Middle age used to be the time of crisis. The midlife crisis used to be about realising around 40 that half of your life was over, that life had only so much to offer and that you had to grab it with both hands, squeeze as much out of it as possible and have something to show for your years of drudgery before settling into you dotage. It was a time to buy a sports car, date someone half your age, get plastic surgery and blonde streaks, or chuck in your well-paying but hated job and follow your dreams.
The new midlife crisis seems to be more about realising that the time with children is the time of the most responsibility you’ll ever have and at the same time, you can see people a generation ahead of you on the downhill slope of responsibility and those younger than you on the uphill, exciting part of the journey.
Becoming a parent is a time when you change your whole life view. You’ll never feel as different from your peers as you do in those years with children. Gone are the days when you and your partner lived lives concurrently. You walked beside each other, circling away to go to work, pursuing a career or education path that your other half was interested, but not necessarily invested, in then returning to the nexus of love, sex and a shared living space. And then, at some point, you became intertwined and co-dependent, living the one life in two parts (not necessarily equal halves). Add to that a little person or three and suddenly your life is diluted and defined by other people – you’re his wife, you’re their mother, you’re Mum.
At a time when your parents are probably gearing up to retire and live the footloose and fancy free lifestyle they’ve always wanted, they can say some really hurtful things about finally being free of responsibility. Suddenly you’ll hear them talking about renting out their house (perhaps your childhood family home), selling their car (that you perhaps learned to drive in) and travelling around Europe, or taking a job on a remote island and mastering French (your dream job). Just when you’re drowning in a sea of debt and responsibility for other people’s education and health, they’re lamenting having to choose between a tummy tuck or a face lift. The weight of your life smacks you in the face and you envy them for their freedom, even at the same time as you are wishing them all the best for reaping the rewards of their hard work.
And on the other hand you have friends that are in a variety of baskets – some are going to hell in the same hand-basket that you are, parenting multiple children while balancing a budget, following world politics and planning menus for the next month. But then there are the other people in your life – the young friends who suddenly have nothing in common with you as they’re on the threshold of marriage and mortgage and children and you feel like you’ve lived an extra lifetime since you were “their age”. Or those friends who are your age or older who aren’t going to marry or have children or buy a house, and you suddenly realise you’ve lived an extra but very different lifetime from them and you have very little in common.
Suddenly – a crisis hits. A midlife crisis is caused by lots of things but usually is based around aging in combination with regret, problems or changes in work/career, relationships, kids growing up and away or your parents ailing. You realise that you don’t know who you are. Who are you if you’re not mmmuuuuuummmmmm? Perhaps these feelings hit when you’re done adding to your family and you can see a future where the kids are grown up and living their own lives but you can’t see what your life is going to be when you’re done with the intense period of being a mother. What is the meaning of life if there is a future where you’re back to being just “you”? And why do you still feel like you don’t know who that is?
Be prepared to face transition to the rest of your life with a new list. With the end of one season of life, you will need to re-evaluate and reframe your life goals. It may have been that you wanted to have two children, a happy marriage and a house in the suburbs. Now that you’ve achieved that, do you want to be a good friend and mother to your adult children, an interesting partner to your chosen one or study for a new career?
Be prepared also to feel conflicted about what you’re doing, regret about things you have or haven’t done, and that you really have very little to show for half a lifetime. Be prepared to hear your friends fall apart and put themselves back together. Be prepared to drink good wine, talk late into the night and have a crisis of your own. Then, as the phoenix arises from the ashes, so too will your life regenerate and refocus.
Have you been through, or are you going through, your ‘middle age crises’?