Erik Erickson’s theory of the psychosocial stages of life has indelibly shaped the course of the study of human development since its creation. Certainly, the theory is not perfect, and others (such as B.F. Skinner, father of operant conditioning) have established differing theories of human development. Nevertheless, without Erikson, we wouldn’t ever use the term “identity crisis” to describe the angst that teens go through during adolescence, nor would we work to make sure that our newborns felt secure in their attachment to caregivers.
In my secondary teacher training, and again in my Kindermusik training, I learned a lot about Erickson’s theory, though in the context of children and adolescents. In the last couple of weeks, however, I have been studying about human development during adulthood and late adulthood stages. The juxtaposition of early childhood development with my own development (now that I am officially “mid-life”) fascinates me.
Of course, like anything we learn, when something applies to our life, it sticks with us. While I probably did have to regurgitate all of Erickson’s stages of life for some test somewhere along the line, it is now that I am actually in this stage of “generativity versus stagnation” that I can get my head around why it is that as a parent and educator I feel so strongly about being productive and caring.
Generativity, as Erickson defined it, is all about getting outside of ourselves and caring for others. We need to feel productive. There are ways that this occurs—through art or other creative pursuits, through employment choices (where possible), and through parenting or otherwise contributing to future generations. If it doesn’t happen, we stagnate and feel, as Erickson put it, “personal impoverishment” (Erikson, Erik H. . Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Norton.).
I think a lot about the impact that my parenting has on my kids, especially in context of the Kindermusik studio. I often hear that I, as my child’s parent, am my child’s best teacher—this is why home materials can be so beneficial. And it is also at the core of why we offer Love and Logic parenting classes.
But how often do we think about the ways that our children change us?
Many researchers have studied the stress that childrearing can be in our lives, especially when children are young. However, reading Erickson’s comments about what my children puts things in a different perspective for me:
“The fashionable insistence on dramatizing the dependence of children on adults often blinds us to the dependence of the older generation on the younger one” (Erickson, 1963, p. 266).
(From a developmental perspective, foster parenting, step parenting and adoption all present their own, unique challenges—but these are important ways for adults to meet their generativity needs, as well, so I’m not speaking only about biological children, here.)
It’s fascinating to think of all the ways I need my kids. They have all taught me how to love certain aspects about myself. Certainly, I have changed my priorities many, many times. With my son’s new interests, I have learned much more about bagpipes than I ever thought I’d know (no sharps or flats!). I’ve also had to learn not to care so much about the messy kitchen (this is a daily struggle—both to keep it clean, and to let it go when it’s not). And, just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, they go and have a birthday, and it changes everything.
There should be some concluding paragraph here—something somewhat reflective that sums this all up for you. Unfortunately, I find myself coming up a little short with the wisdom. After all, how much more profound can it get, then to think of where I would be (for worse AND for better) without my kids? The ways our kids depend on us, the way we depend on our kids—I’m sure this rests at the pinnacle of why there is so much joy and so much pain when it comes to being the child or being the parent. For those moments of joy, I give thanks. For those moments of pain, I also give thanks, though sometimes not until much, much later.
Today, may you have a mindful day of generativity.