Challenges and crisis in the final stages of development

Every child has a timetable in their growth development. Each stage contributes to the formation of the total personality of a human.

Jul 01, 2022

                                              Purposeful Parenting


By Christine Fernandez

Every child has a timetable in their growth development. Each stage contributes to the formation of the total personality of a human. Throughout each stage there are major characteristics, consequences and challenges that a person has to confront. However, these challenges or crisis have roots in previous stages and further consequences on the next stage.

The sixth stage “Intimacy versus Isolation” (20-40 years) is seen psychologically by Erikson as adults growing into who they are, “Established Identity”, whereby developing relationships becomes particularly salient. These relationships are both platonic and romantic at this point of a young adult’s life. The intimacy fostered at this stage is not only to another individual but also closeness in other relationships, for example, parents or carers and friends. Therefore, it is important that the Church, parents and carers take the significant task of walking with young adults to maturity by switching to more listening and modelling adult behaviour. Bearing in mind that parenting older kids is still parenting, the difference now is that you, as a parent and carer, get even less say in matters.

Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, young people are filled with questions and they want someone to walk with them in their questioning which is centred around “who am I?’, “what is my life’s purpose?”, “who am I to others?”, and “how can I contribute to society?”

The deep hunger in young adults for love, for truth, for meaning, for belonging and for purpose cannot just be satisfied by rules and doctrinal concepts. However, relationships and encounter with the person of Christ will, as Pope Francis put it so meaningfully in Evangelii Gaudium 3, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least to letting Him encounter them…”.

While parents, carers and family members are still relating to the “traumas of teendom”, your young adult is quietly making the shift to adulthood. This can be one of the most difficult times of a young adult’s life, and yours, as parents and carers too. Not only is it challenging for the young adult but a scary one for you as a parent and carer. The best solution for this is to just express unconditional support and love as Jesus did. We are all called to listen and young people are looking to be heard.

Therefore, deep pastoral listening becomes the starting point for the young adults by all involved. Pope Francis also reinforced it by iterating “one thing we must do more, even the priests, even the lay people, but above all the priests must do more: the apostolate of listening: to listen”. So let us, as parents and carers, try and do more listening than talking.

Since young people are culturally diverse, ethnic identity and culture can be an important ally for parents, carers, pastors and mentors to empower them in discipleship. Therefore, be available with advice and counsel when it is requested and make it clear that he/ she is a vital part of the family, even if he/she is currently living independently.

Lastly, don’t rush in and impose your way of doing things on your adult child without being asked. This can lead to isolation. However, while your young adult is more self-reliant, he/she is also more vulnerable to making dangerous errors in judgement. At this stage, more than ever, your child needs to know that they have your support and love no matter what because, “by your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21:19). So, hang in there with your young adult, even under pressure and strive to reach them for Christ.

The seventh and eighth of Erikson’s developmental stages of Generativity versus Stagnation and Integrity versus Despair are concerned with forming and guiding the next generation and developing wisdom which includes regrets and achievements as well as the inescapability of death. These stages of a person’s life, is a time of revelation that leads to questioning long-held beliefs and values. Just like young adulthood, the two primary long term relationship characteristics in middle adulthood are cohabitation and marriage, which are approached from a mature and experienced perspective compared to young adults. However, middle adults and their adolescent children are both prone to emotional crisis. For young adults the crisis involves the search for identity while middle adulthood is about the search for generativity.

Therefore, parents and carers in this stage of life are trying to deal with their own issues as well as those of their adolescents and adult children who are parents and carers themselves. Some parents and carers even try to make their children/ward into improved versions of themselves and even see their own parents as the fallible human beings they are. On the other hand, for the late adulthood stage, the primary psychosocial task is to maintain integrity or “hold on to one’s sense of wholeness”, while reminiscing and trying to find the meaning and purpose that characterised their lives. In this quest to find life’s meaning, the elderly have the need to share their life experiences with others, especially the family.

My personal experience with my father sadly was more Despair than Integrity. My father felt that he had lived a meaningless life. He focused on what “would have”, “should have”, and “could have” and faced the end of his life with feelings of bitterness and despair. No matter which developmental stage one is experiencing, it is clear that no one makes it through life without wondering if another path may have been happier and more productive. However, Psalm 23 always reminds me that in life or in death, in times of plenty or want, God is good and worthy of our trust.

So, try to be a model parent/carer in every stage of your child’s life just as the Shepherd cares for His sheep in wisdom, strength, and kindness and remember that His law and His Gospel contribute to our correction and support.

(Christine Fernandez is a social worker, counsellor, chaplain, parent and grandparent. She would love to hear your parenting stories. Do drop her a line at: chris55sebi65@ yahoo.com.au)

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