In recent weeks, especially since visiting my family, I have noticed that I have become rather introspective. In speaking with friends and colleagues, I’ve found that I’m not the only one. Anecdotally, I observed that women these days are turning more and more to their own internal thoughts and ideas in order to make meaning of the lives we lead. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Judith Warner’s latest article for The New York Times, titled, “Fear (Again) of Flying: The Domestication of the Female Midlife Crisis.” Warner has always been a keen observer of women, their relationships with their children and their relationships with themselves.
In her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, Warner goes to great lengths to show how the young mothers of today have been misled; they can’t really have it all no matter how much their own mothers preached it to them. She writes that women are too hard on themselves and each other and we should help each other instead of being so critical and overpowered by the demands we imagine society placing on us. In this article in the Times, she compares the women reaching midlife today to the women who reached midlife in the seventies, ostensibly “our” mothers. While the women of the seventies reached out – leaving children to be latchkey kids while they worked, or leaving marriages and domesticity all together, the women of my generation are looking inward, finding inner peace and looking for grace and privilege inside the home. Yoga classes and a structured home-life seem to be part of the answer, Warner finds, as she writes, “…making a home is re-encoded as a privilege, and accomplishment, even a form of freedom from the burdens and demands of the workplace.” Of course not all women are able to do this type of introspection because, as Warner adds, some families depend on the woman’s job to provide health benefits. But they can always take yoga classes and search for that inner peace, the place where the self feels right and justified.
An author named Gretchen Rubin looked into the phenomenon of happiness in her book The Happiness Project in which she spends a year making herself feel happier and figuring out why the things she did made her happy. In her article for Good Housekeeping titled “Big Love” (link to the actual article not yet available) she advises women to give proofs of love – and you will receive proofs of love in return. It is like my Aunt Betty used to tell me when I was younger: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting.” If I understand Rubin’s intent, she says that searching within for happiness is good as long as we practice the art of what we find in the real world.
And so to me, “seeking” has become a way of making meaning for myself, rather than just a journey. My marriage is strong; I’ve gotten my doctorate; my first book is published; I’m not yet forty years old; my children are coming into their own and forging their own lives; yet I’m still seeking. Maybe that’s the answer in itself. Life is meant to be a journey and women of my generation have been taught not only to enjoy the journey but to examine it in order to live it fully. Midlife: bring it on! I’m ready to look into it.