Vulnerable is a word I’m familiar with as a midlife mom. The last few years, everything I was sure about feels like it’s slipping away, like tequila that makes that girl’s clothes fall off.
Only it’s not my clothes slipping off, it’s the security, and comfort I’ve known the last twenty-seven years as a mom who’s energy, time, and emotions have been preoccupied with the four kids embedded in my heart, even when I’m sleeping.
I didn’t realize how much mental space my kids took up until my youngest went on a mission trip last year. While he was gone, I had mental space for my husband haven’t had for decades. I had new energy to just “be.” It felt good.
I also felt like something was missing. Like I was leaving home without my clothes on.
Though I’ve written a whole book about the releasing process and have been busy the last year promoting and speaking about Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind, I’ve been living it out. The fledging process feels great and freeing, but it also feels lonely and naked.
Those four words describe life right now, this midlife season of vulnerability. Let me share about these four big words.
Four weeks ago, I walked out of our last school Christmas choir performance. I high-fived friends in the hallway and posted a jubilant meme on social media. Ron and I have been sitting in crowded gyms and auditoriums for Christmas concerts for twenty-one years, from those first performances when I thought our firstborn was the greatest thing since Dolly Parton, to the years we sat through four hours of back to back concerts because I was the stupid mom who made her kids be well rounded by making them be in middle school band or choir.
It feels great to be done with performances during the busiest time of the year, to be at home when it’s cold outside, drinking coffee. It feels great to have time to myself.
It is freeing having mental and emotional space I didn’t know was available. I was married at twenty-one and gave birth soon after my twenty-third birthday. Being a young wife and mom, I’ve never had a space that’s truly mine physically, mentally, or emotionally.
It’s freeing to not have every waking moment outside of work consumed by grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, putting away the groceries, cleaning, carpooling, sitting in bleachers, or playing catchup. It’s freeing to buy a snack and not have to hide it, only to find someone has found it and eaten it before you could.
It’s freeing to be home on weeknights or a rare weekend evening when I can talk with my husband because kids aren’t around. It’s freeing to not constantly think about doing the next thing.
But these spaces are also lonely. Our nest isn’t empty yet, but our high school senior is gone a lot. I’m by myself more often. I’m lonely without kids. Social media makes a person feel even more lonely watching everyone do cool things I used to do with family and friends.
For my entire adult life, I’ve had someone within reach. I had other moms who I interacted with as we did school fundraisers, cheered on our teams, and cried with as our teens were struggling. Now everyone just chats on Facebook and real relationships are diminishing. For moms whose kids are leaving and haven’t found their new people in the empty-nest life, it’s a lonely place.
Midlife brings vulnerability. Your hormones shift, leaving you tender and weepy, a kind of sensitivity experienced during pregnancy, only you don’t have a big belly to blame. It’s disarming, like a shedding of the life cycle.
A woman’s body experiences similar hormones and emotions both in pregnancy and midlife. We shed tears when we carry a baby and give birth, and we have similar emotions when it’s time to release.Brenda L. Yoder, Fledge: Launching Your Kids Without Losing Your Mind
As I’ve been experiencing menopause the last several months, I’ve had more emotions than usual. Anxiety, sadness, and tears readily flow. Self-care makes me acutely aware of what I’m feeling as I allow myself to feel the emotions rather than drown them out or ignore them.
When we moms are surrounded by our family, there’s a confidence, security, and familiarity that surrounds us, clothing us with garments we feel comfortable in.
But midlife, hormonal changes, and fledging children reveal new insecurities. I’ve never done adult life without kids before. I’ve never been a woman in an age bracket that screams old. Just the commercials targeting my age group require pep-talk therapy.
The counselor-me knows all the right answers to these dilemmas. It’s what keeps me sane most days.
But on the vulnerable days, I feel naked. Motherhood has disrobed with each child walking out the door. I’m left with a body, brain, and heart I’m unfamiliar with.
I wonder if you feel naked, too, in your vulnerability. Perhaps you’re not in the fledging stage of life, but feel equally vulnerable in another life stage or circumstance.
Perhaps you’re parenting school age children or teens for the first time. It is scary!
Perhaps you’re newly divorced, widowed, or have experienced loss of another kind. Or your adult kids and their family have moved back home because of a crisis. Every new situation brings vulnerability and uncertainty with it.
How to do you face it?
How to face vulnerability
Clothe yourself with God’s word. Scripture is timeless, though modern theologians and many say it’s outdated and irrelevant. It’s not. Because God doesn’t change (Micah 3:6), the principles in His word don’t change. Be in God’s word through a consistent reading of Scripture, applying lessons you learn to your daily life.
Be comfortable in your skin. Whatever circumstance makes you feel vulnerable, it’s where you are. There are elements you can’t change, so be present where you are and become comfortable in your new normal. I’m not as uncomfortable in the fledging stage as I was two years ago when I first started writing the manuscript of Fledge. Though I feel vulnerable at times, I feel comfortable here.
Take care of yourself. Practice self-care for your body, soul, and spirit. No one will do it for you. Say yes to things that fuel you and no to things that deplete you in this season of vulnerability. Set boundaries and speak up for your needs. Doing so feels vulnerable, but it also equips you to be healthy and strong while also being vulnerable.
Reach out. Vulnerable spaces are lonely and frightening. Reach out in relationships that are safe. Recently, I talked to my husband about some of the feelings I was having. It helped him to understand where I am at times if I seem withdrawn, irritable, or sad. I have some prayer partners who I check in with weekly. Seeking a life coach or counselor during your time of transition is also a healthy option if the relationships in your life are unsustainable for your needs right now.
What can you do for the vulnerable places in your life? I’d love to hear from you.
Father, equip each of us to handle naked, vulnerable spaces with the covering of your grace, mercy, and the filling of your Holy Spirit. Meet each reader where they are today. Thank you.Amen.