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If I had a dollar for every time I uttered “I can’t do this” through the vise of my painfully gritted teeth as I attempted to keep my midlife-mommy multi-tasking balls in the air, and the creeping tentacles of menopause at bay—well, I’d be rich enough to hire a full-time house-keeper.
Until a few months ago, I didn’t know what “brain fog” meant. It was a cerebral rendition of excess stomach gas, as much as I cared.
Then, shortly after my 49th birthday last November, I realized I had “entered my fiftieth year”, as my elder sister mercilessly described it. She was no doubt relieved she now had sibling company in the mid-century wilderness of the gradual shrinkage and operational failure of various body parts.
Within months I was paralyzed with fear that I was going blind and crawled into the opthalmologist’s examination room, screaming: “Help me—I’ve got glaucoma!”
The doctor’s assistant, bespectacled and well into her fifties, remained unruffled. She just smiled benignly and said, “Yup, happened to me too—astigmatism set in so fast it was like falling off a cliff!”
And, as my 7-year-old son with the “jeweler’s eye”—along with my 4-year-old daughter who insists on a mechanics tutorial on every wall-mounted device from smoke detector to fire alarm—take turns beleaguering me with an all-day inquisition, my brain just ‘farts’ weakly, like a clapped-out muffler.
Wasting no time to pass “Go,” I tore off to the health food store and came back loaded with enough ginko, calcium, magnesium, zinc and fish oils to jump-start a retirement home excursion rocket to Mars.
Was I suffering from premature senility? Nobody told me it could be like this. At least, if they did, I wasn’t listening—even at an age when my hearing was still intact.
According to Canadian Midlife Coach, Ellen Besso (http://www NULL.ellenbesso NULL.com/) who writes a regular blog entitled Midlife Maze (http://ellenbesso NULL.com/midlifemaze/), it can, it is and it actually gets worse—if you’re a later life mom.
Besso—who is a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach with an MA in Counseling Psychology—has journeyed through the “challenging and unique life passage” of menopause and now offers guidance through telephone and in-person coaching to other women walking the same stony path.
She describes the “transition years” of perimenopause as “a time when women often want and need to step back, contemplate, rest and reassess.”
“Caring for young children requires an investment of time and energy that is the very opposite of this,” she continues, “So, doing both is a serious challenge for women.”
Besso itemizes lurid laundry list of menopausal symptoms—those which have now metamorphosed into 3D living color, thanks to a pucker-up date with Father Time (who just had to be a man).
My eyes glaze over with cult-like stupefaction in ticking them off: change in menstrual cycle, sleep disturbance, ‘foggy’ thinking (my symptom du jour), powerful and changeable emotions, questions about the meaning of one’s life and—a hankering after the Holy Grail itself—desire for time to oneself.
Gotta love it!
“Many women prefer just to ‘tough it out’” says Besso, also a 25-year veteran of social work, but there are many holistic and mainstream treatments including acupuncture, herbs, home remedies, hormone therapy (including bio-identical medications) that can help part the clouds and let the sun shine in.
Here Besso is reassuring: “Menopausal mothers of young children have more energy—both physical and psychic—to dedicate to their children when they are able to block off periods of private time to pursue personal or professional projects or to just relax.”
However, she goes on to cite that the prospect of menopause may even be worse for over-40 mothers of young children, who may also be dealing with the care of their own elderly parents.
“Caring for both young children and aging parents during the menopause years is, frankly, a daunting task,” warns Besso.
“It taxes women’s resources on all levels – emotional, physical, and spiritual.”
And when it comes to caring for an elderly parent, our emotional experiences can be more complex and challenging, heaped on top of the demands of mothering.
Ellen states about elder care (she has now published a book on the subject) (http://www NULL.ellenbesso NULL.com/), “Over time many women become exhausted, they begin to burn out, they often feel guilty for not doing enough for their parent, and/or resentful that they are the appointed one.”
Despite a set of challenges that, collectively, must seem like swimming the English Channel after a decade as a dedicated couch potato on a chip n’dip diet, Besso says “it can be done.”
“The important thing is not to lose sight of you, the woman who is behind the roles” she states emphatically.
“The first step is developing firm boundaries about what one is able and willing to do for both our aging parent, and for our own children and partner, our work and other community activities.
“Secondly, a support team of family, friends, neighbors and paid or healthcare-subsidized help is necessary to assist with both the parenting of the young children and the emerging role of parenting our parent.”
Of course, here Besso has my rapt attention, but I don’t think I ought to moonlight checking into Wells Fargo for an unofficial “armed loan (http://www NULL.sdnn NULL.com/sandiego/2010-03-02/local-county-news/mom-bank-robber-has-20-months-added-to-sentence)” to keep my full-time house-keeping team employed. Anyone seen Alice from The Brady Bunch (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=EXFqsS0ZEA4) lately?
In the end, however, what she proposes is the very thing we do best: informal networking.
“Informal support such as babysitters, friends, asking the boss if she can tele-commute/work from home some days, use an occasional house cleaner, your husband, trade off with other mothers…” are all possible solutions.
Ellen Besso, who takes a “empathic, sincere and honest” approach to her clients, encourages us to trust and share the responsibility more than we do—to let go of the urge to perfectionism as a mother and a daughter.
“Children and aging parents are often able to assume more responsibility than we give them credit for” she says, “and it’s good training and development for them.”
Links & Notes for this blog:
Ellen Besso Coaching
MidLife Coach, Author and Elder Care Expert
http://www.ellenbesso.com (http://www NULL.ellenbesso NULL.com/) Ellen Besso offers telephone and in-person coaching services, books and articles through her website and MidLife Maze blog to help women develop lives that are simpler and less stressful, and to re-discover their passion.
Ellen’s Blog: http://ellenbesso.com/midlifemaze/ (http://ellenbesso NULL.com/midlifemaze/)
Ellen’s Book: Surviving Eldercare: Where Their Needs End is a combined memoir and self-help book, complete with exercises, especially for women who are caregivers for aging parents or other handicapped family members. Available in print and e-version, it will be of help to any woman who feels stressed by her multiple life roles.
1.800 961 1364 (North America Toll-Free)
1.604 886 1916 (BC, Canada)
firstname.lastname@example.org (info null@null ellenbesso NULL.com)
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