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Seasons of a Woman's Life

Presented by Nancy Franklin, LMSW-ACP
Reported by Lisa Eller-Smith
Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 5, October-November 1999, pp. 106

(This article is a report on a 1999 LLLI Conference session.)

A woman goes through many passages during her life. When she is in her twenties, she focuses on setting goals. She feels invulnerable and has little awareness that outside forces can get in her way. Friendships with other women may be complicated. She is searching for a love relationship, and in her subconscious, other women may present a threat to her prospects of having children.

By the time she is in her fifties and sixties, a woman has developed a richness of friendships with other women. These friendships and a new verve for life help her determine and understand her individuality. She has reared her children through adolescence and into adulthood. And now it is time to reflect and accept her own life. It's the culmination of a journey that begins in infancy.

Nancy Franklin, an LLL Leader for 22 years and family therapist in Texas, concentrated on this journey during her session "Seasons of a Woman's life" at the LLLI Conference. She used Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychological development as an overview to show what we have to learn as we age and mature. Known as the father of the study of psychological development, Erikson focused on the influence of society and culture on child development during his career.

1. During the first stage, trust vs. mistrust, the infant must form her first loving and trusting relationship with her mother. She needs to trust that her mother will care for her.

2. During the autonomy vs. shame and doubt stage (ages 18 months-three years), the child's energy is directed toward learning physical skills and her ever-increasing ability to exercise her will.

3. She continues to become more assertive during the initiative vs. guilt stage (three-six years). She envisions and pursues her goals, but may feel guilty if she is too forceful.

4. The industry vs. inferiority stage (6-12 years) is a time when the child must deal with demands to learn new skills or risk feeling inferior.

5. During adolescence, the identity vs. role confusion stage (12-18 years) brings about the opportunity for the teenager to achieve a sense of identity. Her behavior is inconsistent and unpredictable.

6. As a young adult, she develops intimate relationships during the intimacy vs. isolation stage (ages 19-40) or suffers feelings of isolation.

7. During middle adulthood, the generativity vs. stagnation stage (40-65 years), her main focus is parenting and she must find ways to support the next generation. She is a mentor, caring, teaching and expressing concerns for others.

8. And finally, she reflects and accepts her life during the integrity vs. despair stage (65 to death). She has a true understanding of herself and of feeling fulfilled. She has wisdom.

Through the mature years, we come to realize our journey will end much as it began. The same loving and trusting relationship we sought with our mothers as infants, we must eventually have with ourselves or suffer despair and languish. "You are your own firstborn," Franklin reminded everyone. "How are you treating her today?" Maturity is a time of "trusting that knowing within you," Franklin said.

But before we find wisdom, we must go through the stages, recognizing the transitions between them. Our lives are disrupted, Franklin noted, when "we don't do closure on our endings." When there are a number of transitions occurring simultaneously, women get out of balance. Some of the symptoms that indicate we are out of balance are anger, depression, fatigue, forgetfulness, disorganization, physiological problems, isolation and addictive behavior. Before this imbalance occurs, women need to say goodbye to main episodes in their lives, "then we can pick out a new beginning," Franklin said. "You can't know where you're going until you know where you are," she emphasized.

To help illustrate this point, Franklin drew four interconnecting circles that encompass a person's holistic components: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. We need to tend to each of these on a regular basis. "You know what you need, " Franklin said, "and if you don't, you need to find out."

Life is what happens to you while you're making plans, she continued. Women in their twenties employ rigid planning and think of procreation. Women in their thirties and forties focus on marriage and family. They tend to juggle many things, begin to recognize their physical limitations and think about what they "should" be doing. Women in their fifties contemplate and experience peri-menopause and menopause while they embrace a new enthusiasm for living. At sixty and seventy, women experience the empty nest, mentoring, travel and peace.

These linear overviews help us see our pasts and our futures. Yet, Franklin pointed out, healthy people live in the present and know that the future is now. And because women are flexible--it's our flexibility that makes us uniquely female--we can live in the now, seeing the plan evolve. We talk around it. We share. We learn to listen to that still, small voice inside us.

By working in groups, we know we aren 't alone. "You have to know yourself," Franklin said. "You have to stay with women who believe that." Which is why La Leche League turns out to be such a wonderful place for women to make their journeys. In LLL we have friendships. We can hear the voices within us as we help each other and ourselves. We have our past, present and future. "We need connection with the younger women," she said, "and they need us. "

For Further Reading:

Hunter, Brenda. In the Company of Women.

Pipher, Mary. Another Country; Reviving Ophelia; The Shelter of Each Other.

Sheedy, Gail. Passages; New Passages.

Sher, Barbara. Wishcraft; It's Only Too Late if You Don't Start Now.

Wells, Rebecca. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

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