The real midlife crisis confronting many Americans

Family Vacation, Outer Banks, North Carolina, Beach
Mehta-Williams-Patel Family Holiday in Salvo, Outerbanks, North Carolina. It’s a long trek to the beach from the house. The dry and soft powdery sand makes walking challenging. It can easily take up to 15 minutes to traverse the path from the house and over the dunes to the beach. I wish I had bought a lighter tripod, but my budget limited my choices. Carrying the tripod is a chore, so for this trip I brought nothing but my iPhone. In panorama mode and decent light, it does adequately.
Read The real midlife crisis confronting many Americans by Frank J. InfurnaFrank J. Infurna

“This is not how I imagined my life at midlife,” my mom, who is 61, tells me.

She isn’t alone.

In a study my colleagues and I conducted on middle-aged adults, we followed 360 people on a monthly basis for two years, tracking their life events, health, well-being and character.

We found that midlife, generally considered to encompass the ages of 40 to 65, has become a time of crisis. But it’s not the kind of crisis that exists in popular imagination – when parents, with their kids out of the house, feel compelled to make up for lost time and relive their glory days.

There’s little money for a red sports car. No time for jetting around the world. And a trophy wife? Forget that.

Instead, the midlife crisis experienced by most people is subtler, more nuanced and rarely discussed among family and friends. It can be best described as the “big squeeze” – a period during which middle-aged adults are increasingly confronted with the impossible choice of deciding how to split their time and money between themselves, their parents and their kids.

One of my kids is showing signs of “failure to launch”.

Between our families, Bhavna and I have assumed some financial responsibility for two sets of parents.

We haven’t been on holiday since 2015.

We will soon be paying for college-related expenses for two adult children.

The last time I bought a car was in 2006.

I’m 52 years old.

By Khürt Williams

human being | casual photographer | nemophilist | philomath | human being khakis | t-shirt | flip-flops


  1. Taking care of our children and our parents is why we are here; it’s our mission.

    Er. No. That’s not my mission. That may be your mission — not mine. What you write, isn’t even psychologically healthy.

    You see, my mother doesn’t want to live in a condo/apartment. She wants to live in a house which she can’t afford to keep up. My wife and mother do not get along, so moving in with us would likely trigger my wife’s depression.

    We have two kids in college, one of which refuses to get a summer job to help pay for his incidental expenses. He also keeps dropping classes, which means he may take longer to graduate so he can start repaying his loans. I co-signed those loans. If he defaults, that’s on me.

    My wife’s parents refused to move in with her brother, who has a house with enough space for them. We pay for their apartment and their groceries and incidental medical expenses.

    My wife and I have chronic progressive illnesses which will require significant care when we can no longer work. I have type 1 diabetes and thyroid eye disease. My wife has fibromyalgia.

    So that statement feels too much like, “Your personal needs and wants are irrelevant. Only the needs and wants of others are important”.

      1. My wife is Indian. She was brought to the USA from India at a very young age. She has been told directly by her parents that the purpose of her life goal is to take care of them. They were not involved in helping her with college. My wife worked after school so she could save to buy a car. In college, she worked two summer jobs so she could afford books for the coming semester. She wanted to be a lawyer, but soon after qualifying to do paralegal work, her father lost his job. So she took a less demanding role in customer service so she should assume his mortgage and his debts and help her younger siblings with college expense. I think she’s done enough “living for others”.

        Growing up in the USA, her parents provided the basics of life (food and shelter). My wife and her older sister were left to take care of (parent) the younger siblings, while her parents watched TV. So for my wife, she has been taking care of and focusing on the needs of others since she was about 13. She’s 50 now.

        Read up on the toll on caregivers:

        My wife has been in therapy for several years dealing with this.

  2. Another way of looking at these “distractions” from the red sports car, etc. is that they are the point.

    Taking care of our children and our parents is why we are here; it’s our mission. That an alternative version was held out to us by The Love Boat and Fantasy Island was an aberation.

    We are here to support the next generations and honour the past ones; everything else is beside the point.

    Which is not to say that life must suck. But for it not to suck, we need to change some definitions of what’s primary and what’s secondary.

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