When a Milestone Birthday Is Hard

Alexandra Kuykendall

Some friends a few years my junior recently hit milestone birthdays. You know the ones. They end in a zero.

And with each friend’s approaching day, I sat through the same group discussion. It went something like this: as the birthday girl lamented, other people jumped in and assured her that the birthday was no big deal. They threw out comments like,

 Age is just a number.

It doesn’t mean anything.

Turning (insert age) didn’t bother me at all. 

All well-intended statements, meant to reassure my friend that life will carry on as normal and her value is not based on her age.

I can agree with the underlying sentiment. Our age certainly doesn’t determine our value. And our life as mothers will likely not shift dramatically because of a change on the calendar. (Unless of course you have a trust fund waiting to be released on a certain milestone birthday, and if that’s the case, I’m guessing you are anticipating rather than dreading the day.) For most of us, our daily routine looks much the same from pre-birthday to post.

When I heard the birthday girl being talked out of her dread, I pulled her aside with an alternative message, “It was hard for me too.” Because everyone needs to hear their feelings are ‘normal’ and they are not alone. And I think dreading a birthday, or at least living in the shock that the number on the cake belongs to you, offers some groundwork for rollercoaster-like emotions.


Because birthdays are markers in our lives. The transition from one decade of life to another is marked not by an accomplishment or a decision, but by our age.

Something we can’t control. Time keeps pressing forward whether we are ready for it or not. And there are lots of potential feelings mixed in with that.

So if you are approaching a difficult birthday – one that ends in a zero or any other digit – allow me to pull you aside and whisper the same, “It was hard for me too.”

Perhaps your feelings stem from disappointment on where you are in life. You thought the nuts and bolts of your days would be different. You’d be more satisfied with your career or parenting. You’d have lost the baby weight or kicked the drinking issues. You’d be married or your marriage would be more honest. Maybe in our youth-obsessed culture you are worried you won’t be relevant or beautiful. Or maybe, like me, you aren’t really sure why you are feeling a little down but you are.

It is OK to feel the feels.

And here is the rest of what I offer my aging mommy friends: “When I’m down I make a list of what I’m grateful for. Of what I have and who I love. When I focus on the gifts in my life, I’m less likely to fixate on the changes I can’t control.”

May you celebrate the gift that is today. You are not alone. (And happy birthday!)

Alexandra Kuykendall
As a mom to four girls, Alexandra Kuykendall’s days are spent washing dishes, driving to and from different schools and trying to find a better solution to the laundry dilemma. She is the author of Loving My Actual Life, An Experiment In Relishing What’s Right In Front of Me and The Artist’s Daughter, A Memoir. A city girl at heart, she makes her home in the shadow of downtown Denver. You can read more of Alex’s everyday thoughts and connect with her at AlexandraKuykendall.com.