Boston Women’s Journal - October/November 2007

Act Your Age

How many times did I hear my mother say those words to me as a child? “You should act your age.” It was all so clear then. At age four certain expectations were had for self-control: no destructive behavior and don’t hurt your newborn brother. By ten some chores were required: do the dishes and wash your clothing. At sixteen I was expected to have some behavioral control and to get good grades. Boy those were the days. What was age appropriate was totally clear.

After college came adulthood, and good luck to you. Do us proud. Want to go to graduate school? Get a grant or a job. That was pretty much the drill for boomers like me. Some of us managed and some of us didn’t. We had very high expectations for our lives - for happiness and job satisfaction - and that is probably why many of us have prolonged our kids’ childhood for as long as we have.

Speaking of which, I know of at least 10 friends who have had kids move back to the family home after college, and so far they haven’t moved out. They finish college and come home to find themselves. I keep hearing things like 30 is the new 20, 50 is the new 40. Is 20 the new 10? It sure seems like that to me sometimes. Is the concept of age appropriate behavior outdated? In medieval times a woman was an old crone if she managed to reach the ripe old age of 40. Now we are bearing children and beginning new careers and marriages at that age.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, both personally and professionally. I have two kids in college, ages 20 and 19. They can vote, buy cigarettes, (heaven forbid) and own cars, but rarely exert the effort to shop for food for a meal or do laundry, and I consider my kids pretty mature compared to their peers. They hold jobs while in college and over the summer, and work hard to get good grades. Yet they expect to be supported, at least partially, through whatever degrees they wish to pursue, and probably “helped out” later. Does adulthood now start at 30?

I’m in my 50s, and feel (with the exception of occasional knee problems) like I’m 30. I expect to learn to scuba dive sometime, and haven’t yet learned how to fly a plane. My mother is 85 and doesn’t want to leave her big house because retirement communities are for “old-old people”, not like her view of herself as a “young-old” person.

Some people expect to feel like they’re 20 through their 70s, or conversely feel like their life is over at 50. Good health can be the goal at any age. If we can sort out the genetic predispositions and environmental factors we are facing, and work to mitigate them, life can often be maintained at a very high quality. For example, if there is a history of colon problems in the family, we can use western technology and alternative medicine to address the circumstances that made mom or dad so sick. We know so much more about giving the body and spirit what they need. I can help you develop a program that focuses on noninvasive therapies. It’s really true that with good self care, some work and a little luck we can be healthy and strong at any age.

I have a client who is in her late 50’s, and both of her parents died early of cardiovascular disease. She came to me with her first report of high blood pressure and depression, and said she felt “like an old woman”. She didn’t want to be on medication for the rest of her life, but she was smart enough to know that she had a high risk factor due to her family history. We developed a plan for her health, including some diagnostic medical testing, stress management, homeopathy, and Tai Chi. I am pleased to tell you she is maintaining a normal blood pressure without drugs a year later. She is strong and healthy and plans to run in a marathon this year. And her friends say she looks much younger.

What does this all mean? What is “appropriate”, and do you knew anyone who wants to “act their age”? I believe it is time to rethink the concept of what we are expected to do in each decade of our lives. With healthy lifestyles and good mental and physical care, we can set our own expectations. Of course there are no guarantees in life, but isn’t it worth the effort to feel good at any age? This concept may be the everlasting gift of the baby boom generation. We wish to be forever young, and if not forever at least for a good deal longer.

I have a good friend who is 98 years old. She is still looking for the perfect pocketbook and the perfect man. She feels fine, although she did give up spiked heels recently. Doesn’t that sound good to you?