Our oldest son turned 26 this year. All day, as often happens on our kids’ birthdays, I found my mind returning to the day he was born. At two weeks overdue, I was SO ready for him to be born – though we didn’t know yet that he was even a “he.” We went to the hospital the first time 36 hours before he was born. We dutifully timed my contractions, so relieved things were finally moving. Until they stopped. After walking the hospital hallways for a couple of hours, the nurses told us to go home and get some rest, because nothing was going to happen that night. (The first, and only time I’ve ever been sad to leave a hospital!)
30 hours later, we were on our way back – this time my water had broken, and the reality of labor set in – this time there was no doubt. The next several hours were full of pain, fear, exhaustion, and wonder. I remember looking down at his tiny face, so amazed that I had brought a new life into this world; already pondering who he would become, and how he would change me, and our now three-person family.
When we met up for a birthday dinner with Tim and his wife, Anna, we started reminiscing, telling some of the stories about how much life changed for us, in all the very best ways, when he was born. And then it hit me – I was 26 when I had him, the same age he is right now. I had this strange awareness of both how young he still seems and how old this means I am. How did I have a child at that age? Am I really that old? Looking back, it truly felt like lifetime ago, like it had happened to someone I had trouble remembering, because she felt like an entirely different person.
Right now in my Human Behavior class, we’ve been studying how humans mature through developmental stages over the life course, from birth to late adulthood. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, the psychosocial task required for maturity in middle adulthood is generativity vs. stagnation. Generativity is our ability to see beyond our own interests to the needs of other generations, especially the younger. It often involves a maturing sense of purpose, and the creation of something new. It is life-giving to both the generative adult, and those benefitting from their leadership, creativity and care. Without this generative investment in the well-being of the next generation, we become stagnant and self-absorbed.
I’ve found myself pondering how this stage of life for me is a different kind life-giving. 26 years ago, my energy was focused on our new family, building relationships in a new community, learning the responsibilities of being a new homeowner, navigating so many independent adult decisions for the first time. Looking back, I think one of the most profound differences is that I really didn’t have any idea who I was back then. It was much easier to think that my identity came from my roles – daughter, teacher, wife, mom – than from something inherent in me as a human being. When I saw myself as defined by those roles, there was so much at stake in doing them well, because if I wasn’t a good wife or good mom, then who was I? That question kept me exhausted and fearful for too many years – and ultimately, fear keeps us small, making it difficult to look much beyond ourselves.
I am grateful life brings disruption that offers us the opportunity to question our way of being.
Disruption is part of the natural process of maturity and transformation that we all have a chance to allow, or resist. None of us are the same person we were 50 or 30 or even 10 years ago. If we stop growing, even in seemingly imperceptible ways, we die; perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally and spiritually. And so, the question at each new stage of life becomes “how do I want to live, as the person I am today, in the world and relationships I inhabit right now?”
My mid-life disruptions have once again offered me the opportunity to choose life, or death. The new spaces I’ve stepped into often feel like that birthing room from another lifetime ago – full of pain, fear, exhaustion, and wonder – full of life.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris, and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.