Friday, 28 May 2021

The Expansion of the Mid-Life Crisis

There was a time when a mid-life crisis was associated with someone giving up their old family life in exchange for a new and potentially more exciting one with a new partner.  For some people, there’s the temptation to start again and to put right the wrongs that we may have done to ourselves when young. The benefit of hindsight is all. 

For the past 15 months, of course, survival has been uppermost in our minds and the idea of uprooting ourselves from that which is familiar and dear has taken a back seat. It may be that, as we finally come out of lockdown, all the old grievances will return and people will make changes but presently we’re still taking stock.

Strangely enough, I’ve found myself acting a bit more as a life coach than a counsellor over the past few weeks. I particularly recall "meeting" two people away from the therapy room, two people who will remain memorable because of the brave decisions they have taken as a result of lockdown.

The first person’s work was not affected by the pandemic, in fact there was probably more work available than before and they could work successfully from home. The person - who I know professionally but have never met - shocked me by saying they had decided to leave their safe steady employment and go it alone. 

They told me it was a decision that had surprised them too because they had expected to work hard, pay into their pension and retire earlier but with good financial backup. The only drawback was a young child who would see less of them now but would have better financial security later. Now, they were jumping into the complete unknown in order to spend more time with their child because who knew what the future would bring. They did know that the decision would mean having to work harder later in life and for longer. 

The decision was taken in part by seeing the completely unpredictable and previously unimaginable effect of Covid on the lives of work colleagues as well as their own family members. It was, they decided, a price well worth paying.

The other person I met - in real life, for an exciting change - had seen their business collapse as a result of lockdown. That had led to them experienced a worsening of a mental health problem they already had and caused them to reconsider their direction of life travel. This person was still in the process of working out how best to manage the new life but was convinced it was the right decision and there would be no going back.  

I felt privileged to be taken into someone else's confidence and pleased to discover that other's were already making their own plans for what happens after lockdown eases. I've been reading so much about what businesses are expecting that I'd lost sight of the other side of the coin and it was good to reflect it is not just about businesses making choices, we can too.  

We are told some businesses who are keen to save costs will be encouraging people to work from home. 

Some workers will like that. They have become used to working from home and want to stay with that scenario. Others, who have been confined to one-bedroom living and deprived of social interaction for a long time, are keen to get back to the world of work and the water-cooler moments at the very least. For them, these past 15 months have been particularly hard. 


Other professionals - legal and accountancy firms for example - say trainees or newly qualified staff learn by seeing how the more experienced staff members operate, a type of learning by osmosis that cannot be picked up by Zoom or Teams meetings. They will be required to return to the office.

However it works, it seems like we’ll all need to learn to adapt to some degree. Hugs in or out? Handshakes? Palms together with a polite head bow and a quiet Namaste greeting? Or that elbow touching that seems so last year now?

And what about our physical appearance? The dress code from top to bottom, that is, rather than the smart head-to-waist ensemble that Zoom users favour. Will we be expected to dress up again in office outfits or will the strict delineation of the recent past be one of the first things to go in our new old world?  That might be hard if you’re someone whose boundaries are a bit more elastic than you would like. 

Decisions, decisions. We’ll all have to face them sooner or later, even our politicians. 

But what leaves me with a lasting feeling of good cheer is how some individuals are not waiting to be told how it’s going to work and are making their own decisions. They have used both emotion and reason to mull over the options, consider the consequences and decide what they believe will work best for them. 

I am very hopeful and wish my two mid-life crisis changelings all the very best. 

By Lulu Sinclair

Photo 1: Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash

Photo 2: on Unsplash

Friday, 7 May 2021

Love The One You're With

The pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the communication skills of very small children, according to a recent study of some 50,000 children between the ages of four and five.

The survey was conducted for the Education Endowment Foundation, an independent charity, and the findings indicate up to 25% of children in this age category have fallen behind over this past year. 

These figures may come as a surprise to those people who have not had much contact with small children but, to those of us who have, we have been expecting it. 

And while it’s bad for those children at the start of their school lives, I would argue it's as bad for children who are still at the nursery stage of schooling.

My own experience children of pre-school children (and I've observed and spent a fair bit of time with several of them over the past year) is that they, too, have at the very least stood still, if not actually taken a metaphorical step backwards. Those little people who were toddling towards life outside their immediate family have had their learning curves severely curtained. 

The children who were smiling and laughing and beginning to form words and make connections outside their family nucleus up to the middle of March last year have been abruptly pulled back to return to an isolated existence that we who can communicate easily have found very disheartening. If we can talk about and still feel bad, what must it mean for those small humans who are not yet able to get any words out, let alone the right ones.

We know that new-born babies are instinctive and animal-like, sensing what hurts, frightens and angers them and letting parents and carers know what’s going on inside through their cries. They need love, nurturing, attention and comfort and, with luck, they will grow and thrive. We also know, through recent studies, that unborn babies recognise their mother’s voice inside the womb, and they are attuned to it. They are programmed from even before their birth to be ready to respond to the first person they meet. 

For the non-specialist observer, we see that it’s as babies grow into toddlers and small children that they develop and learn from those who are ahead of the game the skills to move them from their own inner world into our infinitely more complicated but potentially even more fascinating world. 

So, what happens if it all stops still as it has for this past year? Who on earth knows? This is the first experience any of us has had of an event like this and we have no idea about long-term effects. We can only hope they will be few for those of this age but, as Babette Rothschild, explains in The Body Remembers, we may well store memories of traumatic events somatically - within our bodies - and, even if we’re not consciously aware of it, they may leave some of us with some scars.

Returning to my own experience, I’ve watched children who, a year ago, ran into nursery without a backward glance become hesitant to move away from those they have been so deeply connected to, while others have very clearly refused to separate. It feels a bit like Groundhog Day and a repeat and relearning of a process we thought we had moved beyond. And add to that the complication of adults wearing masks and you have a real problem in the making.

There is a nursery near where I live and I’m fortunate enough to have been given a bird’s eye view of the what’s going on both past and present. There’s a complete mixture of children with some parents dropping off their children from top-of-the-range cars while others drop off from around the corner, pushing the little ones in their buggies or giving them a helping hand via a scooter.

There’s a delay in the time the children arrive and the time the nursery opens. I see some parents chatting, laughing and chasing their child and/or children’s friends and really engaging in the moment. That’s a privilege and gives me a cheerful start to my day.

Others - I’m afraid I’ve particularly noticed mums doing it - are glued to their smart phones. A child may be walking near a tree or a bit of the garden and trying to point something out to said mother who continues, engrossed, with earpiece in ear, phone in hand and absolute disconnection with child. Gradually, the child gives up the attempt to engage with the adult and seems to begin a withdrawal process. I recognise what’s happening by the child’s body language as it closes in on itself. 

That’s what’s been happening to everyone this past year. Those of us with connections to little people need to keep this in mind. Put the phone to one side, concentrate on who you have in front of you and relearn the language. Make eye contact, use nursery rhymes to help the memory get going again and be there for them. Right now, small children need a very great deal of adult help to reconnect with the rest of us. 

By Lulu Sinclair

First photo: Colin Maynard on Unsplash

Second photo: Atikah Akhtar on Unsplash