Generate or Stagnate

thinking woman

image courtesy of Little Dandelion Queen

Our younger daughter is in her junior year of Honors Psychology, double majoring in cognitive behavior and child development with a minor in human organizational development.

We had an interesting conversation recently when she said she thought of us when she started studying the work of Erik Erikson. He was a well-known child psychoanalyst who focused on the study of identity.

When she started reading about the Middle Adulthood (40-65) stage, she thought of her dad and me. When she read about Generative vs Stagnation conflicts at that stage of life, she was so glad that we were not only generative, but that we would both be in the Ego Integrity category at the end of our lives. Read about it here.

I read about Erikson’s stages and the conflicts at each and marveled at the parallels I saw there between his work and the influence you can have as respectful parent.  At each stage, what are you as a parent doing to reinforce the positive in each conflict?

Here are the stages, with my suggestions for each.

Infancy – Building Trust:

  • Consistency – boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
  • Understandable Rules – can’t explain it; don’t make it
  • Consequences – more restitution strategies, less punishment

Early Childhood – Autonomy

  • Choices – start with small and unimportant and work up
  • Reasoning – ask why they made that particular choice
  • Reinforcing – sincerely praise good choices and explain why you agree

Preschool – Initiative

  • More Choices – get creative and keep reinforcing good choices and their efforts
  • Put Your Listening Ears On – they will repeat the important things, so pay attention
  • Ask Questions About Friends – learn what internal criteria they are applying

School Age – Industry

  • Consistency – boundaries may be tested and you must keep them feeling secure and safe
  • Put Your Helicopter Away – allow them to experience the consequences of forgetting or failing to do things they have been assigned. They are small now, but without these lessons, the way can get much more dangerous.
  • Keep Listening and Make Quality Time – you will learn so much in those car trips together or those night-time talks at bedtime. Make your praise sincere and specific. “You are so good at that!” is less effective than “I admire the way you phrased that or thought that through.”

Adolescence – Identity

  • Consistency – boundaries will definitely be tested and you must hold your ground on the important things. Give them a steady base from which to fly.
  • Listen More Than You Talk – particularly when they are emotional. Let them get it all out and try to resist the urge to problem solve. They have the skills most of the time and just want you to listen and perhaps sympathize.
  • Write Encouraging Notes – it is often a powerful tool to both communicate and reinforce the good things you see developing in your young adult. You may be forging a life line for them when times are hard.
  • Keep Your Helicopter in the Garage – this is your last chance to allow them to experience the consequences of bad choices without a terrible social penalty. Don’t intervene in the small stuff and let them practice the autonomy and discretion you have taught so far.
  • Leave Your Sarcasm at the Door – adolescents are like people with their skin on inside out, and sarcasm is so hurtful to them, even if it is gentle teasing, so give it a rest for now.
  • Encourage Diverse Groups of Friends – If things get difficult with one group (school?), they will have another group (church, sports, arts?) to hang out with rather than being isolated.

Young Adulthood – Intimacy and Relationships

  • Buckle Your Seat Belt. Bumpy Ride Ahead – the hardest time to parent because you have all of the emotional investment and very little authority. If you have not matured your relationship with your child into a Mentor-Mentee dynamic, get on the stick, because it may be too late. I assume you have had many talks about physical and emotional intimacy before now, because if you haven’t, beware.
  • Listen, Listen, Listen – more than ever, you are a sounding board and they may or may not need your advice, so ask them if they want it before you give it. Let them talk through relationships with you and be sensitive to what they are not saying. Support their logic and reasoning when they display it, if you can. If you can’t say something positive, say nothing and if they do ask for your take or your advice, be extremely careful not to deal in personalities. Keep it factual and in “I” statements. They may not agree with you, but they cannot argue with how you feel.
  • Tell Them You Care and Put Judgment on Hold – identity often comes down to “Am I loved and understood?” and you can be the rock of love and caring that allows them to reach out to others and learn more about themselves. Cut them a little slack when they are selfish and self-centered. Think of it as a phase which will pass, but always stick up for your rights if you feel trampled…you deserve respect.

I choose to be generative. I choose to live life with expectation and to leave a legacy in my children and my community. God willing, I will avoid the despair in old age and instead look at my life as a wonderful story which has unfolded with grace and touched others along the way.

Happy Journeying!

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