When I was in graduate school, I worked for a wonderful woman who, at the time, was in her late thirties. I was newly engaged, dirt poor, and having the time of my life living in a new city with my favorite person. Despite my happiness, I would look at my boss’ life (great job, loving husband, adorable kids, nice home in the suburbs) and I couldn’t WAIT to get there. At some point I told her just that and she looked me right in the eyes and said, “Honey, enjoy your twenties. Your thirties will be unimaginably hard.” Since I deeply admired and respected her I didn’t shrug off her words. Instead, I took her advice to heart and thoroughly enjoyed my twenties. I got married, finished my degree, and found my dream job. At the ages of twenty-seven and twenty-nine I had my first two babies.
I don’t remember much after that. I slid into thirty covered in spit-up, stooped under the debt of student loans, a new mortgage, and an insane daycare bill, and I was so tired I barely even remember my thirtieth birthday. I definitely do not remember my thirty-first through thirty-fourth birthdays. Over the next ten years, my husband and I started and sold a business, switched jobs (and he switched careers), found a way to keep up with our financial obligations (often one paycheck at a time), raised our first two babies through the baby and toddler years, pre-school, and then into the money and time abyss that is “school-aged”. We also managed to have another child (who will be entering kindergarten this fall). Our marriage was bombarded by stress and there were times when we fought hard not to lose each other to the madness.
Then, right around my thirty-ninth birthday, the clouds began to clear. My last baby, now four, was more manageable and self-sufficient. We could go more places and have more fun as a family. We sold our business. Our incomes had gradually increased to a comfortable level and our financial obligations no longer felt so heavy. My husband and I found time to get away from our responsibilities more often and our marriage became stronger and happier than ever. During one weekend getaway with my husband, we talked for hours about all we had been through and we spoke excitedly about our future plans. It occurred to me that we hadn’t spoken so brightly about our future lives since graduate school. It was then that I remembered those wise words from my former boss. Our thirties had definitely been “unimaginably hard”. And we did it. We made it through. We both agreed that would make our forties our best decade yet.
So, here I am at forty. I’ve spent a good amount of time reflecting upon this “uncomfortable” age and while I cringe at the idea that forty is “mid-life”, “advanced age” or simply “old”, I know I would not want to be thirty again. While I learned so much in my thirties, I have no desire to relive such an exhausting, stressful decade. Instead, I’m happy to enter this next decade of my life with these thoughts:
- Nothing will come easily. My husband and I both work incredibly hard to provide for our family. I appreciate every dollar we make and we spend it wisely. I also better understand the beauty of spending money on fun. Those who work hard must find ways to play. Balance in life is essential for happiness.
- There are no perfect parents. There is also no one best way to parent. As a parent I have good moments and incredibly bad ones. I now take time to praise myself for the good ones and I’m no longer as hard on myself during the bad. As my kids grow I’m constantly faced with new parenting challenges. I look for support and advice but I have also learned to trust my gut and my unique understanding of my children and their needs.
- It is perfectly fine (and very understandable) to lose yourself for a time during the chaos that is parenting young children. It is important, however, to find yourself again. At forty I’m finally eating better, spending some time on exercise, and I take the time and money I need to keep my appearance fresh and healthy. I’m less concerned with how others perceive me. Rather, I’m focused on my own feelings of self-esteem. If I’m feeling good about my choices, my actions, and my appearance I’m less likely to allow others to make me feel differently.
- My family members are the most important people in my life. Period. They will always come first. Friendships, while important, can ebb and flow with circumstance. My family will always be in my life and I have learned that any choice that may impact someone in my family negatively is the wrong choice.
- My forties will most certainly bring with it new issues and stress. My parents are aging. My husband and I are beginning to feel our age as well. Our children will become teenagers and we will be faced with education expenses. We may need to make a big decision about improving or upgrading our family’s home. At forty, however, these looming issues do not frighten me. I now know how to manage stress. I know how to work hard for my family. I know I will figure it all out. I made it through my thirties so bring it on!