The Impact of Mid Life Crisis on the Family By most definitions a “Midlife Crisis” is defined as an emotional state of doubt, self-reflection and anxiety that is normally associated with age and affects both men and women between the ages of 35 and 55. In his 1965 article “Death and the Midlife Crisis” for the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, psychologist Elliot Jaques coined the term “midlife crisis,” referring to a time when adults realize their own mortality and how much time they may have left in their lives.
Researchers such as Levinson, Erikson, and many others shortly followed suit finding that there were significant changes for people to go through in midlife. Some of these changes, in addition to time perspective, include reevaluating life values and goals, thinking about one’s own death, and planning the second half of life.
Not all researchers believe that people in midlife experience a crisis they believe that midlife is a normal period of transition in a person’s life cycle Mid life is considered to be a major life transition that provides individuals a time to reevaluate expectations and make age-appropriate adjustments to roles and resources. For many, this transition is very productive and leads to needed decisions and changes, and to a focus on the value of interpersonal and intimate relationships. It can also be an opportunity to move beyond previously accepted boundaries and societal constraints.
Middle age is also a time in which adults take on new job responsibilities and therefore often feel a need to reassess where they are and make changes while they feel they still have time. This period of life can have positive and negative effects both on the individual and the family unit. If a person understands the process of midlife and can accept the biological and emotional changes; most will be able to navigate successfully through the transition with added confidence and a feeling of comfort with their self concept and life choices.
Whether positive or negative, a life transition causes a person to leave behind the familiar and forces them to adjust to new ways of living, at least temporarily. They can leave people feeling completely unprepared and they may be thrown into a personal crisis, feeling shocked, angry, sad, and withdrawn. It is when events during mid life present a crisis state that the family unit may be adversely affected. Change is inevitable in life. Both positive life transitions and negative ones can create stress for an individual or family.
For many people change can feel overwhelming and can lead to symptoms or depression, anxiety, an identity crisis and heartache. Some of the negative feelings that may be felt involve dissatisfaction and may include searching for a new dream or goal, desiring new sexual relationships, needing to feel and stay young, feeling remorse for goals not achieved, placing special focus on physical appearance and resenting obligations to family or aging parents, and “empty nest syndrome. ” The term empty nest syndrome refers to a time of adjustment for parents when their children leave home, especially when the last child leaves home.
Understanding the emotional and intellectual stages that people pass through from childhood to retirement years as a member of a family is called the family life cycle. In each stage a person faces challenges in their family life that cause the development and gaining of new skills. The development of these skills helps an individual cope with the changes that every family goes through. The “launching stage” is the phase of the family life cycle that involves midlife. This is the newest and longest phase in the family life cycle, and for these reasons it is in many ways the most problematic of all phases.
In the past, most families were occupied with raising their children for most of their active adult lives. Now, because of the low birth rate and the long life expectancy of adults, most parents launch their children almost 20 years before retirement and must then find other life activities. The difficulties of this transition can lead families to hold onto their children or can lead to parental feelings of emptiness and depression, although, especially for women, this has become increasingly a transition they welcome for the opportunity to explore new pursuits (Walsh, 391).
It is also coincides, many times, with the adolescent phase adding extra stress not only on parents but teens as well. Parenting teenagers can be a rough time for the family and test relationship skills. It’s also a time for positive growth and creative exploration for the entire family. The launching phase is a particularly stressful time. It is marked by several aspects; the most significant is the entries and exits of family members. It is also a time when grandparents become ill and die and parents are left with the chore of finding meaningful, new activities.
It is also a time when parents see their role change from that of parent to grandparent and also caregiver to their own parents who may have become dependent. The rapid rate of growth of older people (65 years and older, and especially of the oldest old, 85 or older) has created many challenges for family members. Many adult children face the dilemma of providing care for their older relatives, while at the same time, caring for their children. Family members are affected socially, emotionally and financially as they struggle with difficult decisions.
While people generally think about changing relationships as losses, centered on separation, divorce or death, relationships can also be viewed as gains, such as new commitment and/or marriage, becoming a grandparent or even a great grandparent. Changing relationships can be high impact transitions, resulting in a change of routines, roles, responsibilities and assumptions Role change within the family can create new or increased interpersonal conflict.
When one family member changes roles, other people are forced to make shifts in their own role expectations or behaviors. On the positive side it may be a period of financial freedom giving individuals and couples the opportunity to explore new areas of interest. The launching phase when seen as a normative transition may seem to bring one stage of life to an end and welcome a new stage with new opportunities and roles. On the other hand it may lead to disruption, a sense of emptiness, loss, depression, and general disintegration.
Another reason why the launching phase of the family life cycle is especially stressful for parents may be that launching may be postponed for financial reasons or adult children may return home after a divorce. During this time the marital relationship may also need to be restructured when parenting responsibilities are no longer required (Walsh, 391). Men and women approach this time of life differently but the impact on the family is the same. Strains in midlife marriages are common as children become adolescents and struggle to assert their separate identities.
Concerns about offspring can easily crowd out time to attend to the needs of a spouse. Neglecting this relationship affects not only the parents, but children as well. Sometimes this neglect coupled with a divergence of interests and a shift in roles leads to divorce. Divorce breaks down the family structure, and has far reaching effects not only on the divorcing couple and their children but on the extended family, friends, and society as a whole. There is a grieving process that takes place when we are experiencing divorce. It is not unlike the grief we experience when someone dies.
The grief includes but is not limited to the loss of a set of expectations; the definition of family; the state of marriage; extended family ties; the ex-spouse; rituals and traditions; the status of being married; financial security; a two parent household; are among the many losses we might endure. There is the feeling of being uprooted and displaced during the divorce process. During this period many of us confront our legal system which can and often does become quite adversarial. The tension of bickering over money, property, kids, custody etc. can escalate and lead to anger, more instability, and a sense of not being understood.
Whether a midlife crisis or a midlife transition, men and women entering into this phase of the family life cycle face many obstacles and challenges that may be viewed positively or negatively and the impact on the family may be felt that way as well. If individual identities in earlier stages of life have been developed the more secure the individual will be about the changes that are not only going on with them but with other members of the family as well. Works Cited Walsh, Froma (2003). Normal Family Processes. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Bibliography
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