We parents sometimes seem to get over-occupied with monitoring our children’s inches and ounces while guiding their steps in the social, emotional, linguistic, cognitive and whatever-else department. Our efforts to safeguard our offspring’s steady growth in all areas may be so much on our minds that we forget that we, their parents, grow too.
Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson proposes a sequence of eight stages from infancy to adulthood (1). In his theory, successful completion of each stage results in the acquisition of a basic virtue, going from hope, will, purpose, competency, fidelity (infancy through adolescence) all the way to love, care and wisdom (young adult through maturity).
So there you have it! Even though, to us parents, young adulthood might seem the end station of our children’s growth, development goes on after that. Life does not stop challenging us when we reach our twenties. As we move from young adulthood to middle age and beyond there are more stages of growth to go through.
Now comes the interesting part for us, parents: our kids’ and our own development overlap. While our offspring is moving through the first five stages of life, we, their parents, move through stages six and seven. And it is these two stages that we are looking at here. These two stages, six and seven, invite us to acquire the virtues of love and care.
Could it be that life has arranged all this such that, while we help our kids grow, they are in fact helping us grow, too? Whether this circumstance was by design or not, fact is that it works out that way and being aware of the overlap can be a tremendous boost in your parental coping capabilities.
A Knife Buttered on Both Sides
Consider the wakeful hours in the middle of the night when you nurse your baby or comfort your crying toddler, cradling her back to sleep. Rather than feeling sorry for yourself for having missed precious sleep and rest, you can now know that in meeting the challenges that presented themselves to you at these untimely hours, you have contributed substantially to the development of your child (who is engaged in a process of acquiring hope and will) as well as to your own development. Each nightly episode met with patience and forbearance builds towards the acquisition of love and care, virtues life is inviting you to explore and experience at this stage in your life.
Consider the after-school activities your child may be involved in, and the carpooling that is often part of that scene. When it is your turn to be the driver and kids are piling up in your car, life is presenting you with a knife buttered on both sides: while guiding your child and its peers in their efforts to acquire competency, you yourself are in the best possible position to explore, practice and experience tolerance and harmony, qualities that are building the virtue of care you are in the process of acquiring.
Stretching and Growing
I challenge you to think of other instances where child rearing situations are stretching each and every capability you as a parent and a person have developed so far. Chances are that exactly on that spot, the spot where you feel something is cutting into you, you will find the knife buttered on both sides, allowing both your kids and you to reap the benefits.
(1) McLeod, S. A. (2013). Erik Erikson. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html . As with most theories in any subject you will find those that are supportive and those that critical. Most will agree though, that Erikson’s system of eight stages is a tool, providing a framework within which to consider human development.
This blogpost appeared simultaneously on "Notes on Parenting"
Pictures from the family album: my great-niece Nora.