"The sandwich generation" is a phrase we have all heard. Our midlife
years present many challenges and opportunities. Learning to balance
sometimes competing responsibilities can be difficult. Dr. Cooney
discusses how to meet these new challenges while continuing to grow and
enjoy our lives. — Beverly
Vaughn, MD, Medical Coordinator,Menopause and You
Midlife Brings Pivotal Changes in Women's Roles
Menopause is often referred to as the "change of life" because it
is the stage of life when a woman permanently stops having menstrual
periods and the end of her childbearing ability. However, the
phraseology "change of life" is a gross understatement of all the major
changes that a woman may go through simultaneously during
In addition to being a time of great changes physiologically,
emotionally and psychologically, menopause is also a time when
women experience many pivotal changes in the various roles they play in
Not only do a woman's biological functions change and eventually
diminish as she approaches menopause, so do the roles she has
experienced for many years in the first half of her life. Women are
faced with challenges involving her roles as wife, mother, daughter, and
career person, to name a few.
A common phenomenon associated with role changes during menopause is the
"empty nest syndrome." With children leaving home, many women, including
working mothers, feel they have lost their primary role as mother. Women
need to entertain a certain amount of letting go of their children while
renegotiating the relationship with grown children.
Some women who long for the experience of an "empty nest" may find
themselves becoming caretakers of elderly and sick parents often sooner
than they expected. They may also find themselves becoming the
primary caretaker for their grandchildren who have working
mothers. These women may feel robbed of the freedom and free time
they thought would be afforded to them once their children left home.
Women who were homemakers for the first half of their lives may now have
the time and the opportunity to further their education and discover new
career opportunities. Women who have been working mothers may find
the opportunity to put renewed interest and time in their careers. Other
women find themselves able to put more time and effort into hobbies for
which they never had time. The emergence of a new and independent woman
free to use her time and energy as she chooses can be a wonderful
During middle age a woman's marital role may change dramatically. A
woman's sexual role may change as she becomes freer sexually,
unencumbered by the possibility of pregnancy, or she may experience loss
of desire due in part to physical changes. At the same time her partner
may be experiencing impotence or loss of libido.
Some women go through divorce or separation during this time.
Finding oneself suddenly single during middle age, while at the same
time coping with the changes in body image often experienced during
menopause, can be especially challenging for women.
Feeling Good About Oneself is Part of Coping Successfully
Although menopause is a universal experience for women, each will
experience it in a different way. A woman should consider her own
perceptions about this transition. Women who perceive aging and their
changing life roles negatively have greater difficulties with emotional
problems. Many women find they can improve their outlook by sharing
and building support groups with other women.
During this time of transition, it is more important than ever for women
to make sure they exercise regularly, eat well and get plenty of sleep.
This advice may sound cliché, but these measures are significant in
helping women to avoid fatigue and mood swings. Women who are in good
health feel better about themselves and experience an improved quality
of life, which makes it easier to cope with their shifting roles and the
hormonal imbalances and changes associated with menopause.
In caring for themselves, women should take time out for activities that
bring them joy, relaxation and a sense of fulfillment. Doing so on a
routine basis helps women to rejuvenate, so they have the emotional
energy they need to handle all their other responsibilities.
After spending a lifetime caring for others, some women have difficulty
identifying new areas of interest during menopause. Some benefit from
participating in lifestyle courses or seek the help of a professional
life coach. A life coach helps them realize where their interests
lie, what they are good at, and what kind of work and/or relationships
would bring them satisfaction. Other women seek advice from close
friends, supportive family, a therapist or a health professional.
As women age, sexuality remains extremely important and plays a
significant role in self-esteem, self-image and overall quality of life.
Those with positive attitudes about aging and their changing roles
report an increase in sexual feelings, heightened sexuality and higher
self-esteem. Women should communicate openly with their partners and
talk about the physical, sexual and emotional changes they are
Menopause is a time of transition. Some women view this time of
change as rather daunting, while others find it freeing and
exhilarating. Most women adapt to new roles quickly. Menopause
affords a woman the opportunity to grow in areas she many never have
considered previously. It can be a time of new beginnings and endless
This article is part of the Menopause and You library,
a Web-based program sponsored by Women’s Health Source.
It is intended as an information resource providing guidelines for
women. As always, check with your own healthcare practitioner with your
specific concerns and questions.
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