Thank you to Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of Ada Calhoun’s Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, in exchange for an honest review.
In Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun explores the unique challenges facing Generation X women, who are now middle-age.
Spanning from the early 60’s to the early 80’s (there is some disagreement on the dates), Calhoun explains that many women born during this time had a challenging childhood. We ( I am a Gen-X woman) were raised by mother’s who fought for equality and told us that we could do anything. This created an immense pressure to “have it all,” even when “having it all” is an impossible goal and reaching for the brass ring has made us deeply dissatisfied. The caustic divorces that we experienced with our parents, created a drive to maintain the semblance of a perfect life for our children, to hide any cracks in the co-parenting relationship. Growing up latch-key kids and experiencing a free-roaming childhood, has turned Gen-xers into overprotective, helicopter parents. We are drowning as we fail to keep up with our self-imposed expectations.
Calhoun argues that previous generations did not put such a big emphasis on perfection. Our mothers didn’t have social media to constantly compare themselves to their friends and celebrities. They didn’t post pictures of their gluten-free cupcakes or their latest beach vacation. They didn’t feel a constant pressure to keep looking youthful. Societal pressure to go vegan or to believe in a certain movement didn’t plague them every time they looked at their phone, because cell phones didn’t exist. Social media didn’t exist.
Interestingly, Calhoun explains that the pressure to compare and to be perfect seems to be felt more strongly with Gen X. Younger generations don’t seem as worried about what people think. Perhaps it is because Gen Xer’s were older when social media became common place. I was born at the end of Gen X and Facebook wasn’t popular until I was in my 30’s. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have my teen years and 20’s recorded on social media. Calhoun notes that younger generations seem to post on social media with less worry of how it will be perceived, where as Gen X is more careful regarding what they post. We are a generation that has quickly adapted to technology, yet we have not had it in our lives the same way that the generations after us have experienced.
Why We Can’t Sleep made me feel stressed. I can attest to the feelings of perfectionism and failure. I’ve entered my 40’s happy with my life. I don’t have children ( two wonderful step-children, but they are only with us for holidays), so perhaps that lessens the intensity of needing to prove something or create a certain life. I think it gives me freedom. Still, I had a mom who drove home the idea that “anything is possible,” which, as I reflect, doesn’t feel true. I entered the work force and experienced inequality. My mom gave me a clear message that men should not be fully trusted, yet she also pushed a traditional marriage. I was told to be both independent and dependent. It was confusing.
Additionally, Calhoun pointed out something that I didn’t realize I was resentful over, until I read it. She mentions that there is now a backlash for the freedom that we experienced in childhood. I was a latchkey child starting in third grade and although there were adult neighbors, I was basically left home summers/holidays/after school, from the age of eight. That would be unheard of now, but my mom was a working, single-mom and we had no choice. Besides that, I don’t really remember my mom being engaged with me. When we were home together, I was told to play outside or in my room. Maybe it’s because my mom had me later in life, but she continued the, “children should be seen and not heard” motto from her generation. There were times that my mom did things with me, like take me to museums or to the movies, but on a whole, I was on my own. Calhoun says that this was common for Gen X childhoods and this has prompted many Gen X parents to become uber engaged with their children. I see this in my friends with their parenting styles. I realize that my mom had to work and things were hard, but I do feel that I was disconnected with her as a child and did not become close to her until I became an adult.
Calhoun tackles perimenopause and the options that women have to ease this transition. She states that this is an important life change that is simply not discussed. I agree, I’ve never discussed this with anyone, including my doctors. I’m 42 and I haven’t noticed much of a change yet, but I appreciate that Calhoun speaks to this topic.
With everything going on in the world with corona virus, I’m not sure that it was good timing to read Why We Can’t Sleep. I made me feel more anxiety. That said, I think Calhoun has written an important book that is worth a read. I will definitely recommend it to friends of my generation.