16 May 2023

Stuck in the Middle

Steve Halsall

Red Tiger Consulting


The first half of 2023 has not been great for me personally, and it got me thinking about where I am in my life and the challenges that present themselves. I don’t want this to be a woe-is-me story, I am more than aware of people in far worse situations than me, but I am sure I am not alone in having similar ‘mid-life’ challenges and a feeling of being ‘stuck in the middle’.

coaching metaphor stuck in the middle car in mud

I will be 50 in June, half a century on this planet and none the wiser! I would have thought by now that I have everything sussed but unfortunately the world sometimes seems to be conspiring against me. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger as they say!

A ‘Mini’ Epiphany

A ‘mini’ epiphany happened with my trusty dog at my side, alongside my usual walking buddy, Simon, on Southport Sands at 7am on a typical weekday. Walking is a great way to start the day, and I honestly think that some of my best thinking is done on those 2 hour walks in the morning. Simon is the same age as me, and we ‘coach’ each other on a variety of things which often fall into 4 main themes:

  • Worries about kids
  • Worries about parents
  • Challenges relating to ex partners
  • Business issues

For this blog post, I’m going to focus on the first two topics: kids and parents.

My mini epiphany was that at a certain age you do tend to be bombarded by both sides, and you feel ‘stuck in the middle’. The world isn’t against you, you are at that age ‘sweet spot’ where your kids are likely to be hitting adolescence and your parents are showing those signs of old age. If you have a middle-aged female partner they could also be dealing with the impact of the menopause. I personally feel that I have a significant support responsibility on my shoulders and a real pressure to be resilient and calm.

I have to say that I am fortunate to have some good friends and family around me. Simon and other friends will attest, I am not one to hold my thoughts or problems inside – I certainly don’t suffer in silence. You know what they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

The Kids

Don’t get me wrong, having kids is the most rewarding, fulfilling and challenging role I have ever had and I wouldn’t change it for the world. However, the mother of my kids and I were certainly not prepared for what we had to deal with in recent months.

One of my children has recently suffered from a severe mental breakdown. The cause could be numerous, but it is fair to say that it is set against a perfect storm of moving to high school, the impact of lockdown, social media pressures, transitioning from child into adulthood (and hormones), bullying, friendship challenges, and toxic peer pressure.

I can’t help but feel that children today are trying to act way older than their age. It seems like things are happening at least 2-3 years earlier than when I was that age. This also includes every parent’s worst fear of alcohol, drugs and sex.

Whilst I’ll spare all the details for the medical professionals I would like to summarise our experiences. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a child in these challenging times. I try to think about what worries I had as a teenager and it was mainly whether I would be allowed extra computer time or whether I would be allowed out until 9pm to play football in the park. My biggest trauma in my early teenage years was when my girlfriend (for 1 day) finished with me on a school trip to Hadrian’s Wall. The journey back on the coach was tough – I was inconsolable. I recently learnt that she has been convicted of murder, lucky escape!

Do a search on the internet for signs of depression and my child has shown all the symptoms: hopelessness, loss of interest, increased fatigue and sleep problems, anxiety, uncontrollable emotions, changes in appetite. We are currently battling challenges around attendance in school. If I had refused to go to school at that age I am sure I would have been dragged kicking and screaming into the school by my parents. That isn’t an acceptable solution nowadays.

We are getting some support from the school but at times it feels like we are pushing a gigantic boulder up a hill – we move it a bit by setting some goals and then it starts rolling against us and we end up further down the hill after those goals are not met. It really is trial and error. The blind leading the blind.

We are genuinely at a loss as to what to do. We aren’t medical professionals and it is very hard to get in front of the right experts. The GP really can’t or won’t help. It is also a real diagnosis minefield. If you are lucky enough to get in front of a medical expert it may not be the right expert. Is the problem depression, autism, ADHD, ADD, or just hormonal-fuelled teenage angst? It could be all, some, one or none of the above.

Let’s face it, the UK’s Mental Health service is on its knees, and failing miserably. It has been vastly under resourced and over stretched – particularly post-COVID where the pressure on such services is at an all-time high. I also saw the social care system failing my Mum’s care but that is another story. Sadly, it seems like you are only able to get real medical intervention when it is too far down the line. I cant help but think that proactive early intervention could help prevent things from progressing to a critical nature.

We as parents are clutching at straws. Never knowing what tomorrow will bring. The situation seems to be getting worse. Perhaps it needs to get worse before it can get better? We even enrolled on positive parenting classes – the only positive from a selfish point of view is that there seems to be parents in far worse situations than ourselves. My heart really does feel for them.

Social media is every parent’s nightmare. It is so difficult to police and control. It is designed to be addictive and there is plenty of evidence that it is. Over the course of a recent 1 week school holiday, one of my children spent a total of 23 hours on Snapchat and a further 24 hours on TikTok. My advice would be to try and avoid smartphones for your kids for as long as you can. Failing that, make sure you tightly control access and get your kids in the habit of leaving the phone overnight charging somewhere other than their own bedroom.

The Elderly Parents

It is over 4 years ago now since my beloved Mum was taken by dementia. Seeing the deterioration of a loved one is a horrific experience that unfortunately is an unavoidable part of getting older. We are as a family all still coming to terms with the traumatic experience and grief.

My Dad is a reasonably healthy 74 year old (soon to be 75), keeps himself active, has a good set of close friends, and dotes on his younger grandchildren. He misses Mum terribly since she passed in February 2019. It’s particularly bad for Dad during the dark winter months when the weather prevents him from being outside (he’s a keen golfer) – it must be terribly isolating and lonely.

I think it is common for people’s capacity for change and resilience to diminish as they get older. COVID certainly hit the elderly in more ways than one – it shut people off from their families and communities. Dad certainly prefers his routines and can sometimes be knocked off kilter by any unplanned change. I also think that with age you are less able to deal with the stresses and challenges of everyday life. You worry, and that worry/stress can be quite debilitating. I know when Dad is under stress – he behaves differently, seems less engaged, less lucid. He worries a lot – no doubt about me and my brothers, his grandchildren, his older brother, and of course he worries about himself.

In a digital world (and to be fair he is savvier than most people of 74) he is sometimes lost. He has no confidence in tech – worried about getting scammed, swamped in a world of dual factor authentication, passwords, and usernames. I support as best I can but spending hours in front of a computer in my leisure time, given my job is usually stuck in front of a computer, is not ideal.

Speaking to other friends – I am not alone. They share worries about their parents – particularly their health. With age it’s clear that things are more likely to go wrong – and of course they sometimes do.

There are things I can do to help. My role as the eldest of 3 brothers is to share support of Dad. One area for my own personal development is in improving my patience and accept that not everyone wishes to go at 100 miles per hour like me.

What Next?

I suppose the point of this blog is about raising awareness as the things I describe could well be happening to you. If it is, you are not alone. It may be that you are slightly younger and fortunate that your kids haven’t hit adolescence and your parents are still in the 60s – enjoy things while you can! If this blog has resonated with you in any way I would invite you to get in touch and confidentially share your experiences – it’s not easy being stuck in the middle but it a lot better if you feel you aren’t alone.

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Published by Steve Halsall

Steve is the founder of Red Tiger Consulting. He has worked in Location Planning for over 20 years – both on the consultancy side and client side. His passion is building successful teams that evolve their capability (skills, software and data) to meet the ever changing requirements of analysis. In his spare time he is mainly kept busy with his two children, falling in and out of love with Liverpool FC and at some point he wants to re-start his golfing ‘career’.


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