Monday, March 19, 2012

Seasons of Life: Roadmap

Going along with past posts on defining my identity and purpose in life, I wish to make an attempt at a “roadmap” of life. Because, “what is expected is never as overwhelming or frightening as the unknown.” 

Up to this point in my life there have been many physical and educational benchmarks which defined my life. But the body stops growing around 20 years old, and for the majority of the population, we leave educational institutions between the ages of 20-25. So what’s next? The next physical benchmark besides the slow accumulation of gray hairs will be obvious old age. I hope I still have a good 60 years before I am stooped over and not able to walk far on my own.  

60 years! What is my “roadmap” for that time?!?

I recall several years ago sitting in a Relief Society meeting, and four sisters were at the front singing a song about the seasons of our lives. The first was young, like me, unattached and off to glorious educational pursuits. The next was holding her small child, and tears made it impossible for her to finish her part of the song about “loving this season of my life.” An older woman put her arm around this young mother, helped her sing her part, and then began her own. The children were now grown, on missions and getting married. The last was a woman wizened with age and experience (why does our society not venerate these wrinkled, white-headed, and infinitely more knowledgeable than our younger-selves beings?).

Here is a very basic roadmap for life: young children, grown children, retirement. But I feel like more details would make that more satisfactory. I shall make an attempt at the "roadmap to life":

Young Adulthood
First Child
Young Children
Missions and University
Old Age

Childhood: I will not go into the benchmarks of childhood, precisely because there are so many, but I will say that I very much enjoyed being a child.

Youth: What an amazing time. Youth is a time of great potential, great learning, the whole world and all of life is ahead. A good summation is that this is a time of intense learning through experience as much as school, which will shape the rest of your life. A side note is that very close friends in our youth very often become friends for life, simply on account of having shared your youths together. There are some experiences that people cannot go through without bonding them together with ties of friendship and understanding. Very dangerous experiences are one of those. Youth is another.

Young Adulthood: This is an extension of youth, for some. For many it involves university or trades training. These are great times with friends and dating. It is also a time of learning, but the learning is more pointed and in depth in chosen areas, with the goal of being able to apply that knowledge to your ‘mission’ in life, for the rest of your life. It is a time of preparation, more so than youth, because ‘the rest of your life’ is quickly approaching, and that reality gives greater motivation to figure out what life is all about, and to figure out what you want to do with your life.

Marriage: Marriage comes at varying times for everyone, and it is a big benchmark. It marks the beginning of an over-arching season which will be a constant in all the future seasons of your life.
  • Thoughtful Insert #1: After marriage, the seasons of life are not so generalized. What you choose to do with your life entirely depends on you. Also, there will be unplanned speed-bumps and potholes. Things like disease, unexpected good fortune, tragedies, the loss of a job, a house, possessions, the death of a loved one; all these and more will be unexpected seasons that are more or less forced upon us, rather than chosen. But let us follow the ‘generic’ family roadmap, and you can adapt it to your personal lives:
Honeymooning: After marriage generally both spouses work for a time. That can be great fun. It can also be pretty problematic for the wife as she tries to define her identity as a wife, but with no kids, especially if they are struggling to conceive. As a person who is currently in this honeymooning season, my advice would be to seriously consider the big decisions: what you want your family to look like, when you want to start having kids, what your goals are for a house/job/lifestyle: get a general roadmap planned out, and then don’t worry about it. Enjoy this period, as you won’t get it back for several decades, and by then you’ll be several decades older, *chuckles*.
  • Thoughtful Insert #2: After you begin a family and until your children are grown, your life’s benchmarks will be very much made up of the benchmarks and achievements of your children. This is to be expected and enjoyed. Continue to develop and enjoy your own hobbies and skills, however. Men continue working, some women also go back to work after maternity leave, and this is important to continue progressing in your own identity and skills. Especially as a mother you should not totally lose yourself in your children. Retain a distinct YOU, and retain the distinct spousal relationship you began building at or before your wedding. A word of warning: I've seen too many parents “grow apart.” Don’t let it start! And if one day you wake up and discover it has started, work to ‘grow back together’! This is the most precious possession: the love of your spouse.
First Child: This is the next major benchmark in your life after marriage, in that your lives will change forever. You can't go back to having no children, and if you're prepared and excited about this step, hopefully you'll never want to go back! This is a whole new experience- physically, emotionally, mentally, for both spouses. All subsequent children are just as special and important, but there is something that sets the first apart- because it is a first time experience.

Babies/Toddlers: The babies and toddlers season should be a wonderful one. Difficult is an obvious characteristic of all seasons of life, so I won’t go too much into how difficult this season is. Know that it brings sleep deficits, major hormone-shifts for the woman, and be ready to roll with the punches, while still enjoying the ride. After all, babies are such fun! There will be playgroups, you will become experts in nursery rhymes, bedtime songs and riddles, and each physical benchmark of your child will bring delight to you. Begin the pattern of Family Home Evening’s and family scripture study.

Young Children: Oh the swimming lessons, piano lessons, cubs, achievement days, dressups, dolls, cars, learning to color inside the lines, finding crayon on the wall, mudpies on the doorstep, making science and cooking projects in the kitchen, like playdough and growing seeds in a clear plastic cup. Space/Science Centers have never been more fun. 8-year old baptism is a big marker for you and your kids in this season. Help them develop habits of reading the scriptures, journaling, praying, and fasting.

Tweens: Clothes never fit, they grow so fast! You should be having talks about age-appropriate intimacy, standards, what changes will be coming in your childrens’ bodies, in society, etc. Prepare your kids, knowledge is power. Make sure you have an open dialogue going so they feel comfortable asking questions. Do Daddy-daughter dates and outings one-on-one with each of your kids. Your sons being ordained to the Priesthood, this is a big benchmark! Your daughters entering Young Womens, also a big benchmark! Work with them on their goals, help them achieve them. There will probably be some entrepreneurial lemonade stands, and other operations of the like.

Teenagers: The entrepreneurial operations may become more frequent as they recognize what money can buy. Summer jobs, summer camps, scouting, band/drama/art/sports. Continue to give lots of physical love- hugs and words, even if they begin to pull away. Sweet 16 brings dating and driving, enjoy the adventure with them, help them prepare and be confident. Dads, take your daughters on their first date. An awesome attribute of teens is their inexaustable enthusiasm, girls screaming when they hear their favourite song, listening to music for hours, hanging out with friends, the change from “can you play?” to  “wanna hang out?” Date-dances (in the states, at least) are an awesome part of the teenage years. Seminary, University-prep, and mission-prep for boys, are an important part of this season. Memorize the scripture masteries with your kids, help encourage them in their church worship/callings/service/devotion.

Missions and University: If my kids’ experience are anything like what mine were, it will go about like this: Mom and Dad help you move to college. You come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe Easter. You LOVE college life, roommates are fun, and going on single dates is exciting! But you may or may not share much of the details with mom and dad. Every summer you move home for summer jobs and saving up for the next school year. Missions are exciting, and expensive. For the parents: Weekly letters are so important to those missionaries, so even though they are moved away, you are still spending lots of time on them.

Weddings/Funerals: Depending on the family, there are seasons of weddings and seasons of funerals. Your grandparents may be around for your kids for a while, they may not be. All their brothers and sisters, if you knew them well, will be nearing the end of their lives around the same time. Another season of funerals will come when your parents and their siblings are nearing the end of their lives, but hopefully this doesn’t happen until you are nearing ‘old age’ yourself. 
The seasons of Weddings come and go in a flurry! Enjoy them, and don’t let it be so stressful that it takes away the fun! This is one of the most important times of celebration in your life, and your child’s life, don’t let it pass by without 
all-out celebrating
Speeches and toasts at the celebration are to be expected- after all, this is a major chapter of life coming to a close for you, the parents, seeing your children be married; vocalizing this step helps it become a reality.

Empty-Nesters: The empty-nester phase is often softened by the kids moving back home in the summers, missions and missionaries returning home. But eventually you really will be an all-out empty nester. I hope that before this happens you have discussed with your spouse what you’d like to do as empty nesters. Perhaps you’ll both continue working full time, or perhaps you'll both go part time. 

Retirement: This is a major benchmark in a person's life! It represents years of accomplishments and hard work. It is often a turning point in the pace of life. Perhaps you’ll travel more, explore the world. Or perhaps the travels will be to visit each of the kids each year. Senior missions! Maybe you’ll be involved in politics or community organizations. I hope to be available for the births of all my grandchildren. Other cultures see the new mother in bed for forty days while the new grandmother takes care of the cooking and housekeeping, allowing the new mother to recover, heal, and rest. I like that model. I hope to be a doula, as well as play that new-grandmother role. 

  • Thoughtful Insert #3: I feel like there is a lot more that should go in this area, or perhaps there are more seasons here that I don’t know about yet, because this period can potentially be a very long one: from empty-nesters until you are bent with old age and needing assistance can be 20-30 years or more! Any ideas?

Old Age: First of all I want to clarify that there really is no such thing as “old.” Because when you get there, you’d don’t necessarily feel ‘old.’ But there does come a time in many peoples’ lives that their walk slows, they may become hunched over, they many need assistance to do some things. I know just such a lady with the most beautifully pure white hair, and she was telling me just the other day about internet security and using PayPal online. That was quite a shocking thing to hear from an 80+ year old woman! My point is, that though she may need help from others to do some things, her mind is all there, and there is so much that younger people can learn from these gems. I hope that I will still hold hands with my honey as we go for walks, even if they are slow and/or short. I hope our children will take the time to slow down and talk with us for an afternoon or evening every once in a while. I hope we can delight the little children with stories of when we were kids. I hope that when I get there, I will have discovered my purpose for that season, and live it to its fullest.  

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... I'd like to hear about the "very dangerous experiences" that have bonded you to others in your life.

    Being a doula for your daughters would be great. Don't expect your daughters-in-law to take you up on it too quickly.

    Thanks for your insights.