Older women often feel invisible in public, but in private there is often someone absorbing their every move.
There’s been an increase in interest in issues relating to older workers of late as the retirement age rises and many sectors experience skills shortages. Older women workers in particular. Several employers have rolled out menopause policies, for instance, and there has a been a rise in the number of returner policies and carer policies. Although these are not exclusively for women, women are still much more likely to be returners/carers. There are more and more articles on being older women in the papers too. This is owing to the fact that there’s a growing mass of women in the workforce, including in journalism, who are dealing with these things…although still way too few in any positions of authority.
I watched the film 20th Century Women at the weekend, much to the protests of my own son who wanted to play Monopoly again. It’s difficult to watch a film without interruptions in our house and I’m not sure I picked up what the director intended, but it made me feel profoundly sad and happy at the same time. Although it was about women at several stages of their lives, at its centre was an attempt to catalogue the life of a middle-aged mother from the point of view of her son. At one point the son reads his mother something from a feminist book about women feeling invisible at a certain age.
She rebuffs his attempts to psychoanalyse her, but the film is about seeing women, not just as objects or functions or whatever, but as interesting, complex individuals. At least that is what I took from it. And the fact that the person who sees the mother, the person who the film is supposedly by, is her son rather than a love interest.
Our children are the witnesses to our lives, whether willing or otherwise, and often absorb every aspect of our being, all our weaknesses and failings as well as the hopefully more positive stuff. When I first had children, my focus was on keeping them physically alive and well. As the years go by it has become more about psychological well being. At the same time I am still a person with layer on layer of experience, good and bad, who is responding to all the things that are happening now as well as all the things that happened before. These lie at the bottom of my brain like magma, bubbling under and ready to occasionally erupt into the present.
Those things you keep hidden from the public arena or the public arena doesn’t talk about, your children see them because they shape them too, even if they don’t realise it at the time and even if some see their parents more as a function than as people just like them only older. The responsibility is immense and unending.
I was talking to someone the other day whose daughter, like so many, is having mental health problems. She is in counselling and the counsellor got her daughter to list the things that ‘trigger’ her. Most of them related to her mum because her mum is so central to her life. They started with her mum being very emotional about things. But being emotional about things is what makes her mum her. How can you be anything other than who you are even if proximity can make some foibles irritating? Mother daughter relationships are so complex that what is all kinds of positive can also be all kinds of negative all at the same time.
We give ourselves such a hard time, but all we can do is our best in the circumstances.