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The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

Field Notes on an Empty Nest

posted by Donna Henes

By Cindy La Ferle (www.laferle.com)

Last week I found an empty bird’s nest on the brick walk leading to our backyard. I’m guessing the nest fell from a nearby silver maple; or maybe a neighbor found it while jogging and left it by the garden gate for us to admire.

Not much larger than a cereal bowl, the nest now perches indoors on a shelf near my desk. Crafted from hundreds of delicate twigs, strands of grass, and patches of moss, it’s truly a work of art — and a timely reminder to prepare for my son’s return to college after the long summer break.

Children of baby boomers are heading off to college in greater numbers than children of previous generations. At the same time, the age-old ritual of “letting go” is the final frontier for those of us who’ve made child rearing a major focus of our adult lives.

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I’ve been discussing this tender rite of passage with other middle-aged parents. And we all agree there has to be a better term to describe our next season of parenting — something that doesn’t sound as final or forlorn as “The Empty Nest.” Our nests, after all, are not completely empty. Not yet. My only child, for example, still has a bedroom here at home in addition to a loft in a crowded dormitory four hours away in South Bend, Indiana.

Whatever you want to call it, this to-and-from college phase is a thorny adjustment for parents and their almost-adult kids. College students are bound to ignore house rules when they return home for summer and holiday breaks. (“Curfew? What curfew?”) Even the most agreeable families discover that this can be a volatile time — a time when teen-aged tempers ignite and middle-aged feelings get scorched. All said and done, we’re all learning how to grow up and move on.

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A lot has changed since my son started college. I’m still adjusting to the hollow echo of his (oddly) clean and empty bedroom, looking for remnants of my old self — my mothering self — in the bits and pieces he left behind. The family calendar in our kitchen has some blank spaces, too, and is no longer buried under neon-color sticky notes announcing band concerts, Quiz Bowl meets, school conferences, and carpool schedules. At first, this was not cause for celebration. I’d become what our high school mothers’ club affectionately refers to as one of the “Alumni Moms.”

While I suddenly found unlimited bolts of time to devote to my marriage and writing career, I mourned what I perceived to be the loss of my role as a hands-on parent. Despite the fact that I had a cleaner, quieter house, I missed all the athletic shoes and flip-flops piled near the back door. I missed the boisterous teenagers gathered around the kitchen counter, or in front of the television downstairs. I missed bumping into other parents at school functions, and wondered if life would ever be the same.

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Life isn’t the same, but I’m OK with that now. I’ve come to realize that a mom is always a mom, even though her parenting role changes over time.

Not long ago, I stayed at my own mother’s place for a few weeks while I recovered from major surgery. When I apologized for disrupting her normal routine, she said, “My home will always be your home, too.” I found comfort in knowing that. Yet at the same time, I missed my own house. And I felt grateful that Mom had encouraged me, years ago, to craft a life — and a home — of my own.

It’s hard to believe my son is packing for another year of college this week. The hall outside his bedroom is now an obstacle course of boxes, crates, and suitcases stuffed with everything he needs for the months ahead. I’m still not very good at saying good-bye when his dad and I leave him at the dorm and steer our emptied SUV back to the expressway. I manage to compose myself until I notice the tearful parents of college freshmen going through this ritual for the first time. But it does get easier each term.

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So, is the nest half-full or half-empty?

Reflecting on the small bird’s nest perched near my desk, I’ve come to believe that every family is a labor of love and a work in progress. It’s a bittersweet adjustment, but I’m at peace with the idea that our household is just one stop on our son’s way to his future. He’ll be flying back and forth over the next couple of years or so. And hopefully, patience and love will be the threads that weave our family together, no matter how far he travels.

* ***
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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Full disclosure: I’ve been suffering from Empty Next Syndrome

posted by Donna Henes

By Wendi Knox

I know this isn’t a condition that’s commonly discussed.
A) Because it’s so uncomfortable.
B) Because I just made it up.
Of course, there’s lots of talk about “empty nests. ”

But you don’t need to be sending a kid off to college to feel that deep, hollow ache of “NOW WHAT?”  echoing  through your soul. You can experience Empty Next Syndrome (ENS) after a birth, a death, a move, a milestone, a breakup, a breakdown, a success. a failure, a change, a challenge or any random act of reality.

I first became aware of this condition in January. I began the New Year full of energy and a to-do list a mile long: Work on blog, edit videos, start book, blah-blah-blah.

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Then, Life Happened. In the most heart-aching, soul-shaking, stress-making way. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s been the stuff of sleepless nights. And nightmare days. For months, I’ve been stuck in the muck of drama and trauma, agonizing and strategizing. Most days, I couldn’t even face the grocery store.

In time, when the drama and trauma subsided a bit, I sat down to start writing. I tried. And I tried. And I tried. But I was totally at a loss for words. (Which is pretty rare for me.)

I panicked. If I couldn’t even write a single blog post, how could I make my bigger visions soar?

Day after day, staring at the blank screen, it finally hit me. We are not machines. When our circuits are blown by a crisis, a challenge or a change in our lives, we can’t just flick a switch and start functioning like nothing happened. And when you’re a do-er, a fixer and an accomplisher, like so many of us are programmed to be, this can be a major shock to our systems.

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I kept trying to “pull myself up by the bootstraps,” “to get back on the saddle” and to “put on a happy face.”

But none of those cliches worked. This did: I gave up.

After dozens of attempts (and tirades about what a loser I am), I stopped trying to come up with clever tips for navigating Empty Next Syndrome. Instead, I lit a candle, planted my feet on the ground and took some deep breaths right into my heart.

Then, I imagined an electrical switch on my brain and turned it to OFF. Next, I envisioned a switch on my heart, and turned to ON.

I asked the universe, “How can I help others who are struggling with Empty Next Syndrome?” Instead of avoiding the void, I went into it. Out of the emptiness, these words emerged:

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You suffer from the belief that the only way to move forward is in a straight line. Instead, try thinking of your life as a spiral. With the goal of going deeper, rather than further, you’ll find much more peace in your heart. This cultural preoccupation with “Next” has you hurrying through life with a grocery cart, trying to stuff it full of everything on your list.

When you choose to trust that everything is happening in its perfect time and that standing still is its own sacred movement, you’ll be free. And discover things far beyond the confines of a list.

What if instead of seeing yourself stuck in the muck of nothingness, you believed you were pregnant with possibilities. What if you viewed the empty times as rests between musical phrases. Or the white space in a vibrant painting. Or the pause of punctuation in the run-on-sentence of your life.

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If you can accept the concept that life here on earth is a classroom, then this so called “Empty Next Syndrome” is a much-needed vacation. Give yourself permission to rest, to restore, to rejuvenate, to recalibrate, to reclaim and to revisit Who You Are. Let go of what has been. Allow the new form to come in.

The presents of presence.

I’m not sure exactly where those words came from. Whether it’s from my Heart, my Soul or my Inner Dragonfly, I do know that this message is meant for you as well as me.

We all have access to deep wisdom and healing if we’re willing to delve into the discomfort of not knowing. Of course, when our lives are broken open,  it’s human nature to look for a cure in the outside world, No matter what you’re going through, instead of looking for a way out of Empty Next Syndrome, I hope you’ll find the fullness within.

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Honoring the space between What Was and What Will Be, allows us to find the gifts of What Is.

If you or someone you love is facing ENS, you are not alone.

* ***
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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Midlife Matters

posted by Donna Henes

Uncomfortable talks you should have with your Doctor
By Dr. Karen Hardart

As women move beyond the child-bearing years, their responsibilities and sources of stress can shift and even increase. But the transition from mommy to midlife shouldn’t be a crisis.

Women in their forties and fifties are often called the sandwich generation for a reason. We’re still parenting, yet may find ourselves caring for aging parents. In that squeeze women must remember to put their oxygen mask on first because women who take the time to care for their own physical and emotional wellbeing are better equipped to handle everything else on their plate.

Midlife is the time to tackle those issues our younger selves may have been too busy to address or too embarrassed to talk about.

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What are some of the top uncomfortable conversations to have with your doctor?

  • Intimacy issues: A lot of intimacy issues I see with midlife women stem from loss of libido, or sexual desire. There’s no little blue pill to prescribe, but your doctor can help you get to the heart of the problem, uncovering possible medical reasons for the issue.
  • Bladder control problems: Urinary incontinence, or loss of bladder control, is common for women as they age — whether it’s the strong sudden urge to go out of nowhere or the type that come on when you sneeze, laugh or cough. But it is not something you have to live with. There are exercises and diet changes that can help, as well as procedures that can be done.
  • Perimenopause/Menopause: As an OB-GYN, I help many women manage the symptoms of menopause. Things that help include exercise, controlling your weight and, in some cases, hormone replacement therapy. New therapies have emerged, too.
  • Healthy habits: Your doctor can help you make those necessary lifestyle changes you’ve been meaning to do, like quitting smoking, eating healthier, getting enough sleep, and exercising. In some cases, these changes may go hand in hand with helping a medical issue you’ve been having.
  • Abuse: Your conversations with your doctor are confidential, yet crucial if you don’t know what to do about your situation.
  • Stress and depression: Talk to your doctor to better understand the chaos hormones may be inserting into your life, plus to help you navigate your stresses. Stress and/or depression could be tied to some of the other issues above, so taking care of one may help the other.

Your doctor can help you navigate these midlife matters, allowing you to put down the supermom cape and realize you’re not alone on your health journey.

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Dr. Karen Hardart is an OB-GYN at Anne Arundel Medical Center

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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How to Be Visible

posted by Donna Henes

By Rebecca Perkins
Reprinted From The Huffington Post 

“I’m not interested in being perfect when I’m older. I’m interested in having a narrative. It’s the narrative that’s really the most beautiful thing about women.”
– Jodie Foster

There used to be a time (and in certain cultures this still exists) when women of a certain age were respected and held in high esteem. They were recognized for their wisdom and their intuition. They were the keepers of stories. They were the nurturers and caregivers and they were honored for this. Over time that changed, society began to look outside of themselves for validation, for wisdom, for guidance and we older wise women sadly seemed to accept our own inevitable invisibility.

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I do, however, believe that the tide is turning. I believe that the world is waking up to the value in us older women. We will no longer to put up with being ignored, whether that be in the media, business, politics, the blogosphere or the fashion industry. Our voice is becoming too loud to be ignored. We still have a lot to do and much of that is standing up for ourselves. It’s about being heard, being seen, encouraging those around us, believing in ourselves and becoming empowered.

Let’s then celebrate all that has already happened. Women are making waves in politics and business both sides of the Atlantic and this is marvelous. Let’s show gratitude to those who are making a stand for us women in midlife, who are acting as our voice and let’s join them.

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I long for the day when you type in ‘midlife’ into Google and it comes up with something other than ‘crisis’. I want to see words like ‘heroes’, ‘mentor’, ‘inspirational women’, ‘careers’, ‘how to live an inspired second half of life’ … do you?

Why do we find it hard to be visible?

Many of us will have come through menopause or are going through it and that brings many changes for us. We become anxious, we lose our confidence, our body changes physically and it can affect our self esteem.

We often come up for air for the first time in decades when we reach midlife. We are facing major changes in our lives. Our children have left home or are preparing to do so. We’ve faced a loved one’s illness or a scare of our own. Some of us have gone from married to single — any of these can act as the trigger that awakens us to life around us.

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We come to realize that life is short and we probably still have unfulfilled dreams. Many of us become aware that we’ve been living our lives unconsciously. This realization can be deeply painful. It can very often lead us to retreat into our shells further, to hide away and become resentful, bitter or scared. We really don’t want to be living the rest of our life filled with regret and frustration.

Most of us have at some time or another felt invisible, ignored and of no value. We lack in confidence, we have low self esteem. And that’s not good, right? We so often overlook our value and our successes, we tend to focus on what’s not working rather than what is and what’s good in our lives.

If you’re feeling invisible right now, here are a few questions that may enable you to get a little deeper understanding as to where this is coming from and how to work your way out of invisibility.

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  • How responsible am I for where I am in my life? How responsible am I for my own invisibility?
  • Am I invisible to myself? Do I take notice of my needs and desires?
  • What would I say to my younger self today to encourage her?
  • When was the last time I did something for the very first time?

Here are some of the things I believe are important in midlife:

  • People notice you if you take notice of and value yourself. Be interesting.
  • There is no fairy godmother coming to rescue you. You must be the hero of your life not the victim, as Nora Ephron urged us.
  • We must look after ourselves in midlife — Physically — exercise, style, food. Emotionally — get talking help if you need it or work with a coach. Spiritually — we are all connected, look at the world around us.
  • Have a mentor or a hero you can look up to. Who of your friends and family do you admire? What could you learn from them?
  • Develop self-awareness — spend some time in contemplation, keep a journal, ask yourself some questions.
  • Notice your body language — What’s yours saying? Watch people walking by, what can you tell about them from the way they walk? Do they look empowered or downtrodden? Do they seem happy and purposeful or miserable and closed off? How about you?

***
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

 

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