope and pride. I missed each child as she (my 3 girls) and he (my baby boy) left home. I had mixed emotions. My daily chores and timetable freed up a lot. This was great. However, I really missed them and if I’m really honest, I felt a bit lost and left behind. I soon adjusted to the new routine and looked forward to weekends. I got to re-engage, there were lots of heart to hearts, hugs, home-cooked favourites, take-aways, loads of washing and fussing over them.
So, while they were really growing up, I still had enough contact to wean us both off our dependencies. My youngest is going into his final year in college and is already independent. There are weeks when he has so many assignments (at least that’s his story) that I may not see him for a month at a time. He has just spent the entire summer working in California.
We are rapidly approaching the final stage, where the children are, in many ways, self-sufficient. There have been further and important changes. Our relationships have progressed even further and morphed into the adult to adult kind.
As a parent I’m less needed and more wanted, which, I think, is mutually re-assuring. The loneliness of losing them to adulthood has given way to a deeper connection with myself, my friends and my kids. They have my unconditional support and I know that I have theirs. I’ve realised “I’m free” it’s a whole new kind of freedom.
Many couples don’t stay together and that brings lots of challenges and healing to be done. You will also need to begin to build your self-confidence again and learn to re-engage socially as a single person. If you’re still with your partner I think it’s really important for to re-connect as a couple. After all, you got together in the first place to be with each other. You have definitely changed and perhaps got side-tracked along the way. Hopefully you have both evolved as people and you can now get to know each other all over again.
My husband and I split up and I had a serious health scare with cancer, so my new purpose became to actually stay alive and be healthy. The secret for me has been three fold; I’ve changed my diet to plant based to re-build my immune system, I’ve let go of old hurts and forgiven everyone, and I’ve learned how to live for the present, to appreciate the little things, cultivate joyfulness and help others along the way.
So now I can say that yes, I definitely have more happiness, less pressure, less depression. My new partner and I were chatting about what’s important to us at this stage of life. So that’s really where “Havingalaf” came about. The word refers to having a Life After Fifty.
It’s all about living authentically, talking about what matters when you’re over 50 and offering information and support to others along the way. We’re learning so much, how to make YouTube videos, how to edit and post on social media. It’s a steep learning curve but we’re keeping it light and fun, and that’s what’s really important about this stage of life. So many people don’t even make it this far, I’m going to keep doing what I can to help people be happy and healthy – and make the rest of your life the Best of your life!
Have I made mistakes with my kids? Hell yes! And although I can’t change the past, it is precisely the unique mix of smooth and difficult times that help me appreciate the people we have all become. Although it’s been a joy and sometimes a tough road, I think I’m now happier than I’ve ever been.
Anne Marie Ferris, Wexford. August 2019