It was my 40th birthday this week – traditionally the milestone marking the end of your youth and the start of middle age, approached with the fear and trepidation that it’s all downhill from here. Then there’s also the cheerful denial: I remember seeing “Life Begins at 40!” optimistically proclaimed on the cards my Mum got, when she hit the big 4-0 back in the 90s.
Does life still begin at 40? I think perhaps that the notion was invented by the generations before us, who generally had their children in their early 20s. By the time you were 40, the you could begin to imagine life beyond their role in the nuclear family.
Things are a bit different now, for a lot of my generation. For the first time, there are more babies being born to people in their 30s than in their 20s (here’s the news story). Compared with our parents, at 40 we still have so many years of child-rearing to go. If your babies come along in your early 20s, they’re about ready to leave school by the time you hit 40; for me, with one child still to start in Reception, I am still on such a steep learning curve at this parenting lark.
Becoming a parent changes so much about you – so much more than anyone can warn you about. People try to explain it before it happens, but the full, gob-smacking, life-lurching impact of having your own small human simply doesn’t sink in until you’ve got one and taken them home – and that change comes literally overnight.
Before all this, when I had a safe, corporate job, I knew who I was; how much I was worth; and what was expected of me each day. Easy. But if you’re the parent staying at home to look after your newborn, all of those things are thrown out of the nursery window – often along with encountering another adult human to talk to. That’s something I really took for granted before maternity leave.
A massive part of me is now defined as “Mum”, twice over – and I love that with all my heart. But in the last year, in the run-up to 40, there has at last been more time for finding those puzzle pieces of myself that I dropped for motherhood, seven years ago.
Being paid for doing something you’re good at takes some getting used to; so it was brilliant to start out by supporting another mum who is stretching her own business wings, the fabulous Sam Poole of Mum to Mum UK. With the renewed confidence in my worth and abilities that this gave me, and with the help of my lovely husband, I set up RLC Words at the start of this year – just a few months before 40 came along. It fits around the times when I need to be with the children, and I get paid to create beautiful sentences, paragraphs, stories, and websites to display them on, for people who need them – all of the things I loved doing in my jobs before children, and more besides.
And to match my chrysalis change into a small business owner, I’ve decided to face my 40s with a new hairdo. I’d been thinking for a while about having a fringe cut in, having seen how lovely it looked on a friend last year…so with the help of the fabulous Hannah at HK Hair, I have had a radical chop of several inches, and that fringe put in too. I love it, and wish I’d had it done years ago – but it’s great timing.
So for those of us who delayed having children to our 30s, perhaps 40 is less about life beginning, and more about recovering from that seismic shift that came with parenthood; rediscovering the things that made us ourselves before that happened, and redefining them to fit around the responsibilities we have now. So I’m actually looking forward to embarking on life in my 40s as Mum and Wife in our little family; a proud Small Business Owner; and even feeling a little bit glamorous while I’m doing it.