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Relationships - October 2013

It could be you ....

 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.  

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.



Later Parenting: Raising younger children at 50 plus

We are both in our 50s and have two lovely children of 6 and 10 years. We know we are really fortunate to have our sons as we left starting a family until we both had our work lives in a position where we could afford to give children the life they deserve. We're lucky too that they were both a result of successful IVF. So when I say we are just so tired the whole time, it sounds ungrateful, but we are exhausted. Is this normal? Is it just us? But we are happy, and we spend as much of our free time with the boys as we can and have great fun with them. We both just wish we didn't feel so whacked at the end of every day.

First, you aren't doing anything wrong. It sounds like you are being great parents so relax, but hang on to who you are and what else you are. Parenting is exhausting. Doing it in your 40s and 50s is even more exhausting – so no, it isn't just you.

When I began writing for Laterlife.com over 10 years ago, the pattern of problems was a reflection of the common life-stages our membership experienced. There were problems around retirement, health and grandchildren, as well as the universal relationship/communication ones. Now we can add first-time parents approaching their 50s. Later parenting is still on the increase as couples make conscious decisions to delay starting a family until their careers can withstand a break and until they have created what they see as a decent home in which to raise their babies.

This indicates that families are being planned in a way that wasn't so simple when I was in my early twenties, the early days of the Pill. I had my children early and gave not a thought to fertility, energy levels or financial security. In fact the babies came first and financial security grew much later on. But that was well over 40 years ago and many things have changed since then. Children don't need half as many material things as we imagine. Their over-arching needs are to be fed, kept warm and healthy, have our love, attention and a good chunk of our free time.

Society has changed the way a family is made, expectations both personal and in the work-place seem higher and more fluid, and there seems to be a greater level of anxiety running though everything. It seems harder to fit everything a person wishes to do into each day, in spite of all the wonderful labour-saving devices we have.

Layer onto that the drive to secure a working career before taking time off to have a child and here is a great source of stress for couples. In our own family one couple has been down this delayed route and found it necessary to fall back on IVF for assistance and I have witnessed how potentially devastating the disappointments are. The treatment itself is no walk in the park, with stressful examinations, uncomfortable procedures and some hefty medications along the way. All this as well as the knowledge that success rates resulting in a healthy live birth to parents around the age of 40 are still surprisingly low and are lower still as parental age increases.

You have indeed been fortunate to have healthy happy children. Your email shows a couple who talk together and strive together to do their best for their family. Throughout, the words 'we', 'us' and 'our' appear, which tells me you are a close team.

You also describe your efforts to spend as much time as you can with the boys, and I wonder if you are perhaps forgetting to take time out for yourselves? You are working so well as a family unit that it is sometimes easy to forget it came about by your desire to spend your lives together. Your boys are happy and secure and could therefore accept having a minder while you go out for the evening without them, or be taken to grandma's for the weekend occasionally while you take a weekend break – even if it is back at home!

It is essential that you keep sight of yourselves as two individuals who love each other and have time now and then to be alone together – and that doesn't mean the odd snatched talk about things as you fall asleep at the end of a busy day. It will give you time to pay more attention to each other, to talk over a meal or a walk, to snuggle up in front of a movie, or to merely feel less pressed to do things with your little boys the whole time. As in any family, all that you do which demonstrates affection for each other is absorbed by your children, who will tend to treat their own partners similarly when they become adults.

It is easy to forget how the years can sneak up on our energy levels and it is already happening by the time we reach our 40s, so this couple will have had to put in extra effort to do the things necessary for a new baby and for a small child that I did in my early 20s without a second thought. The physical strain of pregnancy, recovery from childbirth, sleep deprivation and the ensuing demands of the growing baby, the toddler or young boy are relentless – even though they are, for most parents, experiences looked forward to with pleasure - and I include the fathers in this!

So do keep an eye on how the children spend their time. It can make a difference. For instance, build in time which is not scheduled for an organised activity, so they can allow their own imaginative play skills to strengthen and try to establish a regular space between switching off all computers, mobile devices or TV that the boys have about half an hour before their bedtime. That will allow their bodies to register the change in light (computers etc give off blue light which simulates daylight) and prepare for sleep. Use this time to read to them as often as possible. This relaxes them and you, and deepens the family bond. This will give you all a clear signal that it is now grown-up's time. Try to get plenty of early nights and eat as healthily as possible. Too many glasses of wine to 'wind down' will only leave you feeling more tired.

A last word on grandparents; all of mine, born in the first decades of the 20th century, died of diseases or illness which are now treatable, before I was born and I have missed their presence in my life. The joy of being fit enough to play with and care for grandchildren is one of the deep joys of my life and, I hope, a pleasure for them as well.

As I said earlier, many things have changed greatly since the 1960/70s including life expectancy. The children born in this century can expect to live well into their 90s, if not achieve 100 years. People in their 40s are ageing more slowly than my generation, though many of us are still feeling fit and active in our later years! So, perhaps people having families later in life won't totally deprive their offspring of grandparents after all. I sincerely hope not.

 

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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