Who would have guessed it! Not only do we parents affect our kids, our kids affect us! “The Eight Seasons of Parenthood”, by authors Barbara C. Unell and Jerry L. Wyckoff, examines how kids affect their parents and help determine their identity.
The eight seasons start with pregnancy, the “Celebrity“, and end with the “Rebounder”, when parents accept parent/child role reversal as they decline and die. The authors interviewed hundreds of parents for their book.
Of interest to parents of adult children are the last three chapters of the book.
The “Family Remodeler” describes the period when children first leave home and their parents remodel their families and redefine their lives.
Parents must learn to give up control of their children while still keeping them close. Parents at this stage will “openly apologize, forgive, and communicate their unconditional love, regardless of the difference of opinion or disappointment that parents may feel over their child’s choices or attitudes…Parents and their newly minted adult children communicate with mutual respect which does not always include mutual agreement.” (All in an ideal world!)
According to the authors, this period is filled with pitfalls for parents.
They may take risks, such as having an affair providing them with the attention they miss from their children. They may spend too much money, gamble, overeat, skydive, sell the house and move across the country to be close to their children. These activities fill free time and provide a sense of excitement in what they think is a boring life. Sometimes one parent becomes the “child” of the other damaging the equilibrium of the couple. Other parents feel jealous of their children’s youth and try to keep up with them. These pitfalls must be carefully navigated by the couple. (I guess so!)
This period is followed by the Plateau Parent season when children are fully financially independent and starting families of their own.
The children are beginning to act more like parents and often want to know the details of their parents’ lives to ensure they are safe. (I can remember doing this to my parents and driving them crazy.)
Parents must decide how available they will be to help their children and grandchildren, and opinions between a couple can differ. They often have to deal with their own aged parents who also need help.
Plateau parents relive the first circle of parenthood through their grandchildren. Many plateau parents feel closer to their adult children as a result of becoming grandparents. The authors state that it is critical that Plateau parents be aware of the old wounds they may have inflicted upon their own children. Their adult children will remember how critical they were of them as youngsters and may have difficulty spending time with them when they become parents for fear of further criticism.
This may be the time that Plateau parents start a new life, if they are not critically needed either by their own parents or their children. Many compete in sports, start businesses, and travel. They also realize, that with the passing of their own parents, they are next in line to die. (That’s certainly the way I’m feeling–only twenty or so good years left -scary!)
According to the authors, the parents who were most successful in this season had limited their roles in their adult children’s lives; they made a point of keeping some distance between themselves and their children, offering them invitations and letting their children come to them.
The final season, the dependent “Rebounder” can last for just a few weeks or for years if parents gradually lose their ability to be an independent. ( Personally, I’m hoping it lasts a day.) Rebounders constantly wait for signs that they are needed, wanted and special. The best of the Rebounders strive to maintain their independence but are willing to ask for help and feel grateful for it. They neither refuse to accept help when offered nor refuse to ask for it when needed. They don’t act like a whining child who doesn’t get enough attention.
While this book is interesting, it is based on anecdotal evidence, not statistical research. In addition, it assumes a Northern European family model and would not be as useful to those who come from other cultures with different family expectations. But those factors do not stop it from providing insight into the challenges parents face as they pass through different stages of their children’s lives.