Midlife Crisis: This Life is Not One I Could Have Imagined

Almost twenty-five years ago, I graduated from law school and became an attorney. I was young and newly married without kids. As a little girl, I had always dreamed of growing up and becoming a professional woman in the working world—after all, my mother was a successful physician and I felt like I had to follow in her footsteps by building a meaningful career.

I had the best laid plans, and they definitely included achieving significant things in my chosen profession. But they also included being a mom.

I was determined to have both career and family. (Photo credit: Holli Clayton)

I was determined to make motherhood and my career work

Just two years after I began my career as a lawyer, I had my first daughter. I continued to work, but I’m not going to lie, it was tough. I remember being in the middle of meeting with a client when I received a call to pick up my daughter from day care because she had fever. After leaving work abruptly to take my daughter the doctor, I stood in line at Walgreens to pick up a prescription with a screaming infant in my arms—while at the same time holding a cell phone to my ear, trying to participate in the closing of a million-dollar business deal. Nevertheless, I was determined to make motherhood and my career work, so I soldiered on.

Twenty-one months after my oldest daughter was born, I had my son. Once again, I attempted to continue working. What ensued was a grueling struggle to balance my job as a lawyer and my job as a mom. I really wanted to give 100% to both, but felt like I was only giving half of myself to each.

I decided to give up my job and stay at home with my children

I felt like I was failing both my clients and my kids. So ultimately, I made the very personal decision to be a stay-at-home mom.

Fast forward to 2021. After many years of being at home with my kids, my oldest daughter graduated from high school and headed to college, and my son was set to do the same thing the very next year. I also had a younger daughter at home (she was turning 11), but it felt like time was flying and that she would soon be grown and gone, too.

The pandemic had been very isolating, and I’d had a lot of time to really stop and think about my changing role as a mother. My identity as I had once known it—being a mom and taking care of kids full-time—was fading away and becoming replaced by something that felt very unnerving. 

I worried about what life would look like after my teens left home

That’s when the scary question popped into my head. What was my life going to look like when I had an empty nest?

I hadn’t worked in years, and I certainly wasn’t getting any younger. Mid-life had indeed presented a crisis. I had never planned to become a full-time stay-at-home mom, although I was very glad that I did. And at the same time, I also felt that I had missed out on something: using my skills in the working world. 

After all, I had studied hard. I went to law school and passed the bar and got a job as a municipal bond attorney. I once had meetings with clients and projects and duties that I actually received a paycheck for. There was an empty place in my heart that still longed to have a career and I needed to fill it.

So one day, I told my husband that I was going back to school to get my Master’s Degree in Social Work (my undergraduate degree was in psychology, so this made sense). At first, he looked at me like I was crazy but he was extremely supportive, and, long story short, I took the plunge. I applied to graduate school at the age of 45 and—drum roll—I got in! 

I graduated with my MSW and became a licensed master social worker

Fast forward to 2024. After three long years of going to class and studying and writing papers and taking exams once again, I officially graduated with my MSW and became a licensed master social worker. It was quite an interesting journey. I was one of very few students in their late 40s and beyond who were married with a family, trying to complete a program alongside more “traditional” students who were in their 20s, close to the age of my own grown children.

I learned a lot about myself through this. I sat at softball fields and in basketball bleachers and outside of my kids’ tutoring sessions and attended parents’ weekends at my kids’ colleges with my AirPods in, dutifully joining Zoom meetings for many of my graduate school courses. I holed up in my home office doing countless hours of research and writing for lengthy assignments.

I also did 900 hours of internship work—all while continuing to take care of my family and manage my changing role as a wife and mother to two young adults and a pre-teen. It certainly wasn’t easy, but I did it. 

Making a comeback in the working world has energized me

Today, I’m proud to say that I’m loving my “encore” career. Making a comeback to the working world has energized me. I’m working with individuals, families, and groups as a licensed therapist, and it has truly brought me back to life. I’m currently in the process of developing evidence-based curriculums that I hope can help women with different life transitions, like coping with the many changes that come about when your kids leave the nest. 

My kids are proud of me. My husband is proud of me. But, most of all, I am proud of me.

So here is my message: if you want to make a transition back into the working world when your kids begin to grow and go, know that you absolutely can do it.

More Great Reading:

Stay-At-Home Mom: This is the Reason I Have No Regrets

About Holli Fawcett Clayton

Holli Fawcett Clayton, is the creator of Courageous & Connected, a website about human connection and the ways we can find it. She once chased grades and degrees and job titles and new clients. Now, she chases two teenagers, a first-grader, a dog, dishes, laundry, and new things to write about. Originally from Arkansas (Go Hogs!), she’s lived overseas and traveled the world. She is now in Texas with a big, blended family for which she is grateful. You can find her work on her blog site, and also on HuffPost and Grown&Flown.

Read more posts by Holli

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