Mel Walsh: Is your ‘Inner Brat’ showing? |

Mel Walsh: Is your ‘Inner Brat’ showing?

Do you have an Inner Brat? Is there a stubborn 2-year-old inside trying to get out, digging in his heels against unreasonable expectations, not willing to waste time chasing brownie points by doing the bidding of others?

Me, I think I do have an Inner Brat. He says no to things that used to be a yes. And I’m not alone. Silver-haired folks, mindful of time marching on, now find themselves saying no to the marginal social things they used to be willing to be dragged to.

And they are also saying no to acquaintances who invite themselves over for weekends and vacations. It’s no to a lot of things when you’re older ” no to the marketers on the phone and no to the people who ask you to sign weird petitions at the grocery store and no to another holiday at the house of a bad dog relative.

No. No. No.

And when it’s no in situations where it used to be yes, I figure it’s my Inner Brat at work, doing his job of keeping my priorities straight even if my conscious self is too dumb to do it.

Why do older people begin to dig in their heels?

The many yeses of yesterday were OK when we had all the time and energy in the world. Back then, we could afford to say yes. But when hair turns silver, when people have passed through the valley of the shadow of Social Security, it strikes them hard that time and energy now have limits, so they begin to say no and mean it.

Out go superfluous things, irritating situations and vintage TV movies we never liked in the first place. (We older women no longer do spaghetti westerns. Men finally abandon “Pride and Prejudice.”)

Saying yes to the “no” stage

Maybe it’s one of those predictable passages of later life ” older people going through a “terrible two” stage, except their stubborn “no” phase begins at 60 and can last for the next 40 years.

Whatever it is, I see it all around me…men and women whose mouths used to say yes when their hearts said no, now synching their words and behavior and saying no when they feel no.

And it’s one of the good things about growing older ” the freedom to say no and the conviction to say it out loud. Some may call it cantankerousness. I call it authenticity, honoring yourself after years of saying yes and not meaning it.


Like horses refusing to jump the fence, some women won’t jump back into their old domestic responsibilities. After 50 years of meatloaf, older cooks may be burned out and they simply refuse to be Betty Crocker anymore. It’s eat out, take-out, microwaved dinners or the husband taking up the spoon.

Or take hostessing. After years of running their homes as B & B’s, sometimes as a pad for friends of friends, some older people are saying: Sorry, this won’t work for us. Sorry, I just don’t have the energy anymore. Sorry, my days as Martha Stewart are over. Here’s the phone number of a hotel.

You probably have your own example: You won’t go to those boring club meetings any more, won’t volunteer at the place that doesn’t honor your talents, won’t repair the computers of any neighbor who asks ” the list can be endless as you leave certain mid-life behaviors in the rear view mirror.

And one good part about saying no is that now it is the truth. Your energy is limited. You’ve done your time in the trenches. You can rest. Unless you don’t want to, of course. There are people whose life force is astounding and if they get pleasure still doing what they used to do, more power to them.

Words for the wise

So welcome your Inner Brat. He may really be your guardian angel, trying to keep you happy and healthy. And as for you, it’s no dishonor to admit to personal energy shortages, plus it’s smart to save your battery power for the higher priorities of life.

Keep the steam in your boiler for the people and things you love.

The rest is cosmic dandruff. Brush it off. Or ask the Inner Brat to do it for you.


The author of four non-fiction books, gerontologist Mel Walsh has a new book of advice for the 50+ woman: “Hot Granny,” published by Chronicle Books. Write More info at

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