I have mentioned before that as part of my work I get to listen to elderly people. It struck me that during different phases of our lives, we seem to have opposing challenges.
It is not so long ago that my children were babies. I remember having little time to myself with my first, and pretty much nothing once my second came along. He was also not what you would describe as a sleeper. It was grim. I have accepted that I will never be quite the same again from those years of lack of sleep.
I used to crave a little bit of time on my own. Going to work as a teacher one day a week was bliss! (Let me add that it did not feel at all blissful before I had my own children…) I adored my baby and toddler, but I had somehow lost my sense of self. It was all-absorbing. I can’t think how I actually managed to switch off enough from thinking about them to teach properly. Apologies to my pupils during this time!
Too much time
And yet, at the other end of life, it doesn’t seem to be much fun either. It is the opposite end of the spectrum. I spend time with people who have been bereaved of their life partners, their brothers and sisters, their long-term friends. They watch those they love disappear before their eyes. What is left for them? A long, slow decline?
Some of them feel they have far too much time on their hands. They long for the sleepless nights, the babies that won’t let you put them down, the trips to the loo with a toddler on your lap. They crave the sensation of touch, the constant company, the feeling of little hands in theirs. And what do they have? Too much time, too little company, a lot of loneliness. Sadness for what was. Worry about the future.
Of course, this is not the same all elderly people, just like some people seem to thrive on having sleepless nights and tiny children.
Not enough time
It seems the pattern is that we do not have enough time to do things for ourselves when we have babies, and have too much time on our own when they have grown up and we are no longer working.
A few weeks after he started at school, I took my boy up to the playground on our bikes. I thought it would be lovely to spend some time, just the two of us, like in the days before he started school. We had got half a mile up the road when he had a melt-down and refused to go the way I suggested. Even though I pointed out that his way did not actually go to the playground, he was adamant that he was not going where I suggested. It was his way or the highway.
I was quickly reminded of what life was like with a pre-schooler with very strong ideas. It only took a couple of months to forget how challenging it can be to negotiate each step of every process, and was looking back on this time with rose-tinted glasses. Yes, I love my little boy with all of my heart. That does not mean that I have to enjoy every second of the day with him.
I think that it could be worth remembering how hard we found certain stages in our lives. Perhaps, when we have reached a different stage, we may be prepared to throw away those rose-tinted glasses and have compassion for those who are going through tough times. Years later, we may remember a time as one of the best in our lives, but it may not have felt like that back then.
So, a challenge: if someone comes to you with a grumble or a problem about life being tough, can you give them the space to offload to you, to help them feel that they have shared their burden and can leave with a lighter load?
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