The Challenge of Our 40s: Learning to “Be the Adult”

A sorority sister of mine came in town for a funeral.

A high school friend had lost her dad, and she told me this was her 9th funeral to attend in 6 months. All her friends were losing parents, and we talked about how this is, sadly, our current stage in life.

I have another friend whose mom has dementia. While she is thankful her mom is alive, she misses the strong Southern woman who raised her.

“I just wish she’d call me,” my friend says, “and tell me to get off the couch and quit being lazy. She was funny like that, and I miss it.”

When my husband and I got married in our 20s, we entered the wedding season of life. We had a party every weekend as our friends tied the knot.

In our 30s, those same friends got pregnant, and the celebrations continued as we entered the baby season of life.

Now, in our 40s, the overarching theme is funerals. Everyone our age is either losing parents or taking care of ailing parents. This isn’t a joyful, party-filled season. There is no playbook to go by as the roles reverse and the generation ahead of us starts to depend on us – and slowly slip away.

What nobody tells us when our kids are young is how there comes a day when we realize WE are the adults.

We are the grown-ups making hard calls.

We are the leaders called to be wise and strong.

We are the ones getting stretched too thin as multiple generations depend on us and the demands for our time and energy amplify and multiply.

It seems ironic that when we need our parents most – while raising teenagers and watching them leave the nest – they face challenges that take them away from us. They can’t support us like they did when our kids were babies because they’re dealing with health scares, memory loss, doctor appointments, chronic pain, and other issues.

To complicate matters, our 40s are when Big League Stress kicks in. Realities like death, divorce, cancer, health issues, financial strain, and tragedies emerge. Many families fall apart due to infidelity or addiction, and problems that seemed minor in our 20’s – a kink in a marriage, a small drinking problem that went ignored – have had time to escalate and implode. Even if you don’t face a crisis, you’ll walk through a crisis with someone you love.

Our 40s are also the time when our babies grow up. They become teenagers who pull away to create an identity and life of their own. I love teens, and I wrote a book about loving teen daughters, but parenting teens is STRESSFUL. There is constant mental juggling and unprecedented levels of fear, worry, and self-doubt.

My 40s have been good to me, and I wouldn’t trade the wisdom of age for anything, but this decade has required a whole new level of faith, resilience, and trust in God. Letting go is the theme, and while I’m thrilled for my high school senior soon headed college (thankfully, I loved college, which keeps me optimistic and excited for her) I’m also aware of the void her absence leave. Our home and family won’t be the same, and just the other day, as I sat at my computer and listened to one of her favorite songs, I cried as this truth sank in.

Last year my husband sent me a text about a study he saw on the news. Since we were both 47 at the time, we laughed over the relevation that most people reach their misery peak around age 47. According to research, the “happiness curve” follows a U-shaped trajectory. It hits a low at midlife – and goes uphill from there.

The study didn’t explain why people in 132 countries have greater experiences of happiness in youth and old age, but I have my theories. I believe it’s because our 40’s are rife with transitions, loss, and overwhelming responsibilities. We’re launching kids and burying parents. We’re working harder to pay for college or support our children’s dreams. We’re up against Big League Stress, yet strapped for time to take care of ourselves. We’re mourning what used to be – or what we hoped would be. We’re learning to fight for our joy.

The torch gets passed in our 40s from one generation to another. Here we are, called to Be The Adults, yet many of us don’t feel ready. For years I wrestled with all the life changes and higher expectations. I struggled to articulate what I felt God doing inside me and guiding me toward.

Then one day, in His mercy, God opened my eyes as I read The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. Feelings that eluded me suddenly made sense as Nouwen explained how the ultimate goal of the spiritual life is to become the compassionate Father.

As we mature and grow up, we move past being the prodigal son and the jealous brother to become the merciful Father who stretches out his hand in blessing and receives his children with compassion regardless of how they feel or think about him.

To me, this encapsulates the shift of our 40s. All the changes set in motion lead to a spiritual transition, one that makes us rise to the occassion and ultimately model God’s selfless, life-changing, transformative love.

I’ve grown a lot during my 40s, and I have a lot of growing left to do. I’m thankful for my friends who understand the peaks and valleys of this season. My friend Jennifer has lost both parents, and shortly after her second parent left this earth, she realized how her parents had spent their entire lives preparing her for this day: the day she’d have to stand on her own two feet. They taught her how to handle life without them, and now it’s her turn to do the same with her children.

Our parents can teach us everything except how to stop missing them. I don’t think we ever stop craving the love and strength of those who raised and shaped us. While our 40s are not an overwhelmingly joyful season as we keep our black dresses ready for funerals and let go of what used to be, this can also be a meaningful time of deep growth, renewed purpose, and intimacy with God. Even in death and sorrow, He is a God of life and new beginnings. He refreshes us and gives us hope, promising eternal life through Jesus and equipping us to meet new challenges as we rise to new positions – and new callings – within the circle of life.


Thanks for reading this message. Please share it on social media, or click over to the Girl Mom podcast to listen to it audibly.

My new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter is now available, and it’s getting a fantastic response as moms read it and share it with friends. You can find it everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for moms!   

My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on FacebookInstagram and the Girl Mom podcast.



Posted by Kari on April 19, 2021

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