Living Life in Balance:
Myth or Reality for Mid-Life Women
By Jennifer Wright
upon the journey of my life I found myself in a dark
wood, where the right way was lost. --Dante, the Divine Comedy
mid-life have one of the highest levels of stress found
in our culture today. This is not surprising, given the
multiple roles they carry, the expectations of our
culture, and the speed of our lifestyle. Mid-life women
are working in positions of responsibility on a scale
never previously reached by women. At the same time,
there is a 50 percent chance they are single, and
another 50 percent chance that they are caring for
children or parents (or both) in some capacity. More
than four out of 10 adults in the United States between
the ages of 45 and 55 – mostly women – are caring for a
child as well as for an older adult, usually a parent.
Of those caregivers, 64 percent are employed full- or
part-time, according to the National Alliance for
What are we
talking about when we talk about life balance? I was
prompted to write this article when I realized that most
women don't need yet another set of instructions for
“traditional” life balance. I am weary of life-balance
articles that give women the message that there are "ten
easy steps." We mid-lifers grew up with the feminist
movement that gave us a model to “do it all” − make the
bacon and fry it up in a pan. Many of us, including me,
have found this does not work.
What are the
real underlying issues of life balance that affect most
women? What do we want, and what stands in our way?
Are we given a cultural image of “life balance” that is
a myth? Do we need to consider another model so we can
feel a bit better about this whole concept?
the basics. So what
exactly is life balance? At the most basic level, for
me and for many other mid-life women, it is about head
space. Kathleen Brehony writes in Awakening at
Midlife, “In the midlife passage, it is necessary to
trust in the integrity of your own inner process, the
wisdom of Self."
Within that head
space, that inner process, a multitude of possibilities
exists for me. For one, I can sort my priorities and
not just go on autopilot. Recently I went through one
of those times where I lost sight of my head space for
too long. I found that my diet had gone south, and I
was working each day without any personal agenda. In
essence, I was getting nowhere.
Head space also
gives me a chance to enjoy the moment I am in. If I am
worrying about too many other things, I can’t take
advantage of the activity of the moment. For instance,
I love to attend a women’s investment club that supports
me in many ways. I learn about money, socialize with my
friends, and meet new people. However, I am “lost” to
it all if I am worrying about what I need to do on the
significantly, if we don’t have head space, we lose the
ability to really be alive. What could be more
What are the
biggest barriers to a balanced life? Expendable time, and
This peace of mind requires that we have time. Although
each of us has 24 hours deposited into our daily bank
account, we all have very different auto drafts from our
account. Two of my good friends are examples.
friend Christie, a full-time hospital scrub nurse, aged
45 and married mother of two children who are 12 and
14. Christie’s husband is in sales and travels Monday
through Thursday. Christie’s mother, aged 71, lives
nearby and is recovering from cancer. Christie helps
her mother with doctor appointments and various other
needs, shuttles her kids to sports and activities, and
also keeps the home "running." Christie frequently goes
into over-draft on her time and finds herself up before
5 a.m. in order to get everything done.
In contrast is
my friend Lucy, aged 46, a rural support nurse who is
married and has no children of her own, although she
does have 20- and 22-year-old stepchildren. Lucy’s
parents are in great health and live in a different part
of the country. Lucy’s husband is semi-retired and has
taken over many of the household chores. Although Lucy
does travel on her job, she is able to come home and
enjoy herself. She participates in triathlons and is
learning to do stone carving.
It is clear that
time is an asset that can have a great impact on our
life balance. Understanding this concept can help
mid-life women to quit beating themselves up, and
instead to start to move forward and discover ways to
find life balance.
Support allows us to feel safe, and to have peace of
mind. Women need support in the four quadrants of
mind/body/spirit/emotions. How do we get this?
One of the
biggest lessons of my own mid-life has been the
understanding that the “mind-reading” my mother taught
me doesn't get me anything. In other words, slamming
the door, sighing heavily, or crashing pots and pans
does not get my needs met. I was taught, as many women
were in my generation, that we are to do it all and
never ask for help. This is nonsense.
We need to learn
how to ask for help. Take out a piece of paper, and
make four quadrants. Label them "mind,” "body,"
"spirit," and "emotions." List how and where you get
support for each area. Where are the holes? Chances
are you feel unbalanced where you have no support.
Where do you need to ask for help?
My hole is
usually spiritual. I struggle with allowing myself to
be spiritually nourished, in the light of all of the
other entirely necessary things that come “due” every
day. In order to feed my soul, I have had to come to
grips with how important this part of my life is, and
how parts of my life start to die when it's not fed and
nourished. Only when I recognized this, was I able to
take action. I created a small sacred space in my
house, and a sacred time. Now, I spend 30 minutes a day
in that space, but first I had to communicate with
others in my life to make it happen. I am happy to say
that my sacred time has become a habit.
Recently on one
of my adventures in New Zealand, a woman who holds a
professional position of power and responsibility had
some real trouble on our walking track. In order to go
on, she had to ask for support. She sobbed as she told
me that she had never had to ask for help before. Where
do you need to ask for support in your life to achieve
basics. Sue Shellenbarger,
in her recent book Breaking Point, says that
mid-life crisis for women is driven by an underlying
need for creativity and life meaning. Once you are able
to gain the head space needed to balance your life, and
the support to do it, you have the capacity to create
opportunities to do the things that you love. I find
that many mid-life women don’t know what they love to
do. They know that something is missing, but can’t put
their finger on it. One way to find out is to ask
yourself, if you had a day to do anything you loved,
what would it be? If you have lived whole your life
making the bacon and frying it up in a pan, you have not
explored your playful side. Life is too serious.
For over 15
years, I was a single-parent mother of two children.
Life seemed to pass by in a big blur. Most of the time
I didn't know who I was, let alone what I liked. Then I
decided to do something different. I thought of my
childhood and high school days, and what had brought me
joy, and remembered that I liked to work with fabrics.
So I found an evening course in textile arts at the
local high school. What a difference that simple class
made to my life!
mid-life women is not a myth if it can be defined and
experienced in its smallest denominator, that of head
space. For some woman, achieving head space is a
monumental step and a true beginning. Beyond that
basic, balance is individually driven. As women, our
homeostatus, or equilibrium, meter is complex. We have
years of expectations and beliefs that cover our sensing
mechanism. We must take pains to ensure that life
balance is not another achievement where we fall short.
We are worth it!
Jennifer Wright, “Mid-Life Spirit of Adventure Guide
for Women” coaches women globally in over-40 transitions
of mid-crisis, pre-retirement, empty nest, career
change, and workplace adaptations. Her
company, www.midlifeheroine.com was
profiled in the May 16 TIME cover story, Female Mid-Life
Crisis. Visit her and sign up for free newsletter and teleclasses.
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