I am a 35-year-old male who is sole supporter for a household of 7 and I feel like I am at or near a mid-life crisis. I admit this probably isn’t the middle of my life, but from what I read and others tell me all indications suggest this is what I am experiencing.
Are ‘mid-life’ crises normal and if so what are some strategies for managing through them? Or are they a sign that I am not living right?
We, too, hope that thirty-five isn’t the middle of your life, but your question stands, and we would like to approach this from four different angles.
Labels are both potentially useful and potentially harmful. We knew someone who used to go through a full-fledged “mid-life-crisis” every two or three years of his life. Recognizing that two-year-olds have abilities and desires that babies did not, allows parents to change the way they speak to and act towards newly independent toddlers. However, if parents chalk up every problem to “terrible twos” or, even worse, dread that period, the label will make those years less fun and more difficult. (We, personally, loved that age and if we generalized at all it was by calling it the “terrific twos.”)
Similarly, there are constantly things to be aware of as we move year-by-year through life. Many of us ignore yearly check-ups when we are young and feel invulnerable, but it is always a good idea to discover if there might be a physical cause behind emotional difficulties. Barring any physical reason, being able to label feelings as a mid-life crisis can lead to finding resources and ideas that help, but it is far more likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people today have little patience for going through a plateau or even a darkish period. Experiencing a down few days or even weeks is perfectly natural and perfectly normal. It really doesn’t need a label; just know that, “This too shall pass.”
Secondly, while what we wrote to you above is true, that is not to suggest that you ignore the real obligation to probe into yourself for some explanations for how you feel. You termed yourself as the sole supporter of your family. Unless you are a single father or your wife is completely incapacitated, your perception is false. Even if you are the sole “bringing in income from an outside source” partner, you are not the sole financial support, let alone the sole physical and emotional support. You and your wife are one team and should be seeing yourselves that way.
The team does many wonderful things; it brings in income, raises a family, nurtures a marriage and runs a home. If you and your wife see yourselves more as independent contractors in a joint venture, then both of you will get less fulfillment from what you are doing. For instance, you need to internalize the reality that the income you earn is actually as much your wife’s achievement as yours. Getting nutritious and appealing meals on the table is your accomplishment as well, even if your wife does the shopping and cooking. If either of you fails to appreciate the contributions of the other, life is less rewarding. Your feelings could well be alerting you that your marriage needs more attention.
Likewise, if you view yourself as an outsider to the decidedly noisy and hectic activities of a house full of children, then you will not derive the pride, pleasure, and satisfaction you should from that family. If you only see your children as mouths to feed, then you certainly need to reassess your family goals, structure, practices and above all, values.
Thirdly, human beings who are not growing do not stay at the same level, they deteriorate and they stagnate. Sometimes, we grow at a tremendous rate in one area of our life, but stagnate in others. Medical and law students are notorious for sometimes being rather boring. They are so focused on the one area of their challenging studies that other areas stagnate. For this reason, we talk of regularly needing to assess the five Fs in your life: Faith, Family, Fitness, Fortune and Friendships. A “mid-life crisis” whether one is 25, 35 or 65 might alert you to an imbalance.
As our fourth suggestion, we strongly recommend that you try this experiment. Obtain for yourself a notebook (or use the journal we have prepared) and each evening before you retire for the night, seclude yourself for ten minutes and discipline yourself to write down at least 3 things for which you’re grateful. It might be something that happened at work, something you realized for the first time, the smile one of your children gave you, how well your car runs, or your wife’s calm demeanor at the children’s bedtime. Don’t do this on a computer or other digital device. The full benefit of this activity is derived best by doing this on paper because it stimulates different cognitive processes.
We feel confident that these four points and your reactions to them will help you and perhaps also give you other ideas to consider. Bouncing these ideas off a carefully gathered group of male friends and mentors can yield much support as well.
Wishing you many fulfilling years ahead,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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