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(October 2008)

How have our stressors changed over the years?

It may seem that the primary sources of our stress have been the same over our lifetime or even over the centuries.  But this is not true.  In my ongoing Women’s Midlife Group which I have conducted for over 17 years at my clinic in Northern CA, we had a recent discussion about how our lives have changed…stressors that we must face that our mothers and grandmothers didn’t face, particularly at this phase of life.

The most recent stressor is that many of the women, single or married, are losing their homes in the recent mortgage crisis.  Homelessness has always been the shame of our nation, but women realize now, more than ever, that they can be a paycheck or a mortgage payment away from living in their car…if it hasn’t been repossessed!  Those who have lost home find themselves living uncomfortably with relatives or their own children.  In a country that prides itself on the independence of nuclear families, living with extended family is not something we are emotionally or physically prepared for.  Those anticipating the loss of their home, the humiliation of bankruptcy, the fear of being on the street have become depressed, anxious, and unable to make good decisions on their own behalf.

Another major stressor has been brought to us by the advances in technology.  The world is not just at our door, it brings its problems to our door.  Women and men become overwhelmed by the flood of information, the bad news from around the world, and the limitless options on every front.  Agoraphobia, withdrawing from the world, being fearful of the world has greatly increased as the size of our world has increased—mega stores, shopping centers, even the virtual world coming our way on the internet.

Is it true that 60 is the new 40?

It’s great that 60 may be the new 40 in terms of energy and appearance, but the ability to earn a living, to rear children, or to save a home in an economy gone south is not the same. 

Women rearing their grandchildren in their 50s and 60s, even great grandchildren in the 70s, may be able to ignore the stares at a PTA meeting or tolerate being the oldest den mother, but their physical energy to keep up with a gaggle of preschoolers or a couple of defiant teens is definitely not what it was 20, 30 or 40 years earlier when they reared their own children.  And for some reason, probably because grandchildren who are abandoned, neglected or abused by their own parents pull harder at the heart strings and demand even more attention or are special needs children, grandmothers rearing grandchildren tend not to get the kind of respite help they need and deserve. 

In addition, instead of having a helpmate in the parenting process, they are often single or are caring for spouses or parents who have become disabled or infirm. 

Where do we look for the answers? 

Support found in the company of other women, with professional or lay leadership or in a self-help context, still seems to be the best answer.  Yes, if you are having financial problems, you can seek a legal or financial professional for advice.  But often you can’t afford that either.  I’ve found that even among a small group of women (six or eight), there is a sharing of information that produces better results than hours spent on the internet or searching through the yellow pages.  Women are usually careful not to lead each other astray.  They have no personal agendas in reaching out to other women in need. 

I have found that they resources they discover and share are far beyond what I could research or offer to them.  Women helping women, particularly in their midlife years, is often the best solution.