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why 50 is the new 17

January 1, 2011

Last year was significant in lots of ways.

I had a big birthday (there’s a clue in the title to this post).

Our youngest took a series of dramatic leaps into independence. A year ago I could still think of him as ‘our boy’. Sure he was making his own decisions back then, but sometime in 2010 he crossed that invisible line that divides semi-childhood from a realm where he is entirely his own person.

On top of that, our elder daughter started university and her sister turned 18.

I had six years not working at all while the three of them were growing up. After that, I had several challenging and stimulating part-time jobs. But at the back of my mind, the children always came first. I knew I would drop everything if they needed me to, and once or twice I did – work included.

Not any longer. Sometime in 2010, I crossed a line too. I found myself in a place I don’t quite recognise.

Like many women, I have subconsciously marked my life changes against those of my mother, particularly since I had children myself. I can’t do that any more. My mother retired when she was 55, just five years older than me. It worked out well for her: she was able to pursue many of her own interests and my father also retired a short time afterwards. They had saved, they had solid pensions, and it was what a lot of their friends were doing.

That is unthinkable for me. First, because I am still bursting with energy and eager for new challenges. Second, because the economics wouldn’t add up even if I did want to stop work. My current job is secure until April; after that, like hundreds of thousands of others in this country, I am likely to be looking for new ways to balance the books.

So I find myself at 50 feeling unsettlingly like I did at 17. The comfortable routines of a home-based family life have collapsed. They are no longer needed. The structures that once seemed immovable have turned out to be as finite as a family pet. Daily family meal? Now it’s once a week at most. And for good reasons: what are we doing as parents if not constantly nudging our children into seeking rich and useful lives of their own?

But it leaves me feeling a little bewildered. And that’s when the insecurities of being 17 resurface. Have I got the right clothes? How will I know what to say in a new situation? What if I make the wrong decisions? (That one’s a bit more urgent than it was at 17, actually.)

It’s exciting too, though. I’ll be blogging regularly as one of several ways of marking out this new place I’m in. It won’t be as personal as this: I’m planning to explore lots of things I find interesting and I hope other people might like them too.

It’d be great if you could join me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2011 3:07 pm

    I loved reading your insights into what it’s like to be fully across the parenting bridge. I am somewhere in the middle right now, yet I have often wondered what it will finally feel like to be on the other side.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog this year, and to reading about how you make your way in navigating the new 17. Best of luck to you in 2011!

  2. Sue permalink
    January 31, 2011 11:42 am

    I have just found your blog…and quite relieved that someone else out there feels more less like me. I am 55, feel 25 and raring to go now that children are grown. Economics also dictate that a bit of employment may not go a miss!
    Good luck with this ‘new’ stage!

    • Joanna permalink*
      January 31, 2011 6:40 pm

      Thank you, Sue. Good luck to you too!

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