In The Midlife Movement Facebook Group we've been talking about self care this week. What it is and whether we do it and why we should if we don't.
I've been watching a BBC comedy on iplayer called Mum. The first episode of series one takes place on the day of the funeral of the lead character, Cathy's, husband. The three series then meander through the next two years of Cathy's life as she comes to terms with widowhood and deals with her daft yet demanding family.
Sounds like a barrel of laughs, doesn't it? :-) It is one of those quiet, very British shows, (think The Detectorists) that observe life and point out its absurdities using exaggeration and characters that verge on the grotesque - and some who tip over.
Through it all runs the thread of Cathy's emerging romantic feelings for her lifelong friend, Michael. Michael has been in love with her since they were 17 but never burdens her with his feelings, simply watching out for her and showering her with kindness. He's always there, putting up shelves, taxiing her son and his girlfriend to the airport on the day his mum dies, always putting her first.
Lesley Mandeville plays the role of the endlessly patient, undemanding Cathy with an understated, masterly touch, putting up with the unintentional put downs from her son's dippy girlfriend (That's a nice top, Cathy, who went shopping with you?) and the deliberate nastiness of her brother's partner, Pauline.
As the series goes on, we begin to get impatient with Michael's inability to declare himself and Cathy's willingness to be treated like a doormat. And yet we relate to her desire to take the path of least resistance as she mourns the loss of her husband and starts to work out how she wants to live now.
Just as we start to despair, she shows flashes of fire. I find that some people who treat others badly are trying to cover up how sad they are, she tells Pauline. Women don't need looking after - I don't need looking after, she says to Jason, her overprotective, grieving son.
It isn't until the last series that we see Cathy start to take control. When Jason's distaste at the idea of her having a relationship after his father gets out of control she doesn't lose her temper, treating him with compassion even as his words finally light the touch paper to her sense of self determination. Life is confusing for women your age, Mum. But I'm here to look out for you. Just take things steady and eventually you'll realise how you're behaving.
Why am I talking about a sitcom when I'm supposed to to be talking about self care? I think that Mum beautifully illustrates the gradual awakening that so many of us experience in midlife. Cathy is 60. The willingness of everyone around her to write her off holds up a mirror to her and makes her realise she has a lot of life to live.
Whether that's with Michael or not doesn't really matter. Finding the courage to hang up her pinny - whether literally or metaphorically - is a gradual process. It illustrates perfectly that change doesn't have to be sudden, or drastic or dramatic. But it is necessary if we are to be happy.
Nothing stays the same. Our children grow, our faces wrinkle, our tummies sag. We can't let that define us. Other people's expectations can't define us. Our own expectations, if they are limited, or formed in a past where life was more limiting than it is now, need to change and lift us up.
Just this morning a younger friend of mine said she was enjoying some time alone. but felt guilty about it. I thin k that many of us can relate to that! Let's put aside this notion that our needs are lower in the hierarchy than anyone else around us - families, partners, colleagues, community.
It's fine to want to serve, to be useful. But we don't need to sacrifice ourselves to do so.
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Image: Lesley Manderville and Jimmy Mullen in Mum ©BBC