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.
The Opportunity Foundation of America is located in Salt Lake City, though they collaborate with Boston College to be the manufacturer, distributor and provider for the technology used in the EagleEyes Project
EagleEyes (if you opt not to watch the video) allows children and adults with severe disabilities (such as cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injuries) to communicate, using electrodes that sense the electrical signals of a person’s eyes. People who are otherwise unable to move or otherwise interact with their world, then, use their eyes to operate the mouse of the computer, enabling them to play games but also communicate in other ways.
I enjoyed hearing about the impact that volunteering had on the volunteers themselves, that they often come away with a greater appreciation for even the small things in their lives. As Debbie told us, the foundation trained the students in the Community of Caring class at Olympus High to volunteer. In addition to attending Hartvigsen School to work one-on-one with the kids using the EagleEyes, the Olympus students have also raised money for additional units to gift to children who need it at home.
To be sure, I appreciated learning about this project, especially at this time of year when we reflect on the many things for which we are grateful. Debbie told us of the gratitude that the people with disabilities have, as well as their families, for the good that has come through this technology (which, incidentally, was developed by a man who insisted it be a non-profit venture).
However, Debbie said that, especially with older kids and young adults, the first thing that they have to teach is the principle of cause and effect. People who have had someone do everything for them, since their birth, do not naturally learn that their actions have effects. As I have neurotypical kids, it hadn’t occurred to me until just that moment what might be involved in teaching cause and effect, and how critical it is to the rest of our learning.
Certainly, I’m still trying to work on this even with my kids—my daughter has to learn that when she doesn’t complete her typing practice for the week, she doesn’t get any faster. It’s hard as a parent not to interrupt this learning process sometimes, especially when we see our kids hurting. Of course, it’s one of the reasons why I like Love & Logic as a discipline system, because they emphasize that consequences are our children’s greatest educators.
Additionally, I reflected on the basic things we do in Kindermusik that help our children develop a sense of cause and effect. The bell ringing? You did that, oh little one.
As they say at St. Jude’s, give thanks for the healthy kids in your life. And if you know of anyone who may benefit from volunteering with the Opportunity Foundation of America, or who could use this technology, you can get additional information at their website: http://opportunityfoundationofamerica.org/