What women don't talk about: Is my relationship normal? Will my kids be okay? Am I getting a fair go at work?

It can be hard for women to find time to talk about the things that really matter to us. So NEXT asked a lively group of friends to clear their diaries and talk it out.

With our busy lives, women can become experts at brushing off all manner of worries with two little words: ‘I’m fine’. So NEXT editor Rachael Russell and deputy editor Emma Clifton invited a close-knit trio of women to take time out one afternoon to talk about what’s really on their mind.
Over wine and cheese, we covered everything from open marriages to fertility worries, and what really concerns us when it comes to our kids. While our issues often differed, the consensus was the same: we can all benefit from starting a conversation.

What we don't talk about: Parenthood

Emma: Women have a lot to juggle these days. What do you worry the most about?
Janine: My kids. It’s my oldest son’s first year away from home; he’s got all the freedom in the world, no one to watch what he’s doing. I just worry that he’s caring for himself.
Rachael: Do you think your parents worried about you that way?
Janine: I’m sure they did. It’s the same concerns: are they happy, are they eating right, sleeping right, have they got good friends, are they drinking too much, are they financially in trouble and what are they doing about that? You know, how are they finding their money? Is it a good way or a bad way? I think it doesn’t matter what generation you’re talking about.
Marie: I think the biggest worry is technology. I dropped my boy Adam off at a friend’s last week and the mother and I were talking and she’s been saying to her son Daniel, “Why aren’t you getting Adam around?” and I keep saying to Adam “Why aren’t you having Daniel around?” and it’s because they’re communicating over the computer the whole time. They don’t need to see each other. And Adam’s afraid to pick up the phone. I don’t know how many other kids can pick up a phone and actually talk on it.
Rachael: I’ve got boys of primary school age so I feel like I’m in the golden years, but I worry constantly about what’s in the future – in terms of how do you manage what they’re accessing online, the porn, the bullying…
Lisa: I’ve got a kid with a rare medical condition that affects the way she thinks, how she acts, how she interacts with friends and sees the world. We don’t know how the future will look for her and our involvement in her life. She just wants to be included. A lot of people with kids with challenges go,“These kids just want to be accepted.” No they don’t, they want to be included.
Rachael: What’s your other daughter like?
Lisa: My other one’s a bright, clever kid that gets on with everyone. She accepts and includes all kids, no matter what. She’s going to be cool.
Rachael: Do you find you spend very little of your time worrying about that child?
Lisa: The worst thing is I spend very little time with her altogether. And so I’ve got other problems of her perhaps thinking we don’t love her enough and that we pay so much of our attention to our oldest.
Rachael: It’s hard to get it right, isn’t it? Is there any kind of support group for it?
Lisa: I don’t want to go to a support group, because then that would be admitting there was a long-term challenge. And there is a deep-rooted sadness with other parents with kids with challenges which I feel too sad to be around.
Janine: What do you worry about Emma?
Emma: My fertility.
Janine: Do you?
Emma: Yes, 100 per cent. That’s my greatest fear. I just think ‘what if it doesn’t happen for me?’
Marie: Can you put your eggs on ice?
Emma: I can’t afford it. It’s $10,000. I went to a fertility clinic – for a NEXT story – and asked what my options are. You can get a blood test that tells you what your time frame is – how long your eggs will last! I thought ‘that’s useful’. Hopefully, it all works out for me, relationship wise, and it’s all possible but...
Marie: Have you thought about having children by yourself?
Emma: Again, the cost would be the real thing that put me off.
Lisa: I don’t think you need to panic yet. I had my first baby at 37. And only because a French woman in the office told me to. She said “How old are you Lisa?” and I said “37” and she said “Oh that’s too old, you need to go have babies”. I told my husband, and two weeks later I was pregnant. I had been unsure of my fertility, because I’d had chlamydia and I had scar tissue in my fallopian tubes. I didn’t think I was going to have a baby and I didn’t care either way whether I had kids but now I do, and it’s great. I didn’t have my second one until I was 39. So you can do it.

What women don't talk about: Staying healthy

Emma: Do you all worry about your stress levels?
Marie: I’ve been into wellbeing for a very long time. I’ve done a mindfulness course and it made a difference.
Rachael: What led you to that?
Marie: I’m an type-A personality, 500 miles an hour, I have to be doing everything all the time. To me, sitting and being quiet and just reading isn’t my natural way, but I’ve got to do that.
Rachael: And if you don’t, what happens?
Marie: It shows in everything I do; my body, the way I eat, the way I drink, the way I exercise, tiredness, sleep, everything. So I’ve got to be really conscious of that.
Janine: If you’d asked me about yoga three years ago, I would have said “Oh I tried it once and I hated it”. Now, I never miss it. It delivers on a mental level and on a physical level and a social level. I feel great. Not just for that day, but four, five days after.
Marie: It was menopause that made me start looking at ways to be more ‘still’. Before, I could rush and do things and be absolutely fine. But now there are hot flushes, and needing to be conscious of actually keeping my body healthy and also keeping my mind healthy.
Rachael: A lot of workplaces have a drinking culture. How do you deal with that?
Janine: You have to be aware of it, it’s very easy to slip into drinks every night. But recently – watch my halo shine – I made a decision to not drink on a school night.
Marie: That’s my philosophy too.
Janine: If you’ve had a hard night on the drink, you come in the next day and you’re tired, you’re slow. I can’t afford to be slow. I’ve just had a foot operation so I’m conscious I could easily gain weight as I’m not moving around as much. So there’s many reasons, but it’s taken me to 50 to figure it out!

What women don't talk about: In the bedroom

Lisa: I have posts pop up on my Facebook feed about open marriages.
Emma: Wow. I have a friend who’s polyamorous but I always just assumed that was a young person’s game…
Rachael: Surely that destroys a relationship?
Lisa: These couples I know of love each other. I’ve done my research. I’m not at all interested in doing it, but I’m fascinated by it. How it works is they agree to see other people, even though they still live with and love each other, and the four of them are together.
Rachael: So everyone’s in on it?
Lisa: Everybody’s in on it. I don’t like it. I certainly wouldn’t want any other woman kissing my husband, thank you very much. I don’t want to kiss another man!
Emma: Is it just because you get tired of having sex with the same person?
Marie: I’ve been with my husband since I was 17 and I can say I’m not interested in anybody else.
Rachael: If anything, I’d say sex gets better the longer you’re together. Apart from worrying about the kids barging in…
Emma: Seriously? Having not been in a long relationship, I only know about what I’ve read – the desire dropping off after a couple of years.
Janine: But you have more experience...
Rachael: And you’re more comfortable together. But stress can be a killer in the bedroom. I’ve had conversations with women, after a few wines of course, where they’ve confessed to the fact they’re not having sex very often. And it’s bothering them, clearly.
Janine: So they’re too tired? Too distracted?
Rachael: Not just them, their husbands too. One woman was only in her 20s, anxious that her fairly new husband had lost interest. I told her it’s normal to go through stages.
Emma: In Deborah Hill Cone’s column this month, she argues it’s important for older woman to still feel desirable. Not to give up and take up gardening too soon!
Rachael: I hate gardening. I think feeling desired is really important, at all ages. And feeling loved, of course.
Lisa: I think when you’ve had kids and stuff, you grow up and things do change. When I first married my husband, I didn’t love him as much as I love him now. I think lucky for us; we’re unlike a lot of people with special needs children, who separate. But what happened with Brett and I is we got closer. We really needed that support to help each other and in the process I fell more in love with him and respected him more as a man.
Marie: I have to say it’s the same with me and Glenn. He supports me in what I do and so a good relationship going forward is someone who’s going to let you be who you are and grow and support you. I think that’s the key.
Emma: That’s a really positive way of looking at it. Sometimes – probably because I’ve been dating a lot in the past two years – I get panicked about settling down.

What women don't talk about: Older and wiser

Rachael: I’m 39 and Emma’s 32 – what else have you figured out that we need to know?
Lisa: You will keep learning all the time. And you’ll never know everything; you could read all the books in the world but actually, you’ve got to go through with it.
Marie: You just want to be the best version of yourself. Always be looking to grow. We like to hire staff like that, coachable people who want to self-develop. Usually, they’re someone who’s had some sort of adversity. They realise life’s not easy, and ‘if it’s going to be, it’s up to me’.
Janine: My advice to you girls would be: make sure you get that work-life balance.
Rachael: I feel like you have to fight for it a bit.
Janine: Yes, fight for it. That is my point. You can put too much into the work and 20 years later it’s not thanking you. But your family around you will.
Rachael: One thing that concerns me is I see women in their 20s spending a lot of time agonising over their bodies, what they eat. But they’re young and beautiful and fit and healthy, and I want to shake them! They need to know they’re already gorgeous!
Marie: That’s the whole thing now with social media filters, they can change their look, their boobs, every-thing. They can make themselves look so different and then they start to dislike the real person.
Janine: I am so pleased I had my 20s without social media, without mobile phones, without computers. I had the best decade of my life and I think a lot of it’s got to do with the fact there was none of this around.
Lisa: Exactly. Those were my best years. That’s the only thing I feel sad about as I’ve got older; when I turned 50 was the first time I worried about my age. I don’t like the fact I reminisce about the 90s because that was my coolest time; I had so much fun back then and I was so free.
Janine: That said though, my 50th year has got to be one of my best years ever.
Emma: What made it so good?
Janine: Travel. I had a lot of travel and a bit of it was unexpected. Great people and beautiful experiences and great memories made. Every single one of them.
Rachael: And less fretting about how you looked?
Janine: I didn’t even care. Those days are over. That’s what sarongs are for. I’ve long given up wearing a bikini, I wear a one-piece and I really don’t care.
Marie: I don’t care either and I wear a bikini.
Rachael: You learn nobody’s watching you.
Janine: No one’s looking at me! They’re looking at all the young honeys walking down the beach and that’s fine, that’s their time. I’m just loving the sun, the surf, the temperature, the sand... And a nice bottle of sav chilling down, got something on the barbecue tonight, good friends coming over... That’s where it’s at.

What women don't talk about: Confidence and resilience

Emma: Do you find your confidence levels have continued to rise as you’ve gotten older? Or has it become harder along the way?
Marie: You just don’t worry about the same sort of stuff. You see these grumpy old ladies or whatever and they just speak their mind. There’s a bit of that but I like to think it’s not grumpy, it’s more positive.
Rachael: Assertive. Not grumpy.
Janine: Definitely confident though. More than ever, stronger than ever, in that way.
Marie: It’s interesting, when we do a client visit, they’ll look directly at the young girl beside you and you feel like you don’t exist. It doesn’t worry me at all. I think ‘Great, I don’t have to do this as much anymore’.
Lisa: I just got my moustache fixed for the first time last week and I was horrified. Now that’s bad.
Rachael: What, first time at 50?
Lisa: You know how she [the beauty therapist] told me? So she’s doing my eyebrows and she goes, ‘So what do you do with your lips?’ and I say, ‘What do you mean’ and she goes, ‘Oh nothing’. And I say, ‘Have I got hairs?’ She’s trying to back out and I’m like a dog with a bone.
Marie: It’s a Lebanese thing.
Lisa: I don’t like it.
Janine: Do you [Marie] have that problem?
Lisa: It’s not a problem! Don’t say it’s a problem.
Janine: Sorry. Do you have that beauty concern?
Marie: I don’t think so. Have I got one?
Lisa: No.
Rachael: What about dyeing your hair? We can’t go grey as fast as a man can without suddenly looking older.
Janine: Yeah, that is one thing I will sort myself out on.
Lisa: It was a hard call when I made the decision to stop dyeing my hair.
Janine: You wear it so well.
Lisa: But I didn’t like it. It was a really hard call.
Rachael: Do you still feel confident in choosing clothes and makeup?
Marie/Lisa/Janine: Yes.
Lisa: But I think every woman should get a stylist. My whole world changed 15 years ago when I got a stylist. She helped me choose clothes that suited my body type and the colours that are right for me.
Rachael: You three are all very successful in your careers, and your marriages. At 50 you feel like life is really good and you’re more confident than ever, but do you have…
Marie: Friends that are in a different place?
Rachael: Yeah.
Marie: Absolutely, yeah.
Rachael: Why do you think that is?
Marie: It all comes down to attitude. Always is. Everything in life is attitude.
Lisa: It comes down to the learning thing too. If they didn’t take the learning path and went happily along and all of a sudden the shit hit the fan.
Marie: To be fair, some wonderful people have lost people through sickness or whatever, and that can’t be helped but it also comes down to attitude. I’ve seen people that have dealt with it so wonderfully.
Rachael: So you think resilience is perhaps one of the key things we can have?
Marie: Absolutely.
Rachael: Can we teach our kids resilience?
Janine: I hope so. They’re going to need it.
Lisa: They’ve got to learn responsibility. But what I find quite surprising is the amount of parents who don’t expect their kids to do anything. At a dinner party, or whatever, I’ll say to the kids, “Alright girls, clear the table please”. All the other kids bugger off, and the parents say nothing. What kind of human beings are you bringing up?
Marie: This happened the other day with my youngest, Adam. We went to his grandparents’ place for dinner and Adam got up and did the dishes and his other cousin who was visiting from Australia was finding every excuse to disappear out of the room. I was really proud of my boy for doing that so hopefully I’ve taught him something.
Lisa: It’s about independence, respect and being aware of your surroundings. People just say they want their kids to be happy but I think they need good manners and awareness of others. If they’ve got those two traits, they can get away with anything.

What women don't talk about: Equality at work

Rachael: In your careers do you feel like you have faced gender discrimination?
Marie: Yes, initially. Way back.
Rachael: But not anymore?
Marie: When I first started in a bank, the boy who started with me got promoted. I went to the manager and I said, “I want to move ahead,” and he said, “Sorry, you’re a female, you’re going to get pregnant, so no, you won’t be going ahead.” So two weeks later I left.
Janine: I’ve definitely encountered pay inequality.
Rachael: Did you do anything about it?
Janine: No. I saw his contract when I shouldn’t have, so there wasn’t anything I could do. But I’ve never forgotten.
Rachael: And so, did you leave that company?
Janine: I did.
Rachael: Has it meant you’ve stood up for yourself more in pay negotiation?
Janine: I try to. It’s a very hard thing.
Emma: Do you [Marie], working in recruitment, have any advice about negotiating pay?
Marie: Yes. Stand up for what you’re worth but don’t get emotional. As soon as women show emotion, that’s when you’re in trouble. Be very factual and have the information. Go in there with the solutions and show your worth.
Janine: That’s good advice. If I have a problem, go in with a solution. You get such a better result.
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