When someone in the family unit is suffering a midlife crisis, his behavior may well be intolerable, embarrassing and painful to those who are closest to him. This takes its toll on everyone in the family. Everything that held true before may fly out the window as drastic lifestyle changes occur--someone may move out of the house or simply be emotionally unavailable to his spouse and children, even if he is physically present in the home. The family finances may take a hit, and the members must deal with a money crunch.
If one spouse is acting out and cheating on his mate or engaging in any number of risky behaviors (like gambling, drinking and drugs), trust issues will obviously surface. How can you trust someone, even if you've been married to him for 30 years, if he is capable of acting the way he is? Family members are encountering behaviors and outcomes they aren't equipped to deal with; as a result, they become angry. The person who is in crisis already resents his family and his circumstances, or at least thinks he does; otherwise, he wouldn't be going off the deep end. The family members who are observing and trying to cope with his behavior and may come to resent what he is doing do the family. Tensions flare. Arguments happen, and sometimes escalate into physical confrontations.
No matter how patient family members try to be, at some point, they are going to become fed up, and may grow to hate the person who is selfishly acting out--not only at his own expense, but at the expense of his entire family.
It is particularly hard for children to observe a heretofore "together" parent fall apart at the seams. When the head of the helm goes haywire, any sense of stability or safety that the child had prior to the midlife crisis slips away. Children expect their parents to have good sense; when they don't, it is a bitter and very unexpected pill to swallow.
The ongoing stress that manifests itself when a family is in turmoil due to someone's midlife crisis can result in physical illness. Stress takes its toll not only on our psyches but on our bodies. Family members may find that they can't eat or sleep. Stress can cause a person's blood pressure to go through the roof, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. Family members may find themselves becoming depressed and withdrawn, and may start self-medicating---drinking, smoking pot or popping pills.
Some people are "stress eaters," and may find that their eating is out of control and they are packing on the pounds.
A midlife crisis, unfortunately, is a family affair, and everyone involved is going to be affected in some way.
If Mom or Sad is acting out, what are the chances that the children in the family are going to do the same? If the crux of the midlife crisis is an affair, and the child is aware of it, this may cause her to become distrustful and leery of the opposite sex. Furthermore, it is difficult for children to process the fact that their mother or father is a sexual being, and is actually having sex with someone who is not their spouse, which can further muddy the waters in a child's mind. A child may out act and become sexually active because she wants attention or wants to exact revenge on the parent who is doing the same thing. The child may even harbor animosity toward the parent who is not straying, and may blame that parent for causing the other parent to seek love and affection elsewhere.
When parents are painfully absorbed in their own issues, they are not spending quality time with their children or giving their kids enough attention. The children will resent this, and may purposely act out to get a rise out of their parents. The parents may, in their grief and fury, drag the children into the mix, exposing the child to far more than she should be made aware of. Some adult stuff is just that: Adult stuff. Kids shouldn't have to deal with it.
Parents may use their children as pawns and put the children in an untenable situation.
Some children may act out by becoming sullen, withdrawn and uncommunicative. Their grades may drop, and their physical appearance and personal hygiene may go into decline.
Some children will opt to self-medicate (as by drinking or smoking pot) because they can't deal with the pain and turmoil, and there is no one to help them because their parents can't even deal with their own demons, let alone help the child navigate this slippery slope.
Even if the person who is suffering from the midlife crisis eventually comes to her senses and the family remains intact, the damage has been done to the children, and may be far-reaching. If the midlife crisis results in a divorce, this too will have a major impact on the children. Trust has been broken. The children may develop a skewed sense of male-female relationships and make risky decisions when it comes to their own relationships. The children may harbor anger toward their parents and continue to act out, perhaps even becoming violent.
What to Do?
Seek help. Get yourself, your spouse and your children to a qualified therapist and work your way through this morass. Perhaps your minister can help. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. It takes time to heal open wounds, and it may take an experienced and qualified professional to guide you in this undertaking. Don't assume that everyone and everything is OK, just because, superficially, it may appear that way.
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Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.
The Breakdown of a Family, Familylawwebguide.com