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The Main Transitions in a Woman’s Life

Abstract

This work is exploring two major transitions in the lives of women as the age, their children leaving home and starting independent lives and the physiological changes that occur during menopause. Both of these transitions have significant physiological impacts on women and can result in either a positive or negative response depending on how well adjusted the women is as she goes through these important changes.

Introduction

Throughout this research the researcher is exploring the psychological changes that occur in a woman’s life as she goes through two major transitions. When children grow up and began to live independently for the first time in eighteen or twenty years, mothers are able to begin to lead their own lives independent from that of their children. In this transition phase women are able to explore activities and interests that were limited due to their responsibilities to their children and families. A second major transition that might occur at the same time as children are leaving home or at a separate time is the physical and physiological changes that occur during menopause. These changes can range from a positive transition with all parties involved growing from the transition or a negative transition with people being unable to assume their new roles. These transitions have not been examined in as much detail as other life changing events. Due to this lack in the research the researcher feels that the information provided by the paper will assist others in understanding the various changes that occur during this part of the aging process. This paper will focus on the physical, spiritual and interpersonal roles that these transitions in a woman’s life will create. The paper will conclude with the researcher’s suggestions on how women can best manage these changes successfully. Studying these transitions will increase in importance as the baby boom population is rapidly aging. In the 1900’s the percentage of individuals was only 4.1 percent of the population. That percentage is expected to reach 20 percent by the year 2030, that increase will bring the aging process into the forefront of medical and psychological research (Alder, 2003).

Life Transitions

As researchers began to examine the changes that occur during an individual’s life the differences between the phrases life course and life span emerged. The life span is the duration of time that makes up an individual’s life while life course is used to describe the intersection of both the social and historical facts in regards to the individual’s personal biography (George, Linda K, 1993). Because of these differences in social and historical facts that are unique to every individual inside a population, a population of individuals will have different life courses if their social and economic backgrounds are similar (George, Linda K, 1993).

Life events are events that have a distinct and tangible effect on an individual. These events include marriage, the birth of children, children leaving home, menopause and other aspects of aging. These have different effects, depending on the conditions under which they occur and the resources available to individuals experiencing them. It is suggested that various factors will increase the stress experienced by the individual going through these transitions phases. Factors that can increase the stress include personality, economic resources, coping efforts and social relationships (George, Linda K, 1993).

Life events and the transitions that accompany them are important for every individual’s health and well being. The life course perspectives are also able to focus on the age-differentiated, socially recognized sequences of transitions such as empty nest syndrome and menopause in older women.

As women’s roles have increased taking them outside of the home many of them have found better methods of dealing with stress and confusion in their lives. Because an individual’s self image is made up of several different aspects including social, physical and spiritual aspects. As individuals age and experience various transitions it is very important that their self worth is not effected by those changes (White, 1998). During this time of transition women will have several friends that are undergoing similar changes either physically or with their children growing up and starting adult lives of their own. Due to this support network that is already in place as well as the ability of women to confide in their friends about problems they are having during such transitions will allow them to better handle these transitions especially when compared to the men in their lives. Men find it more difficult to discuss their feelings, which could create a negative effect as they watch the women in their life undergo these difficult changes as well as experiencing the departure of their children. Men are having a more difficult time during this period of transition because of their unwillingness to discus their feelings with other friends or family members.

Empty Nest

The term empty nest was created by Dorothy Canfield Fisher in 1914 as a term to describe the frustration that women in this time felt when they had completed the only job that society felt was appropriate for women raising their own children. As the society changed from a farming society into one with more technological advantages, less children were required to assist the family (Gullette, 2002). Due to this cultural shift women were having fewer children and finished their job of raising them with many years of productive life before becoming too old to work. At this time gender discrimination was still widely practiced and for older women it was very difficult for them to find work outside of the home.

Society has continued to change from the way it was during the 1914’s when the term was created. Currently there are more opportunities for work outside the home then there were during the 1914’s. Due to increase in women working outside of the home more women are balancing the responsibilities of work and family. Now there are some instances when the children leave a feeling of relief is felt by the women because the duel responsibilities of juggling children and work have been decreased allowing the woman a chance to explore new opportunities.

There are other women who view the departure of their children with regret and sadness and do not know what to do with their newly acquired free time without the responsibilities of their children. For these individuals this free time is not a gift but a curse because they do not have their children to take care of.

Adapting to the changes that occur at this stage in life can create a psychological disorder known as the Empty Nest Syndrome in which women or men experience feelings of depression, sadness or even grief (Pelusi, 2007). Originally women as the primary caregivers with few interests or responsibilities that occurred outside the home based their entire existence around the lives of their children, when the children leave to go to college or get married they feel that their purpose is leaving as well (Pelusi, 2007). However as women are more likely to juggle the responsibilities of the home and work they are becoming more psychologically prepared for the departure of their children.

It is possible for parents to gain an increased psychological benefit from the transition to an empty nest if they have developed and maintained good relationships with their children (Pelusi, 2007). If there are feelings of extreme hostility or conflict the parent-child relationship could devolve to the point where the child does not receive support or assistance from the parent while setting up an independent household.

While this time can be frightening, couples that use the time that they now have access to strengthen their relationship with their spouse can reap enormous benefits. Couples can rediscovered old hobbies, be introduced to new ones or travel to places that they had dreamed of while raising their children and preparing to set them on the road to their adult lives.

Menopause

Menopause encompasses many transitions over a period of many years. Due to the changes that are occurring in a woman’s body it often brings feelings of uncertainty, change and underlying these feelings is a sense of loss. While the social meaning of menopause will vary among women the changes are often placed under one label of “change of life”. This transition is most often viewed as a milestone in their lives and an important rate of passage in their developmental life cycle. While it is the end of their reproductive years it is also the beginning of a new chapter in their lives, the world is viewed through a new perspective and new goals can be strived for. This period of life can be broken down into three phases: the physical, spiritual and interpersonal.

Physical

Menopause is part of the general aging process experienced solely by women. Clinical communities and popular culture have depicted the process as only a biological process associated with feelings of loss. The medical community treats menopause as a deficiency of reproductive hormones and treat it as a cluster of symptoms rather then an overall medical condition (Dillaway, 2005). The medical profession focuses on the disagreeable symptoms and negative aspects of this transition period and women can get caught in these negative interpretations of the aging process.

Spiritual

During this change women often feel the need to address who they are outside of their traditional roles of mother, wife and daughter. Their priorities are often redefined which allows them to become the person that they want to become (Hunter and Harris, 2005). Any hobbies or interests that were put on hold while they were raising children become acceptable past times. In addition women who have begun to deal with their own impending morality begin to deepen their spiritual links through interaction with an organized religion.

There are two verses in the bible that can be of help to women experiencing these transitions and taking the opportunity to deepen their spiritual understanding. This verse is written to give comfort and support to individuals that are taking the necessary steps to deepen their faith through prayer, mediation and study. The first verse is from first Corinthians 15 verse 44. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” As the women have spent the previous years nourishing the needs of their physical bodies of themselves and their families and have neglected there spiritual bodies. As they have reached the stage in their lives that they have more time to spend on spiritual matters many of them take the opportunity that has been presented to them.

The second verse is taken from Romans 15 verse 4 it is written that “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hoped. This scripture offers hope to individuals that are feeling uncertain about the future and their impending morality, by reading the scripture and finding comfort and hope from the teachings that are presented there.

Interpersonal

Women in this transition period often rework their relationships with children, spouses, relatives and careers. The parenting role often evolves becoming less of a focus on raising the children to the position of guide or counselor (Hunter and Harris, 2005). This role requires less involvement which allows the women to spend more time with their spouse. As women can expect to live as much as half their lives after going through the changes that menopause brings (Dillaway, 2005). Women still have the capabilities of performing tasks and carrying out the same responsibilities that after experiencing menopause that they could before menopause and they have the time to enjoy activities either new activities or old favorites that had been neglected throughout the years.

Due to the shifts in cultural perspectives in regards to aging women of this generation may experience menopause in a manner that is unique then other generations. The baby boom generation is a generation that focused on change (Dillaway, 2005). Since menopause signals the end of the reproductive process many women find the process liberating because they no longer have to worry about the possibility of becoming pregnant, the various forms of contraceptives and menstruation it is possible to increase their enjoyment of sexual activities (Dillaway, 2005).

Postmaternal Women

Post Maternal women are women who have reached the age of menopause and are no longer able to bear children. Motherhood is often a central aspect to the social and legal definition of being a woman. This definition is seen when examining such diverse areas of life as tax law, religion, art and pro-natalist ideology both from organizations advocating traditional family values and feminist reproductive-freedom discourse (Gullette, 2002).

When looking at the Bible it is possible for the reader to see evidence of the cult and definition of women as it is portrayed by the defining text of Christianity. In Isaiah 47:9 But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of they sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments. In this passage the author is describing two events in a woman’s life that should be feared by women, children leaving home to start their own lives and their eventual widowhood when they become truly alone.

The theory that families are built on ties of obligations amongst the families with each individual being obliged to perform specific functions is a theory that is no longer believed to be effective. Now when describing families it is described as a set of individuals that is held together by the relationships that are formed between the family members (Allen, Blieszner and Roberto, 2000). Due to this when children reach the age of maturity and leave their parents home to homes of their own the bounds of the family will not be weakened by the distance. Women have more time for activities and actions that were limited while they were responsible for their children. “Women in general, are permitted to boast about access to midlife “Self-actualization” and complain about the empty nest, but the benefits brought by post maternity are taboo” (Gullette, 2002). The definition of women and motherhood does not allow women to express pleasure in a job well done when their children had been raised and able to leave the house.

Conclusion

A woman’s experience during the transition to menopause depends on many factors including their general physical and emotional health, diet, levels of physical activity, and social support. Some women might view the transition as the beginning of old age and loss of status in a society that values youth and beauty. At first women might react to the change with either anger or sadness and focus on the missed opportunities in their life or the fact that there life is now in a decline. As time passes and women become more used to the idea and changes that occur during this time feelings of hope and possibility replace the feelings of loss.

Balancing these physical uncertainties and the emotional and psychological experiences can be a challenge during menopause because so much is happening at one time. By understanding the body and how it functions will ease much of the uncertainty about the physical changes. There are also many treatment options that are available to relieve symptoms that occur during this time period.

Sharing experiences with other women can be of great importance in gaining perspective especially when sharing with others is combined with reflection on one’s own possibilities in moving toward the next third of life. The greatest long-term benefit will come from tending to religious or spiritual needs to achieve balance amid all of the physical and emotional changes that will occur during menopause.

References

Ainlay, Stephen C, Singleton, Royce Jr. and Swigert, Victoria L. (1992). Aging and Religious Participation: Reconsidering the Effects of Health. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 31(2), 175-188.

Alder, Tina. (2004). Aging Research: The Future Face of Environmental Health. Environmental Health Perspectives. 111(14), A761-A765.

Allen, Katherine R; Blieszner, Rosemary and Roberto, Karen A. (2000). Families in the Middle and Later Years: A Review and Critique of Research in the 1900. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 62(4), 911-926.

Dillaway, Heather E. (2005).Menopause Is the “Good Old”: Women’s Thoughts about Aging. Gender and Society. 19(3), 398-417.

George, Linda K. Sociological Perspectives on Life Transitions. (1993). Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 19, 353-373.

Gullette Margaret Morganroth. Valuing “Postmaternity” as a Revolutionary Feminist Concept (2002). Feminist Studies. 28(3) 553-572.

Hunter, Melissa and Harris, Jerri. (2005). Dealing with the Psychological and Spiritual Aspects of Menopause: Finding Hope in the Midlife. Haworth Press, Inc NJ.

Nelson, T. (Eds.) 1982. Holy Bible, New King James Version.

Pelusi, Nando Ph.D. (2007). My Empty Nest: When a Child Enters Adulthood, Life Need Not End.

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