Stages Fright

When I was going through teacher training years and years ago, I learned about stages of development. I was taught that everyone goes through the same thing at approximately the same time. For instance, when you’re about 6-9 years old, you build your self-esteem; when you’re in middle school other people tear that down to the point where you cry and you fake being sick so you don’t have to go to school and deal with that bully (you reading this Daryl?! No! Cuz you can’t read! Now who’s the spaz who’s so poor he has to wear sweat pants to school!?!).

Even when I was in college and was hanging out with people who decided to skip university, I noticed we were all pretty much on the same page. As I cross through my 30s, I notice things are a bit different.

In Erickson’s Stage of Development, he talks about a person overcoming certain crises that everyone everywhere is bound to run into. If a person can overcome this crisis, he generally moves onto the next stage; if he can’t, he is either stuck in this stage or this stage comes back later to haunt him (for instance, you learn to trust your parents in the first stage. If, for whatever reason, you find that your parents are untrustworthy, then you will probably exit this stage with a faulty sense of reliance on other people). If I remember right, all of his stages have very specific age criteria: I think the first stage ends at around 18 months whether you want it to or not. After a certain period of time, a person’s brain just isn’t equipped for it anymore. It seems that the further we get into adulthood, the more concrete the crisis is and the more vague the timeline is.



I noticed that people who never really got a jobjob – like a career-type job not just something that could replaced at anytime – seem to be stuck (by “stuck” I mean they never overcame that crisis and are now sitting and spinning) and it doesn’t really matter when they get this job; it can be at 21 or 51. People who never really tried to get a house seem to be stuck (I know a few people who’ve attempted to buy a condo or something but just couldn’t afford it; they seem fine to me); again, it doesn‘t really matter when this happens so long as you set out to make a place of your own and you plan on staying in this place for the foreseeable future. People who never got married seem stuck. I’ve only been a parent for just over a year, but I wonder if people who never attempt to have kids get stuck too (again, I think it‘s probably in the attempt; you have to want to have your life disrupted).

Was I stuck? Am I moving forward now?  Maybe that’s why these things are called “milestones”?


2 Responses

  1. Well, you’re stuck now, that’s for sure.

    I don’t get this need you have to describe parenthood as some sort of moral imperative. You’ve been doing posts like this for some time now, suggesting, if not saying, that parenthood is the correct choice for adults, lest they remain childish/undeveloped/irresponsible/etc. Yet, I’m not sure that’s verifiable in any way, and it doesn’t seem to comport with common experience.

    That is, when I don’t know of many, or any, childish and irresponsible people that make it through life without having children. Yet, people who never have children seem overwhelmingly to lead productive lives. (This is not necessarily the case, of course, and I haven’t done any kind of study or anything. People with Down Syndrome, for instance, rarely reproduce, but they are also rarely accomplished. However, if you look at some list of the most influential people in history, you’ll find that a hugely disproportionate number of them did not have any children.)

    Getting a job is different, because not having a job requires most people to leach off of others, which is how we all start out, and not considered admirable for an adult. Home ownership doesn’t seem anywhere near that important; if you have a reliable living space, whether you’re paying rent or a mortgage is notable, but not life-defining. But parenting isn’t even clearly preferable to non-parenting. It doesn’t make you a better person, and it’s almost certainly not the most pro-social use of your time and resources.

    In fact, parenthood, in many cases, is probably a stand-in for the dreams people wish they had been able to follow. When you reach a point in your life when you realize that your potential has faded, and you’re pretty much stuck with what you’ve done so far, make a new person, and pretend like he/she has the potential to do something great. (Spoiler alert: they won’t.)

  2. I think you’re misinterpreting my point. The article is just a short exploration of life stages (short because if it’s too long people, including myself, tune out); I’m not saying anything is any better or worse than anything else. I’m not saying you can’t be “productive” (although, considering your profession, I imagine your definition of that word and mine differ) or happy if you don’t have kids. The point of the article is that if you don’t face certain crises – if you just ignore them – then you won’t work yourself through to the next stage.

    I think considering college is a crisis that most Americans face. You can either go or not. What I’m suggesting is that by choosing one of those two – rather than running away from the decision – you are working yourself through the crisis. You don’t actually have to go, attending is not the correct choice, it’s the fact that you thought about how such a decision may impact at least the next decade of your life and you chose a certain path. Same thing with a jobjob. Same thing with getting married. Same thing with kids.

    All of these decisions move a person forward. If these decisions aren’t made, a person doesn’t grow. If MomAndDad are willing to let you stay in their basement indefinitely and you are somehow able to score some tail on a weekly basis, you don’t have much of a crisis on your hands; you have mo reason to get a jobjob or get married or have kids. You’re perpetually 21. That’s what I mean by stuck.

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