The Mid-Life Surge -- Reality or Wishful Thinking?

I enjoyed reading David Brooks’ recent column in the New York Times about what happens to people when they reach mid-life. The cliché is that it’s a crisis, but there’s evidence to the contrary. Brooks is in his mid-50s, so he’s right smack there in that rare air, and I especially like to find a man writing about the opportunity to “achieve a kind of tranquility, not because they’ve decided to do nothing, but because they’ve achieved focus and purity of will.” Tranquility, focus, and purity of will -- great qualities in anyone! And given a choice, I'm going to go with a mid-life surge as "Reality!"

This confirms what people told me when I was researching Good to be Grand – my book about how an informed and inspired grandparent can be a positive force in a child’s life, while at the same time experience personal growth for themselves.

I talked to a semi-retired executive who admits he wasn’t around all that much when his own children were young, but now revolves his schedule around chances to be with his grandchildren. I interviewed a tough “man’s man” who has tears in his eyes whenever he talks about seeing his son with his little grandson and pink-tutu-donning granddaughter. It’s not just the grandmas who are “ga-ga” over their grandchildren.

The average age of grandparents in the U.S. is 47, so we are talking about people who still have energy, vitality, engagement in the world, opinions, ambition, and relevance. Grandparents even three or four decades older than that 47 average are still energetic and vibrant and are taking an active role in their grandchildren’s lives – and loving it!

The convergence of the types of changes Brooks points out that happen in mid-life and the happy circumstance of becoming a grandparent is certainly serendipitous.

I read an interesting study by the Foundation for Grandparenting that identified traits of effective grandparents. One of them was “readiness.” The most simpatico relationships between a grandparent and grandchild tend to occur when the grandparent is at the “right” stage of life for taking on that role. Real grandparents tell me this is true. They are more ready to appreciate the simplicity of times spent with an infant and very young child, the opportunity to take pleasure in small things and introduce their grandchild to the wonders of life – from birds chirping to big red fire engines zooming past. They value the innocence of those moments, as relief from all the agendas and daily obligations they’ve run into in their careers and their oh-so-important role in society.

Research from Buffalo University and Northwestern University found that people tend to experience a greater sense of well-being as they get older. Along with that, the research found "people are more trusting as they age, which in turn carries a number of benefits for their well being." And let's agree -- if you can't trust your grandchild, whom can you trust?

Not everyone can go out and get a grandchild to intensify all these positive effects of mid-life. In fact, it's probably easier to buy a mid-life Corvette than to manufacture or acquire a grandchild. But if we're lucky enough to have one, we ought to make the most of it, right?