Friday, May 9, 2008

The Eight Seasons of Parenthood

I just received my overdue notice for “The 8 Seasons of Parenthood: How the Stages of Parenting Constantly Reshape Our Adult Identities”, by Barbara A. Unell and Jerry L. Wyckoff, PhD (Times Books, New York, 2000). It was a struggle for me to get through the first few chapters (hence my lateness in returning the book), and I wondered how their eight seasons improved upon Erik Erikson’s classic stages of development. However, I found many great nuggets of truth that I thought would make it worth while reviewing. I found the second half of the book quite intriguing, and the reasoning for their division of stages had become quite sensible.

The authors have defined three circles of parenthood. Within those circles are the eight seasons of parenthood, which are dependent on the child’s primary developmental milestones and approximate age. They have allowed for parents of children with special needs, who might be stuck in one stage for a lifetime or in between several different stages with one child due to ability to develop at a typical rate in some areas but not others. They also concur that those with multiple children must continually shift between stages, depending on which child is requiring the most focus at the time, causing increasing confusion and stress for the parents.

The First Circle is composed of those who are parenting young children. It was difficult for me to relate to many of the case studies of these earlier stages, as many of the young parents storied in the book had conflicts relating to working or staying at home, something that was never an issue for me. The authors also are very hard on parents they perceive as “controlling”, in situations which I saw as the parents reining in their children for their own good.

The Celebrity stage starts at conception and continues until birth. At this time the mother’s identity is being defined by the child growing with her, with the positives and negatives of all the attention being showered upon her, and her husband is like her Roadie, not able to do much fathering yet but doing what he can to support his wife.

The Sponge stage starts at birth and continues until the child is walking, or about one year of age. During this time the parents lose their former selfish natures. The baby is completely dependent upon them, and they are there to soak up all of their needs.

The Family Manager stage starts with the child’s walking, about one year, and continues through preschool, about five years. I thought the description of the family manager still applied to me, and would apply to homeschoolers as long as they kept their children at home.

The Travel Agent stage continues through elementary school through puberty, with a child age 6 through 12 years. According to the authors, the parents are now transporting their child from one place to another and leaving their children in the care of others. I did not feel this was a good description for a parent who insists on keeping the family a cohesive unit and who remains involved in each of the child’s activities.

The description of the Volcano Dweller stage scared me, and here is where I became intrigued. This stage starts at puberty and continues until the child leaves home. For those with children who fly the nest at a later age, they will be stuck in this stage for a very long time. I do think this stage could be much more positive than was described. I also think some of the problems described could be avoided if the parents steered their children toward the right “crowd”, something the authors seem to think is too “controlling”. They seemed to put more emphasis on how the parents FEEL about the crises raised in adolescence, as if hell-raising is an inevitability for all teens.

The Second Circle is composed of those who are parenting adult children.

The Family Remodeler has children who are leaving home and becoming independent, ages 18 to 24+ years. This was described as a very emotional time for the parents, who are having identity crises because they did their job well and the children have become self-sufficient. Apparently colleges now routinely give classes for parents that address “Empty Nest Syndrome”.

Plateau Parents are in a seemingly pleasant stage. Their children, ages 25 to 49+ years, are independent, the parents have redefined their lifestyle, and grandchildren may now bring up memories of the earlier stages. These parents may embrace grandparenthood, or resent their being needed again after having gained freedom of responsibility for their children. They may also now be responsible for caring for a parent.

The Third Circle is composed of those being parented by children, who are ages 50+. The Rebounder stage starts when the parents start to need to be cared for by their children. It ends with death, and how this is dealt with is very important for how the children will come through their own stages. Rebounders can be Proud Independents, Humble Submissives, or Aged Sages. The last is the most desirable, taking the best of the other two. They are able to gracefully be cared for without losing their independence of thought. Coming through each of the previous seven stages successfully are required for an old person to become an Aged Sage.

As they got to the stages I am just about to enter, as well as those I will inevitably enter, I became more and more intrigued. I found I could better relate to how my own parents felt, and presently must feel, in each of those stages. I thought of my grandparents in the end chapters. And it ended with one of my all-time-favorite themes, the Circle of Life.

I would heartily recommend this book, to better prepare yourself for your future stages, to relate to your friends who are in other stages, and to better understand your parents and grandparents.

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