Home Concepts Adult Development VIII.Generativity One: Raising Children and Engaging Projects

VIII.Generativity One: Raising Children and Engaging Projects

33 min read

William Bergquist and Gary Quehl

In his founding conception of generativity, Erik Erikson focused on the opportunities, challenges and gratifications associated with generativity (vs. stagnation) as it takes center stage during the middle years of our lives. Erickson did not consider child rearing to be a sign of generativity, and he did not focus on project building among young men and women. In some ways, therefore, we are going against Erikson in proposing child raising as the first generativity role that we often engage during our early adult years. This is an important aspect of generativity because we experience deep caring when we raise our children, and when we initiate projects related to a set of values or goals that are particularly important for us. We also begin our investigation of generativity with child-rearing and project-building because of the lingering impact these early forms of mature caring have on our lives. We propose that the early dynamics of caring in what we are calling Generativity One continue to influence us when we interact with our grown children, when we become grandparents, and when we serve as guardians in passing the torch for projects and organizations about which we deeply care.

We also believe it is important to focus on generativity at this early stage because a decision not to have children can have a lingering impact on our lives. In addition, a Generativity One decision may involve setting aside our dream of initiating a project associated with a life vision. Or it might involve operating inside an existing organization rather than starting one’s own organization. Such decisions not to engage actively in Generativity One are just as important as decisions to engage in more typical Generativity One activities like parenting.

Generativity One: Leaving Something that Lingers

In his book on The Active Life, Parker Palmer (1999) employs a wonderful and quite poignant metaphor about dropping one pebble in a basin of water. At first the water in the basin is impacted by the dropped pebble. The ripples in the water serve as clear evidence of the pebble’s impact. However, the ripples soon die away and the water no longer has any memory of the pebble’s impact. We similarly often wonder whether our life is having an impact. Does the water (our world) remember anything about our existence and presence?  While Palmer has identified a profound existential issue that each of us must often confront, we gently offer a slightly altered metaphor. We chose to replace the basin of water with a lake. The pebble is dropped in the water and the ripples spread out across the lake lapping on the shoreline. While the ripples soon die out, there are usually small indentations on the shoreline. This suggests that our own impact on the world might not be immediately observable, but somewhere on a distant shore the impact can be found. We have made a difference. . .

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