Life Transition - PamOlsen

By Pam Olsen, J.D., M.S.

I am a very fortunate person; I have loving, intelligent parents who have known each other since they were teenagers and been married for 52 years.  My parents are college educated and made a very nice life for themselves and our family.   I have always deeply respected my parents and enjoyed spending time with them.  As I said, I am indeed a fortunate person.

I went to law school at age 20 and took my first job at a large law firm in Miami.  Though I had met who would become my husband in that period, I would often turn to my parents for advice and the solving of practical matters.   Even after I married at 23, I regularly checked in with my parents and made many efforts to please them, including attending the same church, despite the fact I was beginning to realize that my views on matters such as religion and, yes, politics, diverged from the views of my parents.

At first I would encounter some mild arguments with my parents as I endured some criticism and felt their genuine hurt and concern that I was in fact becoming a person with a very different world view than the one I had learned from my parents.  I would say that period lasted a little over a decade through my thirties.  Nonetheless, I still sought their advice and often approval too on many important matters.

As I entered my forties, many things began to change for me internally.  I noticed that I no longer felt a need or desire to ‘argue’ my point of view, nor did I feel quite so uncomfortable that I had such a different way of looking at most things from my parents.  I was, as some might say, ‘coming into my own’ and feeling less angst about this.

Then, one day not so long ago (I am now 48), I needed to process some deep feelings I was having concerning many profound areas of my life such as career, relationship, finances, stress and the like.  It was in a moment of a text message with my Mother when she responded, “that she did not know what my meltdown was about and it is too bad that I am not a praying type of person!”   I think I cried a thousand tears that day, as clearly I still wished for the support, approval, and closeness with my parents.

be you own elder-pamolsenIt was that day, from my tear streaked cheeks, that I had a very valuable insight.   I was crossing another threshold in my life- a transition point- that took me by shock.   That transition point I defined in my own mind is the point when our well-meaning, beloved elders are no longer those that we need to define or support our deepest beliefs, values, or feelings.

It is not that they will not ever be there for us again, but it is the need that changes.  Suddenly, I found myself as my own ‘elder’; a person who was truly ready to trust my own way of seeing and ordering my world.  I had become my own ‘elder’ within and I was quite comfortable with this.

This writing is not intended to address those points where this transition point occurs due to death or illness of our parents or elder loved ones.   I address this point that may occur in our lives while our elders are living, as it is then that we so consciously must digest this seeming shock that we may have outgrown their models and beliefs about life – at least the ones that our own souls have sung to us.  It does not mean we love or respect them any less or in any way value them less, it means that we are at the ‘helm of our own wheel’ as our lives move on with this thing we call time and age.  It does not mean we fail to honor our lineage or their well done or well meaning ‘raising’ of us; it means we are unable to actively seek their input when life’s challenges and dilemmas come to pass and maybe even our joys too.

I think the best we can do to honor ourselves and our beloved elders is to offer our deep gratitude for their guidance and teaching and then to also honor the elder within- that one we have become.   While this transition may come as a tear streaked moment of shock and discomfort (as mine did), it is a point in life to be celebrated by all who love us and to remember to also love ourselves through this time.   I know I am better for this conscious facing of this point of my life in relation to my beloved elders and have developed even more compassion and love for them.  Most importantly, I honor my own inner elder and know from where she came and where she is to go.