Who is engaged in the process of aging? Your grandparents? Your parents? YOU??
The fact is, we are all progressing in age and moving through the normal stages of life we have come to know as aging. Each stage has tasks to be accomplished before moving on to the next stage. Although there will, of course, be some variation in how these stages are broached, particularly as increasing numbers of people are electing singlehood as a lifestyle, the general sequence of events continues to hold for many others.
The first stage, childhood, requires growing physically, learning, and finding a place within the family.
In the second stage, the unattached adult differentiates her- or himself from parents, develops peer relationships, and establishes a place in the world of work.
The third stage is that of joining families through marriage. This stage involves forming of a new unit and realigning the individual self to incorporate a significant other into the established arrangement of family and friends.
The fourth stage is that of the family with young children. Tasks associated with this stage include adjusting to marriage, getting used to children and parenting, and experiencing one’s own parents as grandparents.
A family with adolescents encompasses the fifth stage, where flexibility in parenting is required. Mid-life marriage, career, and concerns for the older generation also are present during this period.
The sixth stage involves the launching of children. This is a time when parents once again become a couple, when they form adult relationships with their children, and when they may be required to face the illness, disability, and death of a spouse or parent.
Lastly comes the family in later life. This is a time when the couple begins to decline, when they deal with losses, support the middle generation, and conduct a life review.
Creative Coping Strategies
So how do we cope with this progression, if we make it through all seven stages?
According to Robert Raines, in his book A Time to Live, there are creative ways to age. Raines offers thoughtful exercises in self-examination that allow us to derive meaning from the inevitable aging process.
The first exercise is called “Waking Up.” Through this “wake-up call,” we are reminded of the reality of our own mortality, the need to achieve a reconciliation or renewal of our relationships, and the importance of gratitude.
“Embracing Sorrow” is, for some, a long put-off task. Through this exercise, we take the opportunity to acknowledge the sorrows, unfulfilled dreams, losses, and disappointments in life, and to derive meaning from these sorrows.
“Savoring Blessedness” comes next. We are asked in this exercise to become attuned to occasions of grace and to examine them more fully. When are we blessed? When are we a blessing to others? What are the ingredients of daily blessedness?
“Reimagining Work” can include a job review and a projection into the future of things we wish to pursue. What creative energies can we call forth?
“Nurturing Intimacy” invites us to examine our willingness to exchange vulnerabilities and offers us the chance to savor opportunities to know and to be known.
“Seeking Forgiveness” calls for the courage of hope in the acts of asking for forgiveness and in granting forgiveness. This exercise allows us to heal by increasing our capacity to let go of the past.
The last exercise is “Taking On the Mystery.” The task here is to free ourselves from long-held conventions, expectations, and responsibilities, and to enhance our capacity to be open to new possibilities and ways of being.
Aging is a process we begin at birth. The quality of our aging depends upon how we embrace that process.
Carter, B., & McGoldrick, M. (Eds.) (1989). Changing family life cycle: A framework for family therapy (2nd edition). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Jacobs, R.H. (1997). Be an outrageous older woman (Revised). New York: HarperCollins.
Raines, R. (1998). A time to live: Seven steps of creative aging. New York: Dutton/Plume.