We make choices. We may suffer from the wounds of betrayal and alienation—in some ways the violation of our life covenant—but we still have a chance to turn toward new purposes. We can shift from the wounded leader to the generative teacher. We can be transformed from the person who was left behind to the person who is helping a new generation lead the way into the future. Though we may have lost the opportunity to play an active role as parent to our children, a second form of parenting is available in abundance during late midlife. We can be parents to our organizations, to people for whom we serve as mentors, and to young people in our community. We can savor the joys of caring for our grandchildren and can become valuable volunteers in nonprofit organizations. Just as life seems to take away opportunities for active leadership, public recognition and parenting, it offers a second opportunity for new forms of parenting.
Many ways in which to be a “parent” are available at all points in our life. We can be a parent not only to children and other people but also to ideas, subordinates, people we mentor, institutions, communities, and even cultures. Erik Erikson (Erikson, Erikson and Kivnick, 1986, p. 37) describes this expanding notion of generativity as “a vital strength of care [and as] a widening concern for what has been generated by love, necessity, or accident; it overcomes the ambivalence arising from irreversible obligation. Thus, [it] attends to the needs of all that has been generated.”
In essence, our need for generativity concerns two primarily factors. First, generativity is about extending our presence and influence with our own children, with the next generation, with our heritage, and with our community. We become gardeners who tend the garden. We want the flowers, the trees and the plants to live long after we do and to represent, in some important and tangible way, the manner in which we make an appearance on this earth. We want the garden to reassure us and the world that we made a difference. This point was tenderly and melodramatically conveyed in both Lerner and Lowe’s Camelot and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.Download Article 1K Club