40 things I learned after I turned 40

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I’m a few years into my 40s now, and I am happy to report that I haven’t yet crossed into the land of muumuus and orthopaedic shoes.

In fact, my 40s have been some of the best years of my life.

Not only do I have four decades of experience to guide me, I’ve found that you’re never too old to learn something new each day. I’ve learned lessons on everything from body image to frugal shopping, from my children’s love life to the joy of spending a night in.

Here are 40 things I learned after turning 40.


It’s easier to make marriage a priority in your 40s.

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One of the best parts about your 40s is having kids who are old enough not to need babysitters and have a social life of their own. This age has finally given my husband and me the freedom to focus on our marriage, and to make spontaneous date nights and romance a reality again.


Do what is best for your physical and mental health, even if it upsets others.

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When you decide to make serious life changes in order to improve your health, it is almost inevitable that you will ruffle someone’s feathers. People who aren’t ready to change don’t want others to either. Remember that this is their problem, not yours.


You don’t have to attend every event to which you’re invited.

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A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when I finally realised that I don’t have to RSVP “yes” to every invitation. In my 40s, I’ve learned to value my free time and carefully choose how and with whom to spend it.


You need an action plan for ageing parents.

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Most people in their 40s have parents who are of retirement age or older. This is when adult children start to switch roles with their ageing parents, often becoming more financially or physically responsible for them. A sudden illness, accident, or age-related physical impairment can disrupt a senior’s independence, and put your own future plans on hold.

Now is the time to get together with your parents, siblings, and spouse to determine how the care and responsibility of your ageing parents will be shared when the time comes.


Your child’s senior year of high school is expensive.

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SATs, ACTs, college application fees, cap and gown, prom tickets, prom attire, yearbook, senior trip, graduation announcements, graduation party, gifts for friends who are also graduating, university deposit, and dorm deposit – these are just some of the expenses high school seniors have.

My advice: Open a savings account for senior expenses when your kids start high school to help ease some of the financial burden before they head off to college.


Lunch with girlfriends takes months of planning and rescheduling.

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Between kids, work, school, doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, catching up with housework, and other family commitments, it is nearly impossible to find an afternoon where four mums in their 40s are all free for lunch. We are now shooting for sometime in 2020.


Everyone on social media uses a filter.

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Don’t feel guilty for using the Paris filter to blur out some of your wrinkles on Instagram. Even the young social media influencers with perfect skin and cute bodies edit their images before posting online.


Not every mistake requires a consequence.

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As a mum, I have learned that not every mistake your kid makes requires you to dole out a consequence.

This is especially true when it comes to teenagers. They are at an age when they should be able to learn a lesson from their mistakes without always needing a formal punishment. In the real world, your mum doesn’t take your car keys away when you forget to turn on the dishwasher.


You might be more heartbroken after your child’s breakup than they are.

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No one warns you how heartbreaking it is when you teen has their first breakup.

Of course, it’s normal to be sad for the two of them and for the ending of their relationship, but I found that I was also sad for myself. I felt such an inexplicably profound loss, almost as though I had lost a child. Teenagers who spend so much time with your family start to feel like one of your own. It can leave a gaping hole in your heart knowing they will no longer be a part of your life.


You don’t have to finish a book you don’t like.

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I used to force myself to finish terrible books. That changed when I turned 40.

Now I give a book 50 pages, or 15 minutes if it’s an audiobook. If either the content or the narrator don’t catch my attention, I move on. There are too many other books, movies, and TV shows out there to waste your time on something you don’t enjoy.


Maintaining good credit will make this phase of life so much easier.

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When I was in college, credit card companies used to prowl the campus offering free T-shirts to students willing to fill out a credit application. No one explained how credit inquiries worked, or why an 18-year-old probably shouldn’t have five credit cards. Many recent graduates started adulthood already in debt, realising too late the importance of a good credit score.

Good credit is just as important in your middle age when you may be expected to cosign for student housing or your teen’s first car. You might even be considering buying a new home or finally splurging on that sports car or boat you’ve always wanted.


Glasses become a necessity.

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Even people who’ve always had perfect eyesight will need glasses after 40. It’s a condition called presbyopia, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology explains that it is caused by age-related hardening of the lens behind your iris. It’s the reason that at 40 it becomes nearly impossible to read directions on pill bottles without reading glasses.


You can leave a group text.

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My greatest recent discovery is that I can remove myself from an annoying group text. I no longer have to be woken up in the middle of the night by a thumbs-up emoji. Now, I just have to find a way to block group texts altogether. Maybe that upgrade will be available in my 50s.


Weddings have been replaced by funerals.

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There used to be a time where I’d be at a different wedding every few weeks. In my 40s, wedding invitations have been replaced by funeral announcements. I’ve lost seven relatives in the last couple of years, and I am not alone. Many friends my age have recently lost parents, siblings, and spouses. It’s the most heartbreaking part of growing older.


Menstrual periods get worse as you approach menopause.

It seems as though periods should get lighter as you near menopause, but for many women in their 40s, periods get heavier and more painful. In my case, after trying several options to control my cycle, I finally had a hysterectomy at 42. The good news is that my life has gotten exponentially better since having surgery.


Sunblock is the most important beauty tool.

Sun damage and years of hormonal birth control have caused me to develop hyperpigmentation on my face. It’s hard to cover up, and will probably never go away, but it helps to wear an SPF every day. One of my only regrets is not regularly using sunblock when I was younger.


Getting ready for bed now takes at least a half hour.

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In my 20s and 30s I would go to bed with a full face of makeup and deal with it in the morning. Needless to say, this didn’t do my skin any favours. Today, my bedtime skincare routine consists of an assortment of serums and moisturizers that can only be applied to a clean and exfoliated face.


Too many vacation days are spent at doctor’s appointments.

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Taking vacation days used to mean going on an actual vacation. In my 40s, with a son away at college, a daughter in high school, and parents in their 70s, most of my days off are now spent driving people to doctor’s appointments, dental cleanings, and eye exams.


It’s time to get a pill organiser.

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Remember when the only medicine you had to take was a multivitamin and birth control pills? All of that changes in your 40s when you start to take pills to control other things like your cholesterol, blood pressure, thyroid, and back pain. Invest in a pill organiser before you find yourself staring at your pill bottle wondering if you actually took your pill today, or if that was yesterday.


A true friendship picks up where you left off, no matter how much time has passed.

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My best friend of nearly 30 years has that title for many reasons. But what I love most about her is that even if we don’t talk for months, we always pick up right where we left off. She doesn’t spend the first 20 minutes of every conversation complaining about how long it’s been since I’ve called. She’s not passive aggressive or say things like “Remember me?” We just fall back into a groove as if no time has passed.


You will still be invited to kids’ birthday parties.

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One of the things I didn’t anticipate when I became a mum in my 20s was that when my own children were grown, I’d still be going to kids’ birthday parties. I have friends who have already become grandparents, others who have younger school-aged kids, and even some with brand new babies. By the time this season passes, I’ll probably be a grandmother myself.


You can’t give your kids outdated advice on sex.

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As tempting as it is to pass on the same ancient advice my parents gave me in high school – “Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex before marriage” – it’s more important that I give my teens advice based on reality and science.

Several studies, including a 2017 scientific paper by professors at Columbia University, have found that abstinence-only education doesn’t work and can actually put teens at higher risk by not providing them comprehensive education on safe sex practices.

My advice to my own teens has always been, “I strongly suggest for you to wait until you are an adult and in a long-term, committed relationship before having sex. But if that isn’t going to be the case, always remember that you can come to me at any time, and I will help you get what you need to be safe.”


Some people won’t like me, and I’m OK with that.

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That desire to be liked by everyone has faded in my 40s. If you don’t like me, it’s because our personalities or values are fundamentally different. We probably have very little in common and are better off not wasting time pretending to be friends. I no longer waste time trying to win people over.


Wear whichever swimsuit you want.

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If you feel like wearing a bikini, go for it. Are you more comfortable in a one-piece? That’s OK, too. You are never going to be younger than you are today. Wear what makes you feel good.


I’m now a ‘ma’am.’

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One day in your 40s someone will call you “ma’am.” Just tell yourself that they are a Southerner with good manners and it will sting a little less.


Don’t keep something just because you spent a lot of money on it.

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Most people have something expensive hanging in their closet or stored in the garage that they will never use again. I’ve learned in my 40s that if something doesn’t serve me, I should let it go, no matter how much money I spent on it.


Mornings are better if you don’t go to bed angry.

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If you fall asleep in the middle of an argument, you’ll wake up angry and it will ruin the next day. Even if the problem can’t be resolved that night, always try to kiss and make up before you hit the sack.


There’s no place like home.

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Going out from time to time is still fun, but in your 40s you start to truly enjoy your home. These days, weekends spent grilling, relaxing in front of the TV, gardening, or even tackling the honey-do list are much more satisfying than getting dressed up for a fancy party or splurging on an expensive meal.


Ask for help from people who’ve been there.

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You’re not the first person to send your child off to college or to put your house on the market. You will save so much time and effort if you ask for advice from those who have experience.


You can disagree with someone and still love them.

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Every relationship has faced a disagreement. By 40 you will realise that you don’t have to be on the same page with someone 100% of the time in order to love them. You just have to agree to respect each other always, no matter what.


I will always have a complicated relationship with my body.

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Some women in their 40s will tell you that they have finally gotten to the point where they are comfortable in their own skin. I can admit that I am still not quite that evolved. It might take another few years to undo the four decades I’ve been comparing my body to society’s unrealistic standards of beauty.


Hot flashes are real.

It happens when I least expect it. I could be driving, cooking, or sleeping and suddenly I feel a heat on my chest and start to sweat profusely. I still don’t know what triggers it, but hot flashes are terrible, and 100% real.


You hold a special place in your heart for your kids’ friends.

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One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given in my 40s are my kids’ friends. I love having them over for dinner and listening to them exchange funny stories or sing along to their favourite songs. They know they can count on me for a ride home on a rainy day or to take the perfect group picture to post on their Instagrams. I love that they call me “mama” and that their own mums can count on them being safe in our home.


You’re too old to fall into the trap of emotional manipulation.

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How many times as an adult have you done something you didn’t want to do strictly because you were made to feel guilty? If you grew up in an emotionally manipulative family, it is an incredibly difficult habit to break. Use your 40s to work on freeing yourself of the unnecessary guilt.


You get what you pay for.

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I love bargain hunting for trendy clothes and accessories. But when it comes to buying a long-lasting staple piece such as a nice handbag or leather furniture, I’ve learned that it’s smarter to invest in quality.


You should always clear the air.

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Nothing is more uncomfortable than having an elephant in the room. It’s better to have one uncomfortable conversation than to let a misunderstanding and stubbornness ruin a good relationship.


You shouldn’t deliberately withhold an apology.

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There is magic in saying the words “I’m sorry.” Not only does it validate the feelings of someone you’ve hurt, it takes a huge weight off of your chest.


Go to bed early.

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After years of waking up with your babies in the middle of the night, your 40s are a good time to attempt to get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Your mood will be improved, you’ll think more clearly, and you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.


Tell your partner ‘I love you’ at least once every day.

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Life is short and unpredictable. You should never let a day go by without telling your partner you love them. You can never say “I love you” too often.


Negative energy will breed negative outcomes.

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One of the things that has become apparent in my 40s is that you can never be truly successful as long as you put negative energy out into the world. Negativity not only perpetuates whatever problems you are facing, but it affects the people around you. You can start to rewire your brain into creating more positive thoughts by visualising and vocalizing your goals each day.

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