Muddling Through Midlife
Good health, enough wealth, long life, happy families—the stuff that dreams are made of. But most Americans' lives fall short in one or more of these areas, and often it's the midlife years (40s to 50s) where things start to go haywire. If you're one of the many, many people who feel that just when they got the hang of the game, the rules completely changed, read on.
What's different about money management at midlife?
Hopefully, you have some. When you were just starting out, unless you were very, very lucky, your assets were extremely limited. Out of the gate, it was a scramble to find the job that would give you the experience to get to the next job with better pay, benefits, and opportunity. By now, you may have the job you were aiming at all along. Time to ask yourself a couple of important questions:
Do I still like this job—well enough to keep at it until retirement? If I hate the job or the company, how can I switch employment without impoverishing myself and my family?
Assuming I have amassed some assets, how do I make the most of them for next few decades until retirement?
Do I anticipate major expenses in the next few years—college educations, voyages abroad, or better housing?
There are many people who would love to have the opportunity to manage your money for you. Some of them look for low risk ventures, and others take wild chances-with your money. And all of them will want a cut. Before you get involved with any financial management system, you need to understand the basics for yourself
As far as wanting something more from your life and job than a paycheck, the fancy word for those feelings is generativity-a desire to create and do work that is more fulfilling. The term comes from Erik Erikson's theory of adolescent development. As adolescents move from busy young adulthood to middle age, this generativity comes to the fore.
Money is all very well and good, but without a beloved companion, most people find having plenty of the green is not enough to make a good life. But it's harder to find love as the decades pass—or is it?
Perhaps you already have a wonderful, long-term relationship. Yet the most loving of overscheduled, overachieving couples can miss out on sharing the best parts of their lives with each other. The problem with the long-term aspect is that the glow of new love and the excitement of discovering each other may have long since faded, and some people crave that elusive sensation like their morning lattes.
In some cases, couples can act like a well-oiled machine during the daily grind. Yet because people do continue to change throughout their lives, it happens all too frequently that when the pace slows down, these great working partners realize that they have become strangers to each other.
When long-term relationships break irrevocably at midlife, the feelings of betrayal and desperation can be overwhelming. Once the shock wears off, the answers to the questions of when and how to begin again could fill volumes. And they do. The public library has many books about longtime love gone wrong and how to try again.
Perhaps that magic day hasn't happened for you, but if it's in the cards, feelings of relief for a job well done might well be coupled with sorrow to see the little darlings go.
Librarian and mom Nancy Buck shares her thoughts on the subject and recommended titles in the webliography, "Don't Forget to Write, Honey!"
If your kids leave high school or college with no job lined up, odds are they won't be leaving home any time soon. How can you best help them move from the extended childhood that is the teen and college years into the adult world without losing your mind?
What old house rules still hold firm—what adjustments will be made for the new young adults—how much labor or funds will they be expected to contribute to maintenance of the family homestead? And, who will pay the cell phone bills and car insurance?
These are tricky questions that need to be addressed before the child settles in—the better to take care of it up front so that resentment and misunderstandings don't get a chance to build.
Magazine after magazine and book after book are devoted to the joys of nurturing sweet, helpless family members-young ones, that is. It seems that everyone adores a baby or a precocious child, but when it comes time to give that same love and care to elderly family members, society is often less than equally welcoming.
Yet all the hands-on care that is typically given to young children may need to be lavished on older family members as well. But in a time when family members are scattered not across town but across the country, looking after parents tends to fall on just one sibling. Others may contribute financially, which is of course a terrific help, but the daily physical and emotional strain is often borne by one person.
Our Caring for the Caregiver list has reading recommendations for those who find themselves in that most delicate of positions-caregiver to loved ones who have traditionally cared for them.
As people age, it is very important that they look after their health. Simple changes in diet and exercise can contribute to overall wellness. But there is no magic spell for extreme longevity. Even people with a terrific diet and a good exercise plan can suffer heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
Part of the health equation is what we do, but another part is how our bodies are made. If a serious condition such as cancer or heart disease runs in your family, that's a red flag to stay on top of those changes that might indicate a problem. Preventive care such as full body scans and mammograms can often catch problems before they prove fatal.
An important aspect of any wellness program is exercise, and it's never too late to start. No matter how heavy or creaky your body is, there are exercises that will benefit you. You can learn more by checking our webliography, Exercise for a Lifetime.
If life has given you an abundance of good things, including wisdom, perhaps you would like to share your experience with a child or a teenager. Mentoring provides a formal way to do just that. You can find mentoring programs locally through such organizations as Mentor.org or faith-based MentorYouth.com. Or, you can lead the way and start a new mentoring program with these guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education.
Want to read more on any of these topics? Consult Kara Rockwell's bibliography, Books for the Midlife Journey.
For a lighter take on these issues and a little bibliotherapy, try Meg Raymond's fiction list, Mid-Life Madness: Stories for People of a Certain Age.