{My Story} How I Regret-Proofed My Life After Fifty

FOF Claire Fontaine is giving away three copies of her book, Have Mother, Will Travel. Three FOFs will win. Enter to win by answering this question in the comments below: Have you ever traveled with a grown up son or daughter?

FOF Claire Fontaine spent the first fifty years of her life “bound up being a mom,” trying to overcome her daughters drug addiction and dedicating years to her own self-discovery. Then, at fifty-one, Claire realized “oops, she forgot to plan for life after motherhood.”

Here, she shares the journey (literal and symbolic) that she took for regret-proofing her life after fifty.

Claire (left) with her daughter, Mia (right) stop to pose in front of the Great Wall Of China on their trip with Global Scavenger Hunt.

A few years ago, when my daughter Mia asked me what I wanted to be doing with my life now that I was fifty, the answer wasn’t pretty.

“Not what I’m doing right now.”

To wit: on impulse I’d left Los Angeles, a city and a creative community I loved, to buy a historic fixer-upper in Florida, the hottest state in the nation, just in time for hot flashes and direct hits by four hurricanes; my marriage needed as much renovating as my house; I’d co-authored a bestselling book but hadn’t written in two years; my relationship with my mother had shattered; and my once close relationship with my daughter had grown stale and strained. The kind of mothering I was doing sends young women to postcardsfromyomomma.com. Everything else I was doing was sending me to fmylife.com.

When Mia called and asked me what I did want to be doing now that my life was half over (thanks, kid), my answer wasn’t any prettier.

“This isn’t going to sound very good,” I said after a pause. “But I’ve never actually had a concrete vision of my life at fifty.”

That was the wake-up call I needed, actually saying it out loud—I was fifty going on the rest of my life with no idea where that was. And leave it to my daughter to wake me up—again. Her dreadful downward spiral of drug addiction as a teen forced me to recognize that I’d been asleep in my own life, an experience she and I chronicled in our first joint memoir, Come Back. It also forced both of us through a lengthy and rather brutal process of self-examination that transformed our lives forever.

And let me tell you, transformation is hard work. I took courses and workshops on accountability, leadership, creating results; I meditated, carried affirmation cards, made Wheel of Life charts; I had terrific coaching on relationship skills and living intentionally. I knew the power of living consciously and intentionally rather than by default, I made a vision map years before most folks knew what it was. I even went on to counsel other families for several years. Yet, when life got tough, I didn’t fight for my own life the way I did for Mia’s when she hit the skids. Instead, I wallowed in irritation and blame. When I wasn’t blaming the house, the heat, or the husband, I blamed myself.

Shortly after that phone call with Mia, I came across that old vision map. I opened it up, flattened it out and marveled at the wrinkled images of my dream life: travel to Europe with Mia, become fit and strong, use my writing to help others, inner stillness, my daughter home, healed and healthy. It was the first time I realized, as wild as some of those dreams seemed at the time, I’d manifested every single thing on the map.

It was a life-changing moment for two reasons—first, I remembered how powerful I, or any woman, with a strong vision can be; second, it was a vision for who I was then: a woman whose sole identity was bound up in being a mom, a role that was prolonged first because of Mia’s dangerous behavior, then by writing and speaking about it nationally. I never bothered to dream up a new life for a post-motherhood, mid-life me.

A vision has the wondrous, empowering quality of keeping you both clear and focused on the future and fully engaged in the present. Without a clear picture of your desired future, there’s no reason to find a way around the brick walls we all hit in life. A vision prevents a brick wall from becoming a destination, a permanent address for a victim, with a BMW (Bitch, Moan, Whine) in the driveway. It acts as a filter for all your choices, big and small, sorting the wheat (future results) from the chaff (future regrets).

To know what I truly wanted, I knew I needed to remember who I truly was. Who was I before I became the “good girl,” always doing what I should – the “good” girlfriend, wife, mother, homemaker? What would make that girl I’d repressed for so long happy?

I decided to take time to find out, to hear my own voice again. And I decided to do it with the person who knew me best–Mia. We’d never used any of the money we’d made from our first memoir to celebrate its success. So we decided to finally use it and set off around the world together, to learn about ourselves, each other, and what mother and daughterhood looks like globally.

The first part of the trip was a madcap global scavenger hunt through twelve countries, followed by a summer together in South France. While there, I decided to make another vision map. I let myself dream big. And I had Mia there for support and feedback. I learned more from my wise and compassionate daughter than I ever taught her.

(Clockwise from left) Claire and Mia tour the Pyramids of Egypt on horse and camelback, Posing in front of the cliffs of Meteora, Greece, A rest stop in front of Veliko Tarnovo during their Balkin leg of the trip.

It was a happy, energizing undertaking, but bittersweet. During the trip, I discovered things about myself I’d forgotten, and acknowledged things I’d simply suppressed. And I realized that while you may not know what you’ve got till it’s gone, you also don’t know what doesn’t matter to you until you realize you don’t miss it. I gave myself permission not only to declare exactly what I wanted, but also to leave behind what I didn’t. Which was almost everything in my life: house, heat and husband (as wonderful a man as he is.)

My return would not be easy. It’s one thing to dream on a piece of poster board, another to make it happen in real life. But I did. One choice at a time. Over a year’s time I would leave it all—home, most of my belongings, the security of marriage. I didn’t even have a clue what city I’d live in. But I had a vision, I had trust, and I had me. I still do.

Claire Fontaine is the co-author of two memoirs Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back, HarperCollins 2007, and Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other and The World, William Morrow 2012. She’s also a national public speaker and certified life coach. She divides her time between the U.S. and France, most recently Paris, where she spent five months researching a historic novel.

Enter to win Claire’s book, Have Mother, Will Travel by answering this question in the comments below: Have you ever traveled with a grown up son or daughter?

Three FOFs will win. (See all our past winners, here.) (See official rules, here.) Contest closes August 13, 2012 at midnight E.S.T.

15 Responses to “{My Story} How I Regret-Proofed My Life After Fifty”

  1. bakontrk says:

    I have to agree with Cathy. I have been there, done that and it takes a strong woman to realize her shortcomings and the find the courage to overcome them. Peace

  2. Sara Donahue says:

    I haven’t had the chance yet, because I had my children rather late, so, despite the fact that I am 50, they are only 12 and 15. I hope to have the experience of traveling with them as adults in the future.

  3. carol hollenbeck says:

    i entered in your contest for paris, my question if i can do a giveaway of
    my book true blondes , how would i go about it… and would three copies
    be enough.. just asking i also have a press person i would tell about this
    only i would like to know what the requirements are ,, thank you
    carol hollenbeck trueblondesny.tumblr.com carol.holland@rcn.com

  4. Katrina says:

    Being raised in a family who struggled with every kind of addiction possible I realized as a teenager I only had two choices: 1. To become an addict myself, after all we learn from our parents right?… or 2. Become a helper and help those with addictions. I have a daughter and a son I trave with. We have traveled to different countries and I always expose them to the good and the bad. I try not to hide what the reality of the world is outside their bedroom community in CT. Now that they are almost out of the house and have experienced others (i.e. friends and family) sruggle with addictions they know what distruction this can cause both socially, morally and spiritually. I hope the foundation I have laid and the honesty I’ve shown them helps them as they soon leave the nest and have to make these decisions for themselves. The book you wrote with Mia “Comeback” has been an insipration to me and my kids. Thank you.

  5. donna says:

    I have traveled with my youngest daughter to visit my oldest daughter-all trips within California. Now that she’s in Minnesota, I hope we can visit her there!

  6. Jeanne says:

    Such a good message- your best years are ahead of you IF you chose that!! who are we? Your choice!!

  7. Sande Nosonowitz says:

    I traveled to a retreat with my grown son….it was interesting to see him interacting and opening up in a group setting. He’s a good travel partner.

  8. patsy hinson says:

    After I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, my 25 year old daughter became an oncology social worker. I began my travels and she became my fav companion!

  9. lisa mcfarland says:

    I have travelled with my daughter while she was in college but not since then. she only graduated in May.

  10. Mary Beth Haley says:

    I am the grown-up daughter who has traveled with my mom. We have been to NYC, Hawaii, Italy, England, Switzerland, France, and Germany!

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  12. Marla Davis says:

    I’m 55 with a grown daughter and son. When all else fails, we can not forget that a big piece of who we are is represented in our child/children. If we forget, as the author alluded to, we can look at them. We are so much more than we think. I enjoyed reading this article and encourage every woman over 50 to read it since it is relatable at some level to every woman. I’m a believer and know that God loves us each deep down more than we can even comprehend. Thanks for the article. Enjoyed it! :o)

    • Claire F says:

      Yes, Marla, our children are indeed integral to who we are as women, from the moment we become a mother. Thank you Mary, Cathy and cheap snapbacks for your kind words, I’m pleased you enjoyed the article!

  13. Mary Pavlovsky says:

    Well done my brave, inspiring friend. I so enjoy you.

  14. Cathy Szewc says:

    Thank you Claire for sharing your experiences and your courage to change what you could.


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