Behind the scenes of a mid-life crisis

March 12, 2013 | 66 comments

I think I had a mid-life crisis a few months ago.

It was a weird experience, because I didn’t see it coming. Ever since my conversion I’ve had this unshakable sense of peace at the foundation of my life, a sort of root-level happiness that I never knew was possible. Yeah, things are hard, sometimes really hard, and I whine now and then (okay, a lot), but all of that stuff has to do with day to day annoyances. When you look past all that, I’m actually deeply fulfilled with this crazy existence of mine — after all, life doesn’t have to be easy to be joyful.

So I was caught off guard when, one warm afternoon last fall, I found myself riddled with stress and panic at the thought of turning 36.

It was one of those moments when information that I already knew well suddenly struck me completely differently than it had the first thousand times I’d thought about it: a nurse at my obstetrician’s office asked how old I would be when the baby is born, and I answered casually, “Thirty-six.” She left the room while scribbling notes on my chart, and I was left stunned, sitting rigid in the chair as if I’d just received some grave diagnosis.

“Thirty-six? Thirty-SIX?!?! My thirties are mostly gone! Forty is just around the corner! I’M SO OLD!!!!”

Now, I realize the ridiculousness of a 36-year-old thinking that she is old, and I’m sure I will laugh heartily if I re-read this in 30 years. It’s not even that I think that 36 is old, objectively; I just didn’t realize that that’s my age. I guess I’ve been so busy for the past half decade that I never really noticed that I was out of my 20s.

But whatever. No big deal. I tried to brush it all off as soon as I left the doctor’s office, assuring myself that I must just be in one of those moods where everything seems overwhelming and horrible. (Just that morning I had called Joe to wonder loudly if life is even worth living anymore, which resulted in an awkward silence when it came out that the question arose because we ran out of butter.)

The hours turned into days, my mood improved, and yet I continued to be plagued by some unsettling feeling about my age. I’d be going through my routine, feeling fine, and then — boom — that I’M GETTING OLD! feeling would slam into me and leave me reeling.

I tried to get to the bottom of this weird new anxiety, but had little luck. I went through this mental process I often turn to in times of stress, where I think through possible explanations and try them out like trying keys in a lock. Yet this time, none of them fit: Anxious about mortality? Nah. We Catholics think about death all the time, and I’m fairly comfortable with the knowledge that my life on this earth won’t last forever. Worried about looking older? I’m not immune to bemoaning new gray hairs and wrinkles, but it doesn’t bother me that much. Missing the “freedom” of youth? Oh my gosh. I was never more of a slave than when I was supposedly living the high life in my 20s. Do not want to experience that again.

I walked around like this for days, maybe even weeks: stressed about my age, stressed about the fact that I was stressed, and stressed that I couldn’t analyze my way out of my stress about being stressed. (Yeah. It’s hard to be me.) Then, finally, it hit me, and I understood what was at the root of my anxiety.

The ah-hah moment came when I stumbled across an old DarwinCatholic post, in which Darwin makes a profound point about our little daily choices adding up to create a life — specifically, that if our choices are poorly thought out, it may not be a life we want to live. He analogized it to constructing a building:

The house or office you are sitting in was built according to a plan and a purpose, a purpose from which it is now only able to deviate to a limited extent. My house cannot suddenly become an office tower, though it has an office in it. My office building would make a very poor house. But they are built knowingly, according to a plan. And yet, our lives seem often constructed to a purpose without the architect knowing that he is in constructing something with walls and doors — an edifice which will suit some ends well, and other poorly. Individual choices pile up unto some particular type of life, and once that life is built people sometimes find it is not, in fact, the kind of structure they want to live in.

After reading that, I got it.

People probably experience mid-life crises for a variety of reasons, but, for me, what happened was that I looked up and realized that my building is well on its way to completion. Even though I am happy with the way it’s turning out, it was startling to realize how much of it is done. Last time I checked, it was still a bare foundation with endless possibilities; it now has a definite design, a clear trajectory. Many of the choices I have already made rule out other, future choices I might have once considered. As a 36-year-old mother expecting my sixth child, it’s extremely unlikely that I will ever be a top makeup artist or ascend the Seven Summits or become a professor of physics. It’s not that I care that much about doing any of those things, but when I was 20, they were all options.

Now, they are not.

It was when I internalized that fact that I realized that the pain of my mid-life crisis was, at its root, fueled by my attachment to options.

I’ve long given lip service to the idea that the secret to life is seeking God’s will on a day-by-day, even hour-by-hour basis. Ever since I read the (incredible and life-changing) book He Leadeth Me, I have been a big believer in this idea that the most important way to be fulfilled and have an impact on the world is simply to ask God what he wants you to do right here, right now; to rest in the knowledge that God always has something important that he needs you to do, no matter your age or your physical abilities or your circumstances, and that it’s probably more exciting than your own plans anyway.

But believing something and living it are always two different things, and it wasn’t until my little mid-life crisis that I realized just how much hope I placed in having options. Rather than resting in the life that God has given me, and trusting that he’ll give me whatever opportunities I require to do what I’m meant to do in this world, I still relied on having lots and lots of choices for the future in my back pocket (you know, as a backup, just in case God dropped the ball with his plan and I had to take over).

And when I realized that many of those choices were gone now, with more disappearing with each passing day, it was a startling moment of coming face to face with my own attachments.

As I would find out a few months later when my health took a dive, this happens in other areas of life as well: in addition to time, you often don’t realize just how much you rely on things like power, money, or (in my recent situation) health until you don’t have them anymore. I always thought that my hope for a truly fulfilled life rested in God alone. Now I see that the breakdown was more like: 30% hope in God, 30% hope in robust health that allows me to engage in activities of my choosing, 30% hope in having plenty of time to do all sorts of other stuff in the future, and 10% in having the resources to make it happen. As we age, those other commodities dwindle — a 110-year-old doesn’t have a whole lot of health or time or resources, for example — and only God is left.

At least for me, a mid-life crisis is nothing more or less than a realization that every day brings us a little closer to that point when all we have left is God, and that we may be closer to that point than we thought we were. It sounds kind of depressing, like something I’d shout into the phone at Joe at 3 PM when I’m exhausted and the baby won’t nap and someone just spilled yogurt on the wall (“ALL I HAVE LEFT IS GOD!!!”), but it’s really quite inspiring. To go through a mid-life crisis and to come out the other side is to go through a process of purification, in which you accept the things that are gone, and realize that they were were never the source of true happiness to begin with.


  1. Becky

    I think that the feeling that you still have the time, energy and material resources to have many different options, it’s like the sugar in your coffee which you said you gave up for Lent one year before you realized how hard it would be. It doesn’t seem like much (just a spoonful if sugar!) but it makes a world of difference when it isn’t there. (Guess what I am giving up this year, and so thinking about what a difference it makes)

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Wow, that’s a great analogy. It does feel very similar!

    • julie

      Awesome post Jen. My husband has been going through a mid life crisis and I really couldn’t get it, but after reading this I do get it! Thanks for the insight. I just can’t get enough of your writing..can’t wait until your book is out!!! Keep on keeping on Jen!

  2. Leila

    Something similar happened to me a year ago, when I was about to turn 45. I appreciate the insights here, dear friend! I’ll be re-reading this one.

  3. Barbara MacLellan

    You are so inspiring as usual-love your blogs–The only thing that really matters is trying to get ourselves and our families to Heaven and it’s hard.
    Still praying for you all!

  4. Abigail Benjamin

    Hey I like this! I think this is really healing. And praise God we’re both getting this “anti-option” thing at 36 and 38 (my age) instead of 56, and 76!

    One of the things I pray a lot about is this thing in the Psalms where God’s punishment to an evil people is to “lead them to follow the desires of their own heart.” It’s so crazy in our modern life that is all about “options” or “making the life you want.” For God, that is a punishment. He enjoys taking us out of our little random “wishes” for our life–and plunking us down in this far, far better situation. Often its things that are good for us that we’d never chose for ourselves like “suffering” and “loss” and “sickness.”

    But we’re Moms. If I let my son eat what he wanted for dinner, it would be all meat and cheese on his plate. Instead, I beg him to eat vegetables. I don’t let him “follow the desires of his heart” blindly because I love him and he’s 8. So he gets to eat some of the things he wants, but he doesn’t get a full blank slate of option.

    Same for us.

    There are things that are “better” for us to spend our time on during our lifetime on earth.So in our culture where’s its all “options” for careers, lets think about “options in marriage.” our culture is so “why settle down. Keep dating for decades!” But we know now that intimacy can only start once you’ve narrowed the field and focused on one love in marriage.

    I’m hoping the career dreams are like that too. Intimacy with writing, and speaking, living and family life can only start once most of the “options” are off the table.

    • Christine

      One great comment! Totally agree.

  5. Mark S.

    Well written and considered. I am convinced that the midlife crisis we each face is a needed gift to wake us up to the new realities of life and that those youthful attachments are not relevant. You appear to have weathered it well. Echoes may happen but you are pointed in the right direction.

  6. Jen G

    It came into focus for me several years ago that as time goes by, certain doors shut or begin to shut. It’s a bit startling to realize that choices that you’ve made necessarily preclude choices you could have made. However, I know that I’m where I am in my life now for a reason…God draws straight with crooked lines, after all 🙂

  7. Erica S.

    I understand your mid-life crisis. I am positive that I am having a bit of one right now. I will turn 37 next month, and I have been feeling uneasy about it. I have been unable to put into words my reasons for unrest, but I now think that an attachment to options is part of my problem. Reading this today is like an answer to prayer for me. Thank you.

  8. christine

    I also went through a similar realization. (You put it into words beautifully.) Doors have closed, and it scared me. Now that I’ve gotten through it a bit (and solidly into my 40s) I realize there are still so, so many doors opening. My kids are getting older, and while that makes me so sad, I’m a touch excited for the new things I’ll be able to do.
    “a little closer to the point when all we have left is God” I will be pondering that phrase for days.

  9. Deanna

    As someone older than Jennifer and each commenter that mentioned an age I will add this to the conversation: I had many of these thoughts in my mid-30’s but am having them again now as I GULP! leave my 40’s. I think it is our on-going conversion and journey towards becoming who God intends for us to become at different stages of our lives.
    And mid-life sure is relative!

  10. nancyo

    From my vantage point of 56 (gulp) I am familiar with the sound of shutting the doors of different options, or constructing the structure so they’re not included. Love your meditation on this. You’ve had quite a 37th year so far!

  11. Mary

    Why are you always in my head??? I went through this when turning 30 and still struggle with it often… Pray for me!

  12. Hannah

    I had this when I turned 35 last month. It’s weird and I did not expect it. I love my life, my three kids, my husband. I’ve had the chance to do many things I wanted to do. Still, it was hard to turn 35 and seeing some options fall away may have something to do with it. I’ll need to ponder this more.

  13. Erika Marie @ Simplemama

    Ok, so I’m ‘only’ 30 and am already going through this. Does this mean I’m going to die younger?
    Also, in reading this, I’m wondering if I’m getting “mid-life crisis” confused with post-partum identity crisis. It seems I go through this after each one (we just had our 4th). Anyone else?

  14. Erika Marie @ Simplemama

    p.s. Didn’t you have a post up the other day asking your readers to introduce themselves? Maybe I’m going crazy in this post-partum identity mid-life crisis. 😉
    Either way, my name is Erika, I blog at Simplemama. You can see I shared your story in my recent Round-up. Thank you for sharing your conversion story. I’ve been Catholic my whole life but I’m always amazed, inspired, and encouraged by others’ conversion stories.

  15. Erika Marie @ Simplemama

    I called to talk with my 92 yr-old grandmother yesterday and she finally admitted that she is getting old and that it was time to stop coloring her hair. When I told her I might start [coloring] she laughed and said I was SO young! It was a good perspective reminder.

  16. Mandi @ Messy Wife, Blessed Life

    I’m quite a bit younger than you (I’ll be turning 26 this weekend) but I could identify with much of what you say. I KNOW I’ll be 26, but in my mind, I’m still 18 and I have every option in life before me. I’m still fairly young, and still have many options open to me, but I have many that are closed as well (I’m married with one little one, so certain things are no longer possible, like picking up and moving to Europe, or backpacking South America, or being a nun). I’m happy with the life I live and, in fact, I believe this is exactly where God wants me to be and what He wants me to be doing (and it’s what I want to do to), but I still can’t help thinking about the paths not taken.

    Thanks for this post. I can’t wait to read you book because you are such a thoughtful write that always provokes deeper thinking in your readers (or a laugh or two!).

  17. Lucy

    I hear you on this one. I’ll be turning 39 this year. One thing that has been very sobering for me is that my oldest will be turning 12 in a few months. I had all these ideas of what my kids would know and be by the time they were 12 (I mean, Jesus taught in the the temple; the least my kid could learn to do was clean a bathroom!) and finally nearing that time has showed how far off my ideals were. I’m not really having a mid-life crisis, but I’m kind of having a “mid-mom” crisis! I’m really struggling with said oldest child and I’m tempted to feel like a failure and like I missed all my opportunities to teach him. And then I remember two things: 1) I had a heart attack when he was 5. I had two kids younger than him. The last 7 years have really been mostly about surviving for me and while it was hard, I know that God allowed it for our salvation. And 2) I don’t remember much of my childhood before I was about 10. So, I’m thinking I still have time with this kid.

    Yes, a lot of doors are closed for me. Going to hide among the books in the Library of Congress is probably not in the cards for me now. But, a lot of doors are opening, too. Because I had a heart attack, I view every birthday as a gift. The older I get, the less I care about what other people think of me. I’m so much more aware of who I am and what kind of life I do want. The list of people I want to impress shrinks every year. I may still get a tattoo or a nose ring, but it’s because I want one. And because I’m so much more aware of my weaknesses, I feel free to “self-improve” with abandon. I now read all those pop-psychology books I thought were so dumb when I was younger. Why? Because I want to be happy and I know now how hard that is, especially for us INFJs. I always thought that I was just supposed to be happy because I was a Christian and I was married and I had kids and a house and a minivan (so why was I so, so, so depressed?). Now I’m old enough to admit that being happy takes a lot of work and discipline and faith and sacrifice and I know that being good doesn’t always feel good (thank you, Gretchen Rubin!).

    So, cheers to you getting older. While there are things I would change if I could go back, I wouldn’t ever want to be the person I was when I was younger. It really is better on this side. *hugs* to you as struggle to be well and to take care of yourself and your hubby and your precious littles!

    • Gina

      Oh, a fellow INFJ! Cool! 🙂 I’ve found a few of those books helpful myself. Especially “Boundaries” and “Introverts in the Church.”

  18. TRS

    I remember going through this at so many ages. 35, 36 and especially 40 and every year following are absolutely harrowing.
    You talk about life choices placing us where we are… Imagine always believing you would get married and have a family, and all of a sudden you’re 42 and all your eggs are packing up shop, and as if that’s not enough, you look around and realize that the pool of eligible men is smaller than ever and incredibly unappealing. ( one simply can’t marry a man who has reached 40 without ever have been married. Have you met those guys?) so now the only option is divorced guys …. And if they don’t already have an annulment, you’re wasting even more time!!

    So you wake up and realize that all the decisions you’ve made so far have left you single and childless, and to someone like you Jennifer, that looks like you still have options, but you really don’t.
    You realize there were many things you put off doing because you’d get to do that when you get married… Go to Italy, buy a house ( a condo without a yard is just depressing) be able to travel home for visits more often because the ten hour drive is less awful with a companion…. But because I didn’t make the drive as often as I would have liked, I don’t have the relationship with my nieces and nephews that I’d like to have. How on earth do I fix that? I thought once they were out from my SIL’s thumb, we’d be closer… But it doesn’t work that way. You have to be there.

    So now I’m dating a divorced guy with three kids, and realizing that if I married him, I’d end up being closer to his kids than to my own nieces and nephews. Argh! That’s both great, AND sad.
    Oh crap. I’ve made all the wrong choices and there’s no way to fix it!

    What a mid life crisis!!!

    • Gina

      I’m a little younger than you, TRS, but I understand so well. I’ve always wanted marriage and children so badly — prayed for them, done everything I could to make them happen — and it just hasn’t happened. Combine a loudly ticking biological clock with those midlife crisis feelings, and it’s MAJOR panic time.

      Please, everyone here, pray for those of us who are in this situation. It’s really hard.

  19. Taylor

    “Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him.”–Walker Percy

    Such a freeing concept. I love your blog, Jennifer!

  20. Eva

    I don’t like my building.
    This is not good….

    • Sara

      Right there with you, Eva. Right. there. 🙁

  21. Patricia

    I found this post really interesting as it explained a lot about how I have been feeling. I often don’t like my building but it doesn’t have to stay that way, yes the options are not as many when you are just 69 like me but our society has a nasty way of saying that there are no options…and there are. One advantage of being older is having lived a bit. I am on the prayer ministry team of my church and someone came for prayer to me and the lady I was teamed with(younger than me at 50). But the person who came to us said thank you for your wisdom and being ok about me not being completely ok immediately. We came away blessed. Just keep your eyes open for what is out there for “without vision the people perish” Proverbs somewhere!!

  22. Amelia

    My experience in my short life (35 years) is that as certain doors close, God has a tendency to open up new doors that you never even thought about or knew existed. I’m living in a place and situation that I NEVER, EVER, EVER thought I would be in 10 years ago.

    Yes, certain choices do preclude certain options…which can be scary…but God has a way of giving us new choices and options and constantly opening up new doors..especially ones we never really considered before.

  23. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    I think a big part of it is that the types of options change as we grow older, from “What I want to be” to “Who I want to be”.

    • Morag

      And the ‘who’ we are turns out to be WAY more important!

  24. Sarah

    I’m turning 36 this year too – and have felt the same. I read The Happiness Project a couple weeks ago (interesting book by the way) and in it the author talked about coming to terms with the fact that she would never like Jazz, would never go skydiving, etc. In her 20’s, even though she didn’t like these things, she figured she *might* do them at some point in her life, when she had time, inclination, etc. But she had to come to terms with the fact, in her 30’s, that those doors were closing, and that it was a GOOD thing.

    It’s exactly what you’re saying….as we age, we’re slowly closing all those ‘extraneous’ doors, perhaps first of the things we don’t even like, and then move on to things we do like, and then on to things we love, until we have nothing but God left. And it’s a bittersweet….thrilling…and scary as all heck prospect to be left only with the Lord.

  25. John Henry

    The living God is the great I AM, not the great I MIGHT BE. One reality is better than a million possibilities.

  26. TheresaEH

    As I get older, I have discovered I can “get away” with a lot more ;-). I like being 1/2 a century old. I embrace being the weird old broad that voluntarily goes to mass every day. I try to get their early enough to pray the rosary with some of my friends who are nearly twice my age.

  27. anne

    Love this post!!! You have, yet again, hit the nail directly on the head. I just turned 40 (well, 7 months ago…) and found it easier than turning 36! BTW, you’ve inspired me to get this postpartem body into better physical shape. Thanks!

  28. Adrienne

    Your remarks reminded me of the story of Lot’s wife who turned to salt for looking back… I am sure it is entirely unrelated so now I am going to feel compelled to read up on that story and it’s meaning. I am 49 this year. The “9” years are just awful for these kinds of feelings. My last “baby” will be 11 this year and seems so terribly grown up. You are right. Each day we make choices that over time close those doors. While it is easier said than done we should be looking forward and not back. It is good to know we are not alone in all these little pangs as we see youth slip away.

    I recently had someone describe ME to ME and barely recognized the person she saw. May I say I was pleased. What I see is someone trying to juggle work and kids and bills and obligations. What she saw was the results which were amazingly in line with what I am hoping to produce in the long run. It feels a little like a fraud cause she sees only that veneer on the outside and not my inner turmoil. But at least the veneer is holding up?

    It seems to me that you are doing a wonderful job building you and your family too.

    [ASIDE: I think I had the “crisis” year last year. I even needed to replace my vehicle and managed to do the “guy” thing and replace my kid-mobile with a reasonably kid friendly convertible. The kids are thrilled and frankly, I am enjoying that mid-life crisis moment still. Guilty pleasure.]

  29. Monica

    Hi, I’m Monica, a 30 year old and also a semi-recent convert trying to figure out how to be Catholic!

    I loved your post- what great insight. I had a bit of this when I turned 30, and occasionally I sort of “count” the doors that are closing to me, as I make decisions- to have kids, to homeschool them, etc.

  30. Kristen

    Don’t know if you saw that Erin Callan wrote in the NYT last weekend that her pursuit of success in her Wall Street career cost her everything that mattered to her…and she wishes she had had more work/life balance.

    I bring this up here because 1) I loved your post and I wish I was my younger self reading it and reflecting on it 15 years ago, and 2) it reminded me of a wonderful mentor I did benefit from knowing in my early days as a Catholic mom, who continually reminded me that God will use every ounce of every experience you have in ways that will likely surprise – and inspire you…in the long run…

    I notice now that I am pushing 50 that God truly has used my experiences in ways I could not imagine, and continues to do so. It is so exciting, in fact, to see the little connections He has made, with seemingly insignificant parts of my life that hurt the most at the time I experienced them, and now are bearing fruit in other ways that I could never have imagined.

    Is it a crisis to acknowledge the reality that the life choices we make will have consequences? I guess it feels that way – Erin Callan probably would agree it feels like a crisis to acknowledge the path not taken, the options you left on the table.

    But your ability to share it with so many in a way that inspires positive reflection is such a gift in itself. Sadly, it seems most of Ms. Callan’s readers looked at her piece as a pity party, rather than an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences. Conversely, I think your piece inspired many women of all ages to think more about choices as they relate to God’s plan, in a very positive way.

    I don’t wish you more “crises”….but I thank you for sharing your observations so eloquently…we all are learning alongside you…what a gift!

  31. Laura @ Mothering Spirit

    You nailed it here: “30% hope in God, 30% hope in robust health that allows me to engage in activities of my choosing, 30% hope in having plenty of time to do all sorts of other stuff in the future, and 10% in having the resources to make it happen.”
    I’m absolutely there, trusting 100% in God about 30% of the time, if I’m lucky. Eek.
    Last night my husband and I were witnessing about NFP to a class at our parish, and I suddenly heard myself praising the beauty of feeling like I was “in charge” of my fertility for the first time once we learned NFP and all these alarms in the back of my mind starting going off. I’m not “in charge” of anything, I remembered (and then had to backtrack a bit for these poor engaged couples!). If anything, NFP/Catholicism/Christ’s own Gospel remind me that the call to trust is precisely about not being in charge and being deeply grateful, with the core of my life, for the One Who Is. Thank you for spelling this out for me again this morning.

  32. Christine

    As I approach 45, I look at that number, I look at my wrinkles and wonder how did this come to be. It is all going so fast. I thought I was so old having a baby at 35! After having baby no. 5 at the age of 41…not so much.

    I really hope you get your health back. To have the energy to care for your family. Age is just a number. My grandma is 91 and is the happiest person I know. I love every wrinkle on her face.

  33. Elizabeth

    Wow. I am reeling from reading this. I needed to read this today. I’m not having a mid-life crisis (yet!) but we will soon be moving across the country with our preschooler, toddler and baby. I’ve been having a hard time articulating to my hubby why I’m freaking out and crying constantly over this. Neither of those is like me in general, but something about this has been incredibly difficult for me to process – something way beyond the normal quitting my job and leaving all my friends. I didn’t know what the problem was. And you’ve made me see it – it’s losing the other options. We always knew we were not going to live where we currently do in the long term. But it has always been very hazy as to where we would go. Somewhere else. Somewhere new and fun. Later. Always later. Except now it’s later and we made a decision. And that choice means all other choices are off the table.

    And now I’m off to make sure I build a house I’m happy with. Thank you so much!

  34. annie

    Never thought doors were shut or options were limited ( I am in my early 60’s)
    until my husband’s health took a nose dive. Suddenly I felt a very heavy door shut decisively..The only windows open now are those in my mind. I thank God I am content with the newly proscribed life..but initially I did realize that this could be frustrating if I let it be or if I dwelt on it. The prayer of Jabez comes to mind but with a twist. Lord expand my horizons.. in this case the prayer request means for me expand my ability to see You in every little
    event and moment.. in other words, please help me see the adventure in this
    much narrower world as I live it.. and frankly as You lived it in tiny
    Palestine so long ago.

  35. Dominic

    The more you lose your options… the more freedom you have. A paradox of our faith.

  36. Jessica

    Well said! It does have so much to do with options and the perception of finality in our building design and structure. As usual your thoughts come with such perfect timing. I’m “only” 29, but like many of the people commenting have also felt this feeling a few times before. I’m pregnant with my 4th baby in complicated pregnancy and on bed rest for the first time…. so I can relate when you also write about the struggles of “bed rest” and health issues with other young kids at home. So I think along with age number of young children is in a sense maybe a better marker of age or finality in our building than years on earth. With each baby I’ve felt like my options have progressively limited. 4 kids in 5 years means going back to school for another grad degree less and less likely in the near future. How would I possibly have time to use it even if I could manage school at this point in my life? Extra money that isn’t ear marked for the bright future of our own children to pay for it? Ha! Anyway. Suddenly talking to recent college grads about their plans for medical school can’t be met with “oh yeah, I was heading down that path too, and still think I might go back to it after this time off”… um, no… my time off took me in an entirely different direction and those doors are pretty tightly shut for the foreseeable future.

    BUT… here’s what I’ve realized. Yes, our options are limiting the older we get or the more babies we have. Yes, our building is closer to completion than foundation. However, we are in a season in our life. The season of motherhood and young families. Or the season of health problems or financial struggles or whatever it is. Won’t there be opportunities for remodeling and add-ons during phase II of our life when our babies are grown or our health is back? Our options again will be different. Perhaps laced with many we don’t even know to consider now! Chin up! I say to myself and to all of us who get stuck in this feeling. It’s a season and I love a good remodeling project 🙂

    • Eva

      I love this comment. It’s so important to think in terms of ‘seasons’ and I’m currently having a crisis due to my ‘season’ of babies being over. My own choice to stop having babies no longer seems like such a good idea…

  37. Amber

    I love your blog so much. As a fellow Catholic homeschooling 36 yr old mom of 7 from 14 to 5 months I can SO relate. I love reading your posts out loud to my husband and cackle at them saying that they sound just like me ( as he rolls his eyes). So I thank God for your wonderful gift of writing and humor and pray that you have many, many more posts. 🙂

  38. Amy

    Thanks for this post! I had the same realization lately, and I’m a homeschooling mom of 37. I recently lost baby #5, and it was the first time that had ever happened to me. It hit me, I’m older than when I had #4, my body is older. Life is passing me by! What am I doing here? Is THIS IT?!? And, of course, I was devastated that we lost a little one. But, the truth is, it’s like one day we had all of life ahead of you, you were still discovering yourself, and looking to God, wondering what His plan was. And suddenly, you’re IN His plan, and wondering if picking up the floor for the 15th time, or washing down the countertops is where it’s all led. I’m happy, God did lead me here… But still.. Thanks for something new to give up for Lent. Clinging to my choices and “options” instead of thanking God for the life I have!

  39. Amy

    Thanks for this post! I had the same realization lately, and I’m a homeschooling mom of 37. I recently lost baby #5, and it was the first time that had ever happened to me. It hit me, I’m older than when I had #4, my body is older. Life is passing me by! What am I doing here? Is THIS IT?!? And, of course, I was devastated that we lost a little one. But, the truth is, it’s like one day we had all of life ahead of you, you were still discovering yourself, and looking to God, wondering what His plan was. And suddenly, you’re IN His plan, and wondering if picking up the floor for the 15th time, or washing down the countertops is where it’s all led. I’m happy, God did lead me here… But still.. Thanks for something new to give up for Lent. Clinging to my choices and “options” instead of thanking God for the life I have!

  40. Connie Rossini

    I won’t laugh at your young age. I had my own mini-crisis when I turned 40. All at once, I had my first grey hairs, slight crows’ feet, and falling fertility which convinced me we were through having children. And I really wanted more. I told myself, “All the good things in life are past: falling in love, getting married, having babies…” It was really difficult for awhile. Five years later, it seems a little silly–especially since we had a surprise blessing in our 4th son 2 years ago. Still, death seems a lot more real than it used to. I am trying not to take anything for granted, saying “I love you” to all my loved ones every time I talk to them, or every day in the case of my husband and kids. Life is precious. Even the moment I am living now. Praised be Jesus Christ!

  41. Andrea

    Great post!

  42. Faustina

    This is another fine post you’ve gotten us into! As I read the first half I felt like setting you straight for daring to panic about turning 36 when at least you have your six children, while I have none, and no near prospect of any, or a man to have them with, and I will shortly turn 35, the age at which fertility begins plummeting in earnest. But then you started talking about how your mid-life crisis was about losing options and having only God left, and I realized that you were once again putting your finger on itl. That’s what’s hard about being single as my 30’s slip away– the option of children is fading. If my hope was entirely in God, that wouldn’t matter. But like you, I’ve had my hope in a lot of other things instead.

    Thanks for this– it helps!

  43. Ute

    Hi Jenn,

    At our Family Night program at church we are studying Fr. Barron’s series “7 deadly sins – 7 lively virtues”. This week it was about sloth, and to illustrate what sloth is/does, Fr. Barron used the image of a river (our zeal for our mission from God) that runs between dams. If – for the sake of freedom – one knocks down those dams, the water just spreads into a big lake and loses all momentum (sloth). When I heard this I thought about your post and how we all are – like you – sometimes sad about the loss of options/freedom. My thought is that (similar to the image of building a house) losing options builds up these dams that help you define your mission and increase your zeal. And that’s not a bad thing.
    Thank you for another great thought-provoking post!

  44. Bonnie

    I have always thought that I am happy at every age I am. I don’t know when I first thought this, maybe in my introspective teens, or maybe in my 20’s, but at some point I thought, “Hey, I loved being 5, but then again, I loved being 12 too, and I love being X.” I began to think that every age had adventures (read: missions) God has planned for me, each with its unique challenges, understandings, perceptions and insights. I thought of my life as traveling down a river, never knowing who I may meet along the way, who may become a companion and who would turn out to be just an acquaintance (or even a dangerous enemy), sometimes looking at the scenery, sometimes fighting rapids, sometimes deciding whether to take the branch to the left or to the right, but never knowing what actually lay ahead, or if I made a good choice and will have smooth sailing, or a bad one into rough waters. One thing though; I always wanted my compass to be pointing in the general direction of heaven, and realized I may have to portage to keep on course. And its true, once you pass a branch you often cannot backtrack without much difficulty, and after a while you’ve traveled so far past it, you will never know what lay down that other estuary. But all I know is, my goal is to hear when I die, “Well done good and faithful servant.” That is possible whether I’ve seen the seven wonders of the world or not.

  45. Bonnie

    Hey, Ute, I was composing my post about the river at about the same time you were composing yours about Fr. Barron’s series. Only after I hit the submit comment button did I see your post! Holy Spirit at work? God bless!

  46. TracyE

    Girrrrrrrrl……God has you right where He wants you, sense of humor and all! You are doing an amazing work, within your family and Evangelizing for the Lord….36, 46 86…it’s a number. Seize the day, mama! Now, it’s time to get my 42 year old booty up and waking the chirren for school! Blessings!

  47. Catholic woman identity reserved

    As a person who was caught in the fall-out of her spouses genuine life changing crisis, when you hear how bad it got, you might see that folks like me are not fond of the word “crisis” being used to describe brief situations where the experience is more “angst”.

    While angst is real and to be respected, crisis will rip a family into pieces. Its not a few days or weeks of existential reflection and anxiety, it is the sort of total decompensation that will lead a spouse who had been faithful for 20 years into a hotel room with a coworker. It will cause a person to stop parenting for months or years and literally not remember that their children need them.

    It will lead them to so desperately attempt to escape that the spouse is told they are not loved and never were and they are being left. It will cause a formerly truthful person to become a liar and a mean one at that.

    Crisis can cause a person to abandon their faith and convince themselves that their kids will be “fine” with whatever they choose (even if that means full abandonment) since they “deserve to be happy”. Crisis may cause them to quit their job, move away, abandon their family and all the while telling the abandoned spouse it is their fault. Crisis often causes misery so severe that the abandoned spouse cannot even eat normally and loses massive amounts of weight (need it or not – about 8 months in, I weighed 113 pounds, my hair was falling out and I was covered in hives).

    Crisis can cause a previously devout spouse to discern that the Church didnt really mean what she said about permanence in marriage and they may explain to their spouse that they intend to marry your coworker after the divorce and will just lie to the new parish (and you will find Bible passages from the old Testament to defend their position). It wont occur to them that it will bother you when they tell you that they are spending the kids college money on a $40,000 diamond ring for their coworker (and you know you soon may not be able to buy groceries- yes, people DO this stuff, its not hyperbole).

    Crisis can turn them into a monster who acts so out of character that people dont even recognize them. Crisis can cause you to destroy every meaningful component of your family that you previously treasured. It can lead you into Mortal sin so that evil is clearly present in you and how you treat people in your home (when you bother to be there at all). Once, my husband was visiting us and my son needed to be picked up from a party. I told son “One of us will come get you” and son said “Mom, this other person you are referring to, who are you talking about?” “Your dad, remember, he is in town”.

    In a single day, my then crisis-riddled husband (who had previously been a decent and faithful Catholic husband) told me that his goal in life was to be able to afford a “trophy wife”(not sure what that meant I was) that he missed the neighbor down the street because she was “so hot” and that he was angry at me that when I explained to the kids why he left, I would make it seem like it was his fault (uh, yea.).

    I entered a room once and he looked at me with steely dead-shark eyes and said “You need to know, when I make decisions for my life, you and the children will not be considered in any way whatsoever” (duly noted, dude).

    Crisis takes YEARS to recover from…ones that get this bad are often 7 years from beginning to end. From the time I realized he was distant and disconnecting to the time on the other side when he could genuinely be depended upon was about 7 years. He lived 3000 miles away for a year and a half.

    If they recover, the levels of stress hormones at the time of their most bizarre acting out often effects their thought processes so severely that they often have total amnesia of the worst things they did. I once sat in our car in total silence …he turned to me and said “I have been hoping for years that someone would just come and take you from me, someone who might have the capacity to love you since I don’t”.

    If what I describe above sounds bizarre and nothing like anything you have lived in your Catholic marriage, please tonight, get on your knees, thank God and then pray for the families who are going through it.

    • Becky

      I want to express my deepest sympathy for the misery you have experienced, and I will be praying for you and your family.

      Although Jen has not described anything nearly as terrible as what you describe I think it is not unreasonable for a person to say that they have experienced a crisis of temptation. If the person does not succumb to the temptation it is very easy for others to assume that the temptation must not be a strong one, and that anyone who has actually fallen must have suffered a worse temptation. But really just the contrary is true. Only those who have thoroughly resisted temptation can know how strong it can get. Perhaps Jen did not experience devastating temptation, perhaps she is exaggerating in calling it a crisis, I don’t know. But perhaps the severity of the temptation is beyond anything she has described, and she is softening it. Perhaps we only think it is not a crisis because by the grace of God she has prevailed. Just as you would not want others to think that your family has not suffered just because (if I understand you correctly) your husband finally returned to the family, don’t assume that anyone who remains faithful to their family during a time of temptation did not suffer from the temptations.

      People who have suffered often find some community with others who have suffered similarly (hence the popularity of support groups). Do not be so ready to dismiss the sympathy of suffering of one who does not appear to have suffered in exactly the same way, but could very well be exactly the source of saintly fellowship and help that you need.

      • Catholic woman identity reserved

        I went back and re-read it and I saw nowhere that she ever used the word temptation, what she described was anxiety at adapting to her evolving circumstances and as I said, angst should be respected, but a season of angst does not a crisis make.

        “At least for me, a mid-life crisis is nothing more or less than a realization that every day brings us a little closer to that point when all we have left is God, and that we may be closer to that point than we thought we were.”

        Honestly, I’m glad that Jennifer’s existential difficulty was able to be worked out without her destroying her family. You are right that everyone does have different challenges and Jennifer has had hers which I really respect.

        What Im asking you to see is that the full blown manifestation of Midlife Crisis is painfully real and its not temporary angst or red corvette stuff…it’s mortal-sin level danger and destruction and I think Satan gains a foothold on us when he tricks us into seeing it as any less. It is happening around you and no one is immune.

        Yes, my husband did recover. I went to daily Mass for him for 7 years. I had just realized that he had not changed in his late-crisis evolution for a few months and realized that he had become the person he would be after the experience. I rejoiced that our marriage had survived and I looked forward to our life together. That was on a Monday…that Saturday he died very suddenly. I think you can see why I have very strong opinions on this subject.

        • Bonnie

          Catholic woman identity reserved: I’m so sorry this happened to you and your family. Sounds like a spiritual hurricane that did not stop until almost everything was destroyed. I don’t know why this happens. I guess only your husband could have told you, over time, how it started and how it took him over. I guess the common thread with Jen’s post is when someone gets to thinking their options are closing off and some things they wanted are never going to come true, they can sometimes panic and take actions that are destructive. It also occurs to me it’s so much easier to destroy than to build; that tearing something down is much easier than building it in the first place. I’m glad you went to Mass for him. Where else could you have turned? And I am so glad eventually your marriage survived. Isn’t it Catholic teaching that the role of a spouse is to get their spouse to heaven? You may have accomplished that for him, and given the suffering you have lived, he for you. But it seems even “mid-life crises” is too trite a term for this sort of thing. It sounds to me like Satan did his level best to capture your spouse’s soul before he died. It sounds like you went through a war. I wonder, if we knew what might befall us at any point in our lives, whether we would have the courage to go forward? God bless you and your kids. I pray God consoles your heart.

          • Catholic woman identity reserved

            Thank you for taking the time to grasp it…it was a war and the spoils of that war was his soul and God (and thus I) won and I was a successful wife. The condition that killed him was one he acquired (and could have died from) 7 years earlier but God gave him the time to turn his life around. 7 is the number of completion. I prayed for his time in Purgatory too and on a particular day, I felt capable of forgiving him for the whole thing and I felt his soul leave Purgatory. I later realized that he lived for 50 years and on that day he had been gone for 50 days.

  48. Jenny


    I have felt the same way at times! I will turn 36 in June and my 6th child is 6 months old! I think it should be 100% reliance on God, not 30%. Without Him we can do nothing! God bless you and your’s!

  49. Sarah

    I had a midlife crisis at 22. It was pretty crazy. I realize now it was pretty ridiculous. But it was so crushing to me. I prayed a LOT that summer.

  50. Denise

    I really enjoyed this article that also covers the idea of options and freedom:
    “If the purpose of freedom is to choose that which is good, then freedom is never completely fulfilled until something good is chosen. To keep one’s options perpetually open is to miss the point entirely. The purpose of a menu is to choose a particular thing to eat. To simply behold the menu and never make a choice is the path to hunger, not nourishment.”
    Daunting to live out, but encouraging nonetheless!

  51. Adrian G

    I very much respect anyone who has much more significant sufferings than myself. I often wonder ‘how will I answer to God for so many good things?’ My task then, at that season, is in part to appreciate them. Maybe later there will be a significant cross. Maybe tomorrow.
    I think I experienced this mid-life crisis when about the same age (6 years ago) when I realised my body was now going to slow down. Footballers (soccer) retire about that age – I was now ‘on my way out’.
    But in fact I experienced far bigger crises later. My dad passed away 10 days before I was 40 and my mum 5 months later. How that hit me. I was ‘dazed and confused’ spiritually.
    But I think there is so much mileage in attention to little things. Not being overwhelmed by the big picture. St.Therese’s Little Way is such a wonderful reminder that it’s the Love that matters and not so much the choices (St.Josemaria Escriva has great ‘updates’ on this for the modern life). Reality of being is such a gratuitous gift to work with, and live in with the perspective of Eternity, even with crosses, that the Devil’s cunning is to make us dwell on speculation, the non-reality of our lives.
    Thanks for a great post.

  52. Erika Marie @ Simplemama

    Speaking of getting older, our new Pope Francis has some encouraging words about old age: “Courage, dear brothers! Probably half of us are in our old age. Old age, they say, is the seat of wisdom. The old ones have the wisdom that they have earned from walking through life. Like old Simeon and Anna at the temple whose wisdom allowed them to recognize Jesus. Let us give with wisdom to the youth: like good wine that improves with age, let us give the youth the wisdom of our lives.”

  53. Martina

    I’m weird. I’m ok with turning even numbers, except 35? and 33? maybe because 33 was the year of Jesus and 35 I dunno…I was just excited enough to shamelessly throw myself a party, lol. 37 on the other hand is going to DRIVE. ME. BONKERS. In my mind, it’s official. I AM OLD. But when I turn 38, I’ll be ok with that. 40 will require me to book a stay at a spa…ha!

  54. Lauren


    This is incredbibly insightful and brilliantly written. You articulated something that I have been trying to explain for a few years now (I am hurling toward 36 myself — just a month away now).

    I have been reading your blog on a near-daily basis for a while. I love it. Can’t wait for the book. I was raised nominally Christian, but converted to Catholicism in Spring 2011.

    You mention blog reading as a good way of passing time during bouts of bed rest. Check out my blog if you get a minute. I will for sure be linking to this post of yours, possibly tomorrow.

    Thanks, and God Bless.

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