Retirement: “removal or withdrawal from service, office, or business;” “withdrawal into privacy or seclusion.”
No wonder this word retirement seems so inappropriate as a description of what I, and many others, am in the process of doing. I will no longer be seeing patients and, at least for the moment, not generating an income. But I am still a psychologist and I am certainly not going into seclusion! No, this is about a transition, one of many that we all go through.
In fact, as I reflected on this new phase of my life, I began to realize that life is actually a constant series of an immense number of transitions. There are some so tiny as to be imperceptible and whose impact kind of sneaks up on you. This can be gradual changes in a relationship, our experiences at work, or changes in our body.
Of course, we often experience obvious, and sometimes traumatic, transitions in any of these aspects of our life. It really is amazing how much change is constantly taking place, which means people are required to be constantly coping with transitions, the desired or chosen ones and the undesired, and, in some cases, inevitable ones, such as those associated with aging or loss.
One of the primary characteristics of childhood is how little control children have over the transitions that they constantly must make. Their bodies seem to change overnight and not just when they are very young. How often do ask our teenager how he could possibly have outgrown his clothes already?
We love to watch our preschoolers go through their stages of sitting, crawling, walking, running…reaching things we thought were safely put beyond their grasp…suddenly able to ride their bike without training wheels, then pushing to ride beyond the boundaries that we feel are safe.
Meanwhile, we are placing these little ones in day care, nursery school, and then we put them into school, where they are required to move from grade to grade, each year adjusting to new teachers, classmates, school buildings, and increasingly challenging academic and social learning.
Children vary widely in the inborn capacity to manage these changes. One of the things I learned from reading William Bridges’s “Transitions” (Addison-Wesley, 1980) is that everyone focuses too much on the new challenges about to be faced and not enough on the challenge of letting go of where we were. For example, parents are surprised when a child isn’t excited about summer vacation. Some children are much more comfortable with the structure and content of the school day.
I think that the better the child’s experience with a situation, the more difficult it might be to let go and move on. The mother who creates a wonderful time at home for her very young child should not be surprised at her daughter’s resistance to go off to school, even though she seems so well-adjusted, social, and bright. When this happens, we look for the bad. Maybe we are looking in the wrong place for an answer.
Of course, the child who did not have a good experience with a particular teacher may be very excited about moving on while the child who loved elementary school may not be eager to transition to middle school. Years ago, most school systems had junior highs, where 7th and 8th graders were isolated from other grades.
Gradually people realized this was not a good idea and now most systems have middle schools which usually include at least 6th, if not 5th, graders. One reason why this change was needed is that children grow at such varied rates, physically, socially, and emotionally. There are such dramatic transitions in early adolescence. Seventh grade girls show a substantial variation in height and physical appearance. Seventh grade boys can range from those who are children to those who are young men. By including younger children in a middle school setting, the teens who are still really children can find compatible peers and not feel so out of place.