Midlife Myths & Realities: Andrea M. Slominski, Ph.D.
There are a lot of great things about being a mom, and there are a lot of hard things too.
Motherhood’s Rites Of Passage:
Days can feel like years and the years pass like hours. It’s a paradox. One minute we are buried in diapers and dishes, and the next, we wish they would at least call.
From the moment our children are born, it’s a mother’s destiny to suffer the pain and sorrow of their departure as they leave home, set out into the world, and live their own lives. The beauty of birth and new life is bound up with the moment they will leave us. Moreover, we kiss their little toes and wonder at their full rosy cheeks; their milestones are recorded, remembered, and treasured. Little did we know that with each kiss and hug, an equal measure of sorrow was heaped onto the scales of their leaving.
“The metamorphosis stage is the transformation that takes place because of the simultaneous processes of letting go and becoming”
Just as no one can possibly explain how having a child will inescapably change you and your life, no one can prepare you for an empty nest. Like so many other rites of passage, the transition from a multitasking mom to a midlife woman forming a new identity happens in stages.
Forming Your New Identity:
The three stages of a rite of passage transformation for women are enclosure, metamorphosis, and emergence.¹
1.The Enclosure Stage:
In this stage we draw back into ourselves – the going deep within and feeling, expressing, and experiencing the changes that are happening in our emotional, physical, and spiritual bodies. Not fun. Not easy.
2. The Metamorphosis Stage:
This is the transformation that takes place because of the simultaneous processes of letting go and becoming. It’s a tension that contains within it grief and freedom, happiness and loss, hope and regret. It’s another paradox.
3. The Emergence Stage:
In this stage, we must learn to live in the tensions of opposites. Emergence is the final stage where we resurface from our inner world changed. We are no longer who we were; our roles have changed, and we have begun to build a new identity.
The Process Takes Time:
However, this isn’t an overnight process. It can take years to move through these three stages—before we feel assured in our new identity and have the gift of empty nest. Children leaving home to go to school, start their own lives, and live their journey is destiny. It is easy to say, “Of course, they have to live their own lives!” and another thing altogether to live through the separation.
“I want to focus on Demeter’s loss of her daughter.”
Archetypes of Change:
In the Greek myths of Demeter and Persephone, there are so many important archetypal stories that relate to the profound and shared experiences of living life as a woman. Exploring all the parts of this myth would take days.
For this moment, I want to focus on Demeter’s loss of her daughter. Demeter was separated from her beloved daughter Persephone. She was abducted by the king of the underworld to be his queen. Hades came up from the underworld with his chariot, grabbed Persephone, and the earth swallowed them back up in the twinkling of an eye. Demeter’s life was turned upside down overnight.
Persephone was of the age to be married and start her own life, but neither mother nor daughter was ready to be separated. Persephone was terrified, and Demeter was grief-stricken.
Our Essential Nature:
Throughout Greek history, Demeter was venerated as the goddess of grain and agriculture. She was responsible for the productive harvest and feeding the world. She was sometimes associated with the archetype of the great mother or mother earth.
The myth tells us that she searched for her daughter, mourning and grieving her loss so completely that she abandoned her essential self. She left Mount Olympus, the home of the Gods, and wandered the earth as an old woman, sitting beside the road in the dust, grieving. She stopped performing her duties to renew the earth and the cycles of nature. Nothing grew, and humanity began to starve.
“When we arrive at the time of our children’s leaving, we too can be stricken with grief.”
We are Demeter:
When we arrive at the time of our children’s leaving, we too can be stricken with grief. We may grieve for the loss of their childhood, all the years that have gone by, their missing presence in the home, their love, the mistakes we made, and the things left unsaid.
Moreover, we also grieve for ourselves. We lose so many identities that we filled to achieve the goals of raising children to the best of our abilities. And we lose the identity of the “Mom” who was needed every day, the cook, chauffeur, nurse, teacher, counselor, coach, and head cheerleader. If our lives have been wrapped up in raising children, cutting the cords of daily connection can feel as spiritually painful as giving birth was physically painful.
This is where all the treasures of motherhood heaped upon the scales flip to leave us with destiny’s bane; loss and heartache. And so, the transformational rite of passage begins.
Recreate Something From An Empty Nest:
Demeter sat in the dust, denying her divine identity and powers, refusing to participate in the cycles of nature. She was lost in her grief until the compassion of other women reawakened her when they took her into their family. Still, in her anger, grief, loss, and confusion, Demeter tried to recreate something of her former life. She tried to make another child immortal in a misguided attempt to reclaim what she had lost.
Her plan failed. It was not until she revealed herself to be a goddess and returned to her essential self, caring for the earth and its bounty, that her power and inner equilibrium began to be restored.
“The natural cycles of life and nature were no longer to be feared.”
Further, it was only after discovering and accepting her daughter’s fate (to be independent and live her own life as a goddess queen) and negotiating a new relationship with her—that Demeter’s most potent rites and rituals were created!
An Empty Nest – A Catalyst For Change:
By working together as two powerful independent goddesses/archetypes of Mother and Daughter, Demeter and Persephone were the heart of the mystery rites in the temple at Eleusis. This rite from ancient Greece was so secret that we don’t know the details of the ritual or how it was performed.
What we do know is that those who participated in the ritual experienced a descent into darkness, a transformation, and a return. After emerging from this rite of passage, they no longer feared death. In other words, the natural cycles of life and nature were no longer to be feared.
Dark Places Of Your Transformation:
Women in midlife are going through one of the most profound rites of passage in a lifetime. Included in the long list of changes for mothers is an empty nest. Above all, the descent is real, and so is the possibility of emergence into a new life stage, with new relationships, passion, and purpose.
In conclusion, as women, we are all Demeter, and we are all Persephone. Here’s to you building your new temple of purpose; you might find its foundation stone in the dark places of your transformation.
¹Lincoln Bruce. Emerging from the Chrysalis: Ritual of Women’s Initiation. Harvard UP. 1981, pp. 116-117.
About the Author:
Andrea M. Slominski, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and women’s midlife coach. During her dissertation research and study, she explored the new life stage for women that has emerged over the past 100 years.
Naming this new life stage, from ages 45-70, Regency, Dr. A. has spoken at conferences, published articles, and coached women to make the most of their emerging power years. Dr. A. guides women 45+ through the often-tumultuous transformations during perimenopause, midlife, and menopause. She uses tools that include creativity, story, mythology, imagination, ceremony, and ritual.