Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how to navigate this chapter of my life. As I mentioned in my post, Really Retired, I’ve finally ended my career as a nurse. Last week, I let go of taking care of my grandson two days a week which I’ve been doing for over three years. As things clear out from the last chapter and I press on toward the next, I think there’s an essential question:
“What do I need now?”
That’s a question that many women, especially from my Baby Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964), have waited a long time to ask ourselves. I talked with my former school nurse supervisor, Susan at a gathering last summer. She’s older than me and also a Boomer.
“You know, Connie, we got it wrong back in our day,” she said. “We thought we could do everything –work in our careers, be the best moms, be Superwomen. We made it really hard on ourselves. These young women now aren’t trying to do all that.”
I’ve had this conversation with other women of my era. As girls we were raised on early images of the supermom housewives like Donna Reid and June Cleaver; later we came into adulthood at a time when women were making advancements as professionals. So we combined the two and tried to be Superwomen– working in careers during the day and coming home to children and households that demanded our loving attention.
By the time we’d finished raising our children and building years of professional experience, we then entered the phase of caregiving for our parents.
Never did we hear the term “work-life balance” that seems to be a popular phrase with millennials today. I don’t remember ever taking the time for a mother’s weekend away, a gathering of other women who were dealing with the same realities. It seemed we just worked and then spent the rest of our time with our families–partly because we missed our kids since we weren’t with them in the day, and partly because we felt guilty if we left them.
Now, at sixty-seven years old, I recall when I first asked myself, “What do I need now?”
At that time, Mama had been at Parkview Retirement Village for about ten months. She became acutely ill and had to be hospitalized. Eventually she was transferred from the hospital to a rehab unit and then she returned to the hospital; it was a summer of illness.
One day, when I’d been with her at the rehab center all day, I had to make the decision of whether or not to go to my Sunday night swing dance at the Elk’s Lodge. Mama had limited ability to understand what you told her, due to having dementia and the added stress of recovering from a physical illness. She did respond to me being with her, with smiles and a seeming peacefulness when I helped her navigate the day–assisting with meals, strolling her outside to get a break from her room, telling her about family activities. She appeared almost startled when you told her it was time for you to leave. It was easier if she’d drifted off to sleep and she didn’t see you walk out.
That evening, she hadn’t drifted off to sleep and it was time to leave for the thirty minute drive to the dance. I struggled with should I go or should I stay–waiting late enough that she would go to sleep. If I waited, it would cut into my only weekly night of dance. If I stayed, she would have that many more moments of reassurance, that much more time of seeing my familiar face, hearing my familiar voice.
The internal push favored leaving and I said goodbye and walked out of the room without looking back; I couldn’t stand leaving with that image of confusion across her sweet face.
When I arrived at the dance, I talked with a woman and told her I’d come from the nursing home. I added that I felt guilty about leaving Mama in order for me to have fun.
“You need to dance,” she said. “Taking care of our parents is stressful and it’s good for you to have time for yourself.”
I didn’t know that woman very well, but I appreciated her giving me permission to do what I needed. After that night, I began to ask myself at different times, “What do I need now?” I’d been used to asking what others’ needed in my roles as mother, nurse, wife, and daughter; I couldn’t remember consciously asking myself what I needed.
It seems that question is an appropriate one throughout our lives; now in this chapter, I’m having to remind myself that it’s still okay for me to step back and consciously look at what I want.
Our needs change over time and sometimes we go about life on autopilot and just keep following the same patterns. Those of you who’ve been reading my blog know that I’ve had a lot of change in the past three years since my marriage ended. I’ve had to ask myself, “What do I need now?” often through this process. Sometimes I don’t understand why it took me, like many women and perhaps some men, so long to understand that I have the right to ask that and honor what comes to me.
It helps to think of the different roles we have and where we are with those roles. Once we’re retired, there’s more time available to move freely. In order to do that, some of our roles that we’ve had in the past may have to change, more boundaries set to allow time for ourselves. For some people it’s setting limits with siblings about caregiving responsibilities with parents; for some of us it’s finding a balance with babysitting our grandkids and time to do the necessary as well as fun activities in our life; for some it’s deciding how much time to volunteer as multiple requests are made of the retired person.
I hope whatever life chapter you’re in, that you’ll take time to step back and consider what it is that you need now. Maybe those of us from an older generation can learn from the millennials, to find a balance in life– starting with ourselves, giving ourselves permission to not be all things to all people and finally to be true to ourselves.
Blessings on you in the week ahead,