How Would You Rate Your Life?

We asked 1,200 women 60 and older to share what they've learned about love, work, parenthood and finding their true path. Prepare to be amazed, amused, surprised—and inspired about your own life's possibilities.

by Nanette Varian • Editor
illustration woman and owl
Photograph: Illustrations by Juliette Borda

“Trust your instincts as to what you want to do with your work life,” said another respondent. “It’s not written that you can’t change jobs or even careers. As women, we’re not only tough but adaptable to our circumstances and the challenges they present. As the ‘noise’ of a family quiets down, you may find that you can tap resources you were not even aware of. Be brave!”

“Balance” Begins at Home—So Enough with the Hovering!
"Although my generation tended to be stay-at-home moms, at least until the children were older, we were quite relaxed about our parenting,” said one respondent. “Kids were not the epicenter of our emotional and intellectual lives. Overall, I think this is healthier for them. So I would urge young women to buck today’s trend of helicopter parenting and make time for other relationships. A strong marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your children.” Another advised, “Let the children see how much you enjoy all aspects of your own life both with and without them.”

Nearly Half of the Nonmothers Were Childless by Choice
Three quarters of the nonmoms said they would do things the same way if they could go back in time. “Having children is a decision you cannot undo,” one childless respondent warned. “Once you have them, your life is theirs.” Another urged women not to give in to pressures to procreate: “Many people, including my own family members, told me that I would regret not having children. Nothing is further from the truth . . . Women need to hear that having children is not a prerequisite for a happy and fulfilled life.”

They Wish They’d Had More Children
Ninety percent of mothers said if they could redo their lives, they’d again choose to become parents, and gladly. “I inhale my kids,” said one. “I can’t imagine life without them.” The top thing women said they would change if it were possible: They’d have more children. The second most commonly cited do-over was, “Would have started later” (when they were more settled and/or mature), followed by, “Have the kids with a better partner.”

“Kids are the only reason for anything. When they grow up and leave, cats are the only reason.”

The Empy Nest is a Liberated Nest—and a Launching Pad
Yes, they love their kids and cherished their child-rearing time, teen terror years and all. But our respondents were not singing empty nest blues. Instead, we heard choruses of “I went to law school. I became a lawyer, then a professor”; “I returned to my path as a writer”; “My husband and I started traveling a lot more”; “I studied different religions, went to retreats, meditated, started doing yoga and delved deeper into myself”; “I earned my master’s degree”; “I was able to go forward with what I knew I was destined to do”; “I have time for me now, and this is pretty cool.”

66% consider themselves religious or spiritual . . . and that number increases with age.

     60s . . . 65%

     70s . . . 69%

     80+ . . . 71%

The Fear(less) Factor
They may not have to worry as much about Medicare’s solvency as their grandchildren perhaps will, but 63 percent admitted to having new fears after age 60. Concerns about appearance didn’t even make the top 10 (OK, they came in 11th). More pressing are worries about (1) health, (2) money, (3) mortality, (4) losing their independence, (5) time running out. Still, as one woman observed, by this stage of life, “any fear I may have has proved to be far less likely to happen or far less likely to be really, really bad if it does happen.” 

Originally published in the November 2012 issue

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