Is Midlife Crisis an Accurate Label?
Look up midlife in any search engine and the top 10 or more results say Midlife Crisis. Why is that, when all the midlifers like myself are happy, secure and leading productive, full lives? Midlife is a time when we have passed the stage of striving for self improvement and career change, and are confident and happy with ourselves. We know ourselves well and have come to terms with our life choices. To me that’s not a crisis. Definitely not a crisis of identity. We’re not comparing ourselves to the younger generation enviously because we’ve been there, we’ve lived through it, and we don’t want to relive a time of developing our character and climbing the career ladder. We’re already established and are looking ahead to retirement, an empty nest and freedom from a lot of the responsibilities of our younger years.
The Labels we Grew Up With
I do not like the term midlife crisis. Come to think of it, I don’t like to label anyone at all. It stems from my youth, when I was labelled a geek, a nerd, a shy girl – all accurate but not fully describing me and pigeonholing me into this boring person. I brought my sons up with the message that they shouldn’t label themselves because it doesn’t allow them to fully express their identity. That didn’t stop them though, as I will explain later.
Hurtful nicknames hurled at me like gingernut (red hair) probably made me acutely aware of features that I was already insecure of. My self image plummeted in my younger years and I think there was too much emphasis placed on our appearance in our family. My dad was the worst – pointing out features like one crooked tooth or acne, and making us hate our bodies. He tried to lecture my sister about her outfit one day when she was over 40 and had her in tears with his cutting words. I jumped to her defense and told him he had no right to comment on our looks. No right to even comment on his wife’s looks either. I don’t think he realised how much his comments had affected my sister and I over the years.
I’ve never found a label to fully describe me – star signs are way off, I never fitted into the Catholic school girl mould even though we were brought up with those views. In my nursing training we had a seminar on Myers Briggs and that was the first time I ever came close to having a label that fitted me. My personality is rare – INFJ, and it describes me as introverted. Yep, that’s me. But I’m still much more than that. My new label is Previvor – because I have BRCA2, a genetic mutation that gives me an increased risk of cancer, I can now identify with that group of people who seem to wave the label around with pride.
Raising Children with a Strong Identity
Being aware of the damage it could cause their self esteem, I tried very hard to bring my sons up with a strong identity. It didn’t always work though as I’m not the only one to influence their self identity. Even though I’ve tried to bring my sons up without the limitations of a label, that approach hasn’t always had the positive outcome that I would have wished for. I found some old school photos not long ago and the change between one year to the next showed a marked difference in my son. He went from an innocent smiling boy to a sullen sneering pre-teen with black dyed hair and an ear-ring. I was brought to tears because I know that was brought about by my sudden separation from his father. He really struggled with it, and turned his angst into writing lyrics and starting a punk band. That was the start of his writing and his ability to turn his emotions and thoughts into the written word, which was eventually a good outcome but in it’s early days a reflection of the anger he was feeling.
He chose some pretty sketchy friends at that time and I could only sit back and hope he would eventually come to the realisation that these kids were no good. He has always been the type of kid you can’t push in one direction because he’s likely to go the other way. I was very relieved when he decided to go Straight Edge in his teens – they follow a death metal band called Parkway Drive and vow to abstain from drugs, alcohol and sex, so I thought “great, at least he’ll stay away from drugs!” That stage lasted a while, and his self image improved over the years. His first foray into university was a complete letdown. I was hoping that he would benefit from all that university life has to offer, including the social aspects, but he felt incredibly out of place. The Gold Coast is very “clicky” and it’s hard to fit in unless you have a buff, toned body, are into the beach, surfy lifestyle and the gym. My sons are definitely not that way inclined and they find it hard to fit in here so they both dropped out of uni in their first year. That was so disappointing for me, but I completely understand as it would be hard to enjoy it if they’re constantly alone.
Struggling with Identity as an Adult
They’ve found their own way much easier as they’ve aged, and both identify strongly with the group of friends they now find them selves part of. My urging them to not label themselves worked in some ways as they’ve been able to mould themselves into confident adults. My older son is very secure in his identity, and even though he is heavily involved in the music industry, he hasn’t gone down the path of drugs and alcohol and is very staunch on that fact. He’s had a lot of pressure to conform over the years but it hasn’t swayed him at all. His music has taken him all over the world on band tours and he’s very much a part of that community. I’m very proud of the fact that he has such strong self image that he sticks to his principles and doesn’t care what people think.
My younger son still struggles with self doubt at times. He likes to express himself by his clothes and his eclectic music taste but he struggles to pick one path in life for his career. My family growing up was extremely conservative and there was often damnation if you tried to break away from the Catholic nuclear traditional mould. God help us if we turn out gay, get divorced or believe in something other than the Catholic religion. My dad was praying for us till he died because he was genuinely worried about our chances of making it into heaven – me, because I’m a lapsed Catholic and divorced, and my son because he’s an atheist.
I don’t want to go too much into my views on that because I fully respect everyone’s right to their opinions, but I feel sad for my dad that he could not see any other view from his own. Watching my kids grow up into adults with their strongly held beliefs and ability to verbalise those beliefs and express themselves has been a wonderful gift to me. I wanted them to grow up into adults with their own beliefs – I didn’t feel it was my place to impose my beliefs on to them and condemn them if their beliefs were different to mine. Who am I to say my beliefs are right? I don’t want my sons to become mini-me’s!
I do think it’s a shame that my son felt he had to move out to be able to express his sexuality freely. I’ve been waiting for the big “coming out” talk to happen for years but it never has. I think he’s still trying to figure it all out but he couldn’t do that while living here. It’s not my opinion that made him feel like that. My husband did not vote “Yes” in the vote for gays’ rights to be married. Obviously for someone who may identify as gay or bi, that would upset them even if there’s no outward animosity towards them. Time will tell, as my son will declare himself soon enough. We’ve talked around the issue many times but I don’t think he really knows the answer and he’s still trying to work it all out himself. My extended family is not very open-minded on this issue and it would be hard to fit into unless you’re straight.
Midlife is a time when we are secure about our identity
We are all individuals but we like to identify with others as a way of finding community. Our sense of self is increased when we find like-minded members of our group. It strengthens our sense of self worth because we’re having reflected back at us the validity of our values and beliefs. It’s character building in one way, as long as we don’t lose part of ourselves in order to conform to other peoples expectations of us. Our self esteem should be strong enough that we don’t care what other people think.
A person’s midlife “crisis” is probably brought about by them finally getting to the stage in their life when they no longer care what other people think, and they’re sick of living a way that keeps other people happy. They finally want to be and do what they’ve known in their hearts is right for them. It happens in midlife because we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as our children are leaving home, we’re more financially secure and we’ve probably got as far as we can in our careers. I just think “crisis” is the wrong word to use. It’s too negative and doesn’t express the positives that can come out of finally expressing their true selves. I sincerely hope that the next generation can break out of the barriers that were built in front of our generation, and they won’t need a midlife crisis to be able to express their identity.
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