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The Last Day of School
Or: Thwarted Developmental Stages, Anger, and Society
Our garden has many sections, many boundaries. One day, I trimmed the walls to the meditation garden and discovered this sign. The other side says, “Welcome.” I can’t tell you how delighted I was to find this sign. I smile every time I turn it to “Go Away” … that’s usually when I enter the meditation garden with my music and a prayer book. It’s when I find slivers of time to myself.
Boundaries are meeting places. They are places where we discover and meet others. They are also places where we meet ourselves.
We’ve all been excited about this school year going away. We are looking forward to being at home without schooling demands. We are also looking forward to welcoming people here … and pushing beyond the boundaries of our shutdown, and going back out into the world.
Let’s explore boundaries, freedom, this shutdown, and the school year. I’m sure the topic will creep into other areas, but for the most part, in our case, the closing in of physical boundaries had a huge impact on school performance. Here’s a picture of a typical school day for one of my more extroverted and exuberant children.
Today is the last day of school. I can’t believe we are here. Some days were just so long. Yet, overall, the time flew past us. Maybe this is the end of virtual school/hybrid school altogether. There’s so much to process about what we have been through together.
My two older boys received their second dose of the COVID vaccine yesterday. Two weeks from now, they can get together indoors with their friends without masks.
My house has been so silent. Not true, of course. It’s normally been abnormally loud. It hasn’t been silent at all, but it hasn’t been loud in the way it gets loud when the children have their friends over. The walls ricochet from even more spontaneous laughter and shenanigans than usual.
It’s started again. Slowly. Outside.
They’ve made closer friends since returning to school this spring. Their friends come over, one by one, and play outside with them. The yard gets littered with their Nerf guns/bullets, the various gates are left open, and the dog gets into the pool when he shouldn’t. The chaos … normal chaos … is comforting.
I’m thinking beyond my children’s snack needs again. I’m planning strategically about what to have on hand for all the growing boys’ snacking needs. I’m talking to their friends’ parents about swimming ability.
As friendships deepen, the children’s desire to expand their boundaries away from us grows too. Other parents and I are discussing biking boundaries for the younger ones. “I’m not comfortable with them going to this store, but how about this one?” “OK, I’m good with that. I can see them on the app.” We’ve agreed that we use the phone, not to limit them, but to give them more freedom than we would. That’s what we tell ourselves, at least.
Back to expanding boundaries away from us. Before the shutdown, my eldest son left the house on his bike at 6:45 AM for jazz band and stayed away until 5 PM due to cross country. He was appropriately away from us. Then, suddenly, when school and society shut down in March of 2020, all that freedom was reduced to the confines of our home. Time with friends was mostly reduced to the walls of his room. He met up with some people on his bike and had moments of independence. But it wasn’t the same as nearly 12 hours a day of independently managing himself among peers. Without parents.
For this son, the shutdown posed a developmental crisis. We had to find new ways to help him explore the world without us … from within a room that shared a wall with his parents.
He was depressed and angry a lot of the time. We wanted to help. Naturally, he pushed us away. (“Go away!”) Developmentally, this made sense. We got him an online coach and a therapist. He’s benefited from the non-parental guidance.
He didn’t do as well as he wanted in school … but he did surprisingly well in a computer science class. Since then, he discovered Blender, Unity and is teaching himself C#. They’ve become virtual worlds for him to explore. He pushes himself into new digital frontiers and then delights in showing us what he has discovered and created.
He finishes school today and starts an online programming class Monday. I’m relieved that he found healthy ways to channel his adolescent desire for novelty. Before this, he was languishing, as Adam Grant described so well in his New York Times article.
You and I also have developmental tasks. If we aren’t reaching them, we will feel as though we are languishing. Sometimes, we feel a heck of a lot more than that! And. And, it’s developmentally appropriate.
We never stop developing.
We enter new, later stages of life that require us to accept, adjust, let go … and, yes, expand and grow. As I write about my first son, I wonder which of my developmental tasks and challenges have been thwarted by the pandemic.
Pam Levin [Levin, P. (1980). Cycles of power. San Francisco: Trans Pubs.] wrote about child development as cycles of development. She suggested that teens recycle the stages and that as adults, we both continue to cycle through the stages and recycle our children’s stages as they grow. Phew, that’s a lot of opportunities to grow … and to remain entrenched.
One cycle that comes to mind is the third, “the cycle of thinking.” This occurs from 18 months to 3 years. It is recycled at age 15 and at other ages throughout life. My eldest son, being 15, is recycling this third developmental stage. Therefore, I am. He seeks to think for himself, problem-solve, follow his curiosity, push boundaries, etc. If you have children, this will sound familiar.
Returning to reflecting on my situation, I am thinking of how this stage is occurring in my life. Interestingly, if the developmental tasks are not achieved, children will not trust their own thinking and often be in a state of “I don’t know.” They will feel a general sense of anger. I feel both of those. I don’t know what I want to do about the two career goals related to a previous job I referred to yesterday. Also, I feel a general sense of anger. Luckily, my children let me know when my anger is intruding on them. I listen and respond. I tend to myself.
Zooming out a bit and tying this stage into what is occurring in our society today:
In general, we don’t parent this stage well. I observe that we prefer our children to “be good” by following what we say and do rather than supporting their autonomy with appropriate boundaries. When it comes to learning to think, we want them to think the way we do (politics, religion, prejudices, etc.).
In general, developmentally, there’s a lot of pent-up anger resulting from not truly being supported in thinking for ourselves. There’s misplaced rebelliousness and arguing over us/them in an attempt to feel power and independence. What is really being experienced is a “one-up” position. This is not the same as autonomy nor healthy cooperative power. One-up power positions require the person in the one-down position to stay there. Thus it is a dependent position. Cooperative power is used to tend to everyone’s wants and needs. Neither party is dependent on the suppression of another.
One can imagine that cooperative parenting of a child in this stage is very different than power-over parenting. The results are different too. It’s hard, and it takes doing our own personal work along the way. I certainly haven’t done it perfectly, but I did it mostly over time, and I like the results. I appreciate that my children think for themselves and differently than I do. It inspires me to question my own thinking and assumptions. This, of course, requires emotional regulation, which we also don’t do well in our society.
This pandemic challenged my recycling of this stage. (Maybe yours as well.)
There are many ways my childhood thwarted my autonomy. I’m still recycling those on my path to autonomy.
Lately, I’ve been in a general state of anger. I can see that this ties into all the ways I am not meeting my developmental needs for thinking for myself and autonomy. I’ve essentially put my career on hold to support my family. My husband, in contrast, has thrived during this time. He’s steadily advanced at his day job and in the Air Force Reserves. He is making more friends than I remember him having in our married life. And he is taking time for himself. I am thrilled that he is doing this. I see him in a new light, and it increases my delight in who he is. He needs this. He’s worked so much, and especially during the pandemic.
As for myself, well … I’ve held my kids during this time of virtual and hybrid schooling. And during all of this, I’ve been inching my way toward my new dreams and question the heck out of them because aspects are not clear. I am trusting what I can’t fully see.
I’ll pause here. I want to write just enough to give you a sense of this time. I want to inspire you to reflect on what has been developmentally thwarted for you.
What are your unmet wants and needs?
How can you begin to tend to them?
A note about anger: We can normalize anger without normalizing violence. These are not the same. Differentiating between the two is another thing our society doesn’t do well. After all, anger is related to power. Not all of us—minorities and women especially—are supposed to be powerful. It seems the pandemic is coming under control here in the US. In many ways, the shutdown we’ve known is coming to an end. The shift of power, however, the shift toward thinking for ourselves, is just beginning.
Back to the title. It’s the last day of school. I had planned to write more specifically about that and process emotions directly related to the school year. I especially wanted to do that before my dad and stepmom arrive today. I trust I processed what I need to process related to this year.
It’s been quite a school year. Thank goodness it’s coming to an end today. There’s a sense of “we made it” that contrasts with how much easier it is now than it was at the beginning and in the middle. Our hybrid schedule made a huge difference. My younger two are sad that school is ending. My older two are ready to dive into the things they’d prefer to learn about.
More to Come on Developmental Cycles
I’ll discuss my second son and his developmental stage tomorrow. To sum it up, he hated piano practice until he realized he could ask his teacher to teach him more theory and help him figure out how to enhance the songs he is composing.
I invite you to stay with me as we continue to explore how the pandemic thwarted our meeting developmental tasks. This is an important lens, offering insight into our emotions, wants, needs, and how to move forward from here.
Let’s move forward together.