Tuesday, April 16, 2024

My midlife awakening: Why I moved my family to Mexico

Some people reach their 40s and 50s and go through what is known as a midlife crisis. This is the time of life when, if you’ve bought into the illusory American Dream, you should have reached the pinnacle of your career, raised the prescribed 2.5 children, obtained a house in the suburbs and finally gotten your act together.

In reality, this is rarely the case. As the wealth divide in the United States grows into an absolute chasm, compounded by decades of systemic racism and discrimination for many Americans, it’s become next to impossible for working and middle-class families to realize this “dream.” Even for high-income households, “having it all” doesn’t always live up to expectations. And when expectations – no matter how real or delusional – aren’t met, people can be driven to make some pretty drastic changes to their lives. No doubt you’ve heard the old midlife crisis cliché about the 50-something-year-old man buying a sports car and chasing a younger woman, or the woman who ran off with her tennis coach/pool boy. Maybe you know people who have done just that.

Suburbia might be the American dream, but it’s not for everyone. (Jimmy Conover/Unsplash)

My husband and I come from fairly privileged backgrounds compared to a lot of Americans. We are both college-educated, able-bodied and white with solid family and social support. We launched our lives together and careers in the late 90s when the economy was booming. 

We never made a ton of money – my husband was a public school teacher and I worked for non-profits – but we lived within our means and prioritized our spending on what mattered most to us: experiences over stuff; adventuring over settling down.

It took us 10 years to get married and another 10 to have a child. We spent big chunks of our 20s and 30s living and working in other countries. We envisioned a life together that allowed us to see the world and still pay the bills. We wanted a home base, but not one that would tie us down.

But by the time we hit our 40s, we found ourselves living the stereotypical American Dream. We had stable jobs, a house in the suburbs, a dog and by some miracle of biology, a healthy baby girl (that’s a whole other story). While we loved our lot and the community we had settled into, there was a part of us that we didn’t recognize anymore.

The Slobe family – Brian, Maya, and Debbie – when they first received their Mexican residency cards in 2015. (Debbie Slobe)

Plus, the stress of achieving all that had started to take its toll. My husband was struggling to be both the best middle school teacher and new father he could be. I was being pulled into more responsibilities at work soon after I had become a new mom. Our daughter was what you would politely call a “highly-spirited” toddler. We felt overwhelmed, like time was flying by, and that if we didn’t make a change we’d wake up in another 10 years in the same place doing the same thing and our daughter would be nearly grown up. This wasn’t the life we had envisioned for ourselves. This was our midlife crisis.

But unlike the cliché, we didn’t let our crisis drive us apart. We knew what we had to do, and we had to do it together. It was time to tap back into our wanderlust ways. We always wanted to live in another country again, but had put those plans on hold as we settled into our careers and parenthood. With Brian close to burnout, me ready for a career change and our headstrong daughter just out of diapers, it was time to put the plan into action.

Mexico had always been on our radar as a place we wanted to explore. We’d spent many winter holidays on the Sonora and Nayarit coasts, fantasizing about the possibility of living in a Mexican beach town one day. Our research and recommendations from friends led us to the town of Chacala, Nayarit, where there was a promising-looking Montessori school, a beautiful beach and surfing nearby. 

We had already been saving up for years for a move like this. Once we found our landing spot, we spent another six months planning the final stages of our transition. In July 2015, we left our jobs, pulled our daughter out of daycare, packed our stuff and dog into our 4-Runner, took a long road trip from our home in Colorado down the Pacific Coast of California and Baja California, ferried to the mainland and arrived in Chacala in November 2015. We only intended to stay in Mexico for one year and then return to Colorado.

Life in Mexico has been filled with new experiences and new skills. (Debbie Slobe)

But after about nine months, with a taste of a slower life filled with more joy, family time, and countless trips exploring the country, we didn’t want our time in Mexico to end. So we figured out how to work differently, support ourselves and build a new home base here. We’ve been living in Mexico for over eight years now. What was originally a one-year plan in response to our midlife crisis has turned into our midlife awakening.

Living in Mexico has awakened us to:

  • The thrill of living in a different culture and expanding our ideas on how the world and society works
  • Our ability to flex and flow in a new and unpredictable environment
  • Our ability to problem solve using a different language, customs and systems
  • The understanding that art and artistic expression are basic human needs
  • Our inner creativity as artists, writers, musicians, collectors and makers
  • The realization that there is always time for celebration, no matter what day of the week or hour 
  • The simplicity of living without the constant pressure to consume and compete
  • The joys of unstructured, unplanned playtime with friends and family

These are some of the many reasons we have chosen to stay in Mexico and the skills we have gained here. That is not to say we don’t miss our friends and family in the U.S. We do – very much. And that is not to say that life in Mexico is all roses all the time. It’s certainly not. But, at the end of the day, when we calculate the costs and benefits of this new life, we always decide to stay.

If you are feeling a midlife crisis looming and the pull of the possibility of a new life in Mexico, lean into the pull. You may be surprised at what it awakens in you.

Debbie Slobe is a writer and communications strategist based in Chacala, Nayarit. She blogs at Mexpatmama.com and is a senior program director at Resource Media. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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