The Art of Midlife: Courage and Creative Living for Women

By Linda N. Edelstein | Go to book overview

6
I AM HER ONLY NOVEL" Relationships with Parents and Their Dreams for Us

If we tried to sink the past beneath our feet, be sure the future would not stand on it. -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. -- Colette's advice to her daughter

I have made my world and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside. -- Louise Nevelson

As we age and our parents age, we gain a new awareness of our similarities to and differences from them. We see more clearly how they shaped us, good and bad. We see, too, how we, often unknowingly, carried their unfulfilled dreams.

One of the most complex changes in the middle years involves the shift in responsibilities from our parents and their generation to us and our generation. Our parents, having had a lifetime before we arrived, will forever be the "real grown-ups" somewhere in our minds. Their aging and death profoundly affect us, whether we are twenty or forty, whether the relationship has been nourishing or tortured. As they age or fail, we begin to assume responsibility for their care. For those of us who could never count on our parents, to care for them is depleting. For those of us who have been close to our parents, we have the chance to return old favors, but we lose parents as a source of support. We become their support. We are often forced to make decisions about their care, and perhaps agonize over decisions about living arrangements or life support techniques. We must think about the type of relationship we want with them, and in thinking about the changes needed to create that relationship, we must look at ourselves and decide if there are other changes we need that may be long overdue in our lives.

Eventually we must own the dreams our parents had for us as belonging to us or give them up if they are not dreams we can accept and live. Knowing all this, our childhoods end and we become the generation in charge.

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