Hello Early Mid-Life Crisis! Weathering the decade of the 30’s for women
I remember when I first realized I might be in some sort of crisis. I had left our toddler twins and their four year old sister at home to go for a girls night out at the movie, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The movie depicts the main character, played by Ashley Judd, having a nervous breakdown when her children are young. In one climactic scene, Judd corrals her kids outside in a rainstorm while screaming and hitting her child, then drives away leaving everything behind. She checks into a hotel under a fake name where she sleeps for a week straight without telling anyone where she is. I sat with silent tears as the movie played out on a big screen my greatest fears— fear of finally ‘snapping’ with my kids, fear of mental illness, and an ever-growing longing to escape the demands of my life (for a week of uninterrupted sleep!).
Unbeknownst to me, I was dead in the middle of one of the hardest decades for women in life development. A decade where, for reasons which vary from woman to woman, we are pushed to the brink of our emotional and physical limits, grieving some of our major disappointments, forced to wade into places of our brokenness, and finding the precarious places our identity has rooted.
What mid-life crisis is to men, the crisis of the 30’s is for women.
Women today have been raised with the encouragement that they can make a contribution in whatever field they so wish (and they can!), but women often carry many relational dreams as well. In this decade, many women experience the clash of these competing dreams: dreams for relationships (marriage and children) vs. the dreams of contribution and achievement through a career.
At the heart of each of these dreams are places we carry longings, life purpose and identity:
- We hope that in marriage… I am desirable. I am loved. I belong.
- We hope that as a mother… I create life. I am a nurturing woman. I have value in society.
- We hope that as a successful woman in the workplace… I can take care of myself. I am competent. I am important. I contribute.
But instead as our dreams are confronted with reality, we find ourselves asking:
- as a single woman longing to marry… Am I desirable? Am I loved? Do I have a place to belong?
- as a mother…Do I have what it takes to raise this child well? Am I going to screw up my kids? Why is this so hard?
- as a stay-at-home mom… Does what I’m doing really have value? Am I significant anymore? Am I wasting my education and skills?
- as a wife… Why doesn’t he understand me? Do I have to stay in this marriage when my needs aren’t being met? Are we going to make it?
- as a working mom… Can I do both motherhood and career? Why do I feel guilty that I like work better? If I stay home am I disloyal to the women who paved the road before me?
- as a career woman… Do I have what it takes to be successful? Why do I have to work harder than men to prove myself? Do I have time to stop for relationships?
- as an emotional being… Why do I feel so fragile? Why do I feel so needy?
- as a woman with a changing body… Am I beautiful? Will I get my pre-baby body back? Will I be valued and loved when my beauty fades?
Huge questions are surfacing in this season that take you deep into the core of what you believe about your identity. What is forged in the crisis internally is as significant as all the expansion that is happening externally. Grappling well with these questions brings health to the foundations of your homestead. (See the previous post on What’s Happening in the 30’s)
Some advice for the 30-something woman in crisis…
Lean In and Go Deep. This is an extremely critical season in your life. At times of drought the roots of the tree go deeper to find water— go deeper into your relationship with God. Pour out your questions and frustration. Write a psalm of lament. Get a spiritual director. Learn more about the “dark night of the soul.” Find someone who has walked your path with infertility or singleness or divorce and ask them how they experienced God in the storm. Expect your ways of relating to God to change. I went through a season in my 30s where my prayer time consisted of me sitting by the couch imagining my head resting in the lap of Jesus— I literally had no words in the midst of my fatigue and struggle.
You may have to grieve the loss of Plan A. Learning how to grieve well is one of our most significant emotional skills. The disappointments of all types that we face in our 30’s must be acknowledged and mourned. You may not marry. You may not feel well loved in your marriage. You may not be able to afford to stay home with your kids. There is real loss in each disappointment, some of which will bring ongoing grief. Take time to write out what you have lost and have a good cry. Share your loss with someone else. Read one of my favorite books on keeping your heart open in disappointment called, The Allure of Hope by Jan Meyers. Allow yourself space to sit in the loss without feeling pressure to run to redemption too early.
Hold out hope for a different kind of beautiful in a merging Plan B. Just because your dreams did not materialize the way you had hoped doesn’t mean a beautiful Plan B cannot emerge. Certain types of losses and disappointments will make a mark on you that you will carry all your life (though they can become somehow woven into the beauty of your life story), while others can be completely overshadowed by the new plan. Learn to hold joy and sorrow in each hand.
Discover the truth about your True Identity.
You will not find your security in the external elements of your life like your relationships, your roles, your beauty, or your achievements. And as beautiful and God-ordained as dreams and longings are, they too, are a fragile place to build your life. There is one safe place to securely build … on the Rock of Ages. In God you will find… You are a beloved daughter. You belong. You are seen. You are beautiful. Your life has purpose. Your worst mess can be redeemed. You are never be alone. You don’t have to earn love. You are deeply and passionately loved.
When some of THESE truths begin to root in your heart, they become the foundations of your life which allow you to face the coming decades with strength and hope. Take heart, ladies – there is tremendous fruit that follows this season of crisis!
[This is the third post in a series exploring what is happening developmentally during each decade.]