Today, as I spoke with my daughter, I realized how much our roles change. Not just year to year, but often day to day—and sometimes even a dozen times during a single day.
It isn’t something we consciously think about. Actually, if I hadn’t been body-slammed with a changing role recently, I likely would have continued to ignore role changes. I’m a people-watcher and an empath so I’ve often been intensely aware of how people interact one way with one person and another way with a different person. It’s like changing hats. For this one, I’m the teacher, with that one, the student, with yet a third, the employee, and with the fourth, the employer.
Not too many years ago, women were frowned upon if they had jobs outside the home, and frowned upon if they didn’t. Hard for women now in their twenties to believe that, but it was true. A woman was defined as so-and-so’s wife, or daughter, or mother. Women rarely used their first names, except for with very close friends and family. Then, women were defined by their roles in the lives of others.
A lot has changed in that regard in the past twenty years. And don’t misunderstand me on this. Men didn’t escape being classified. They had their own challenges to contend with on the matter. It was just that in those days, the role definitions were more prominent for women, easy to spot.
Then there were children of the cusp, as I like to call them. I am one. If I stayed at home with my kids, I was “just a housewife,” and I’m sorry to say often treated as a person of no note. If I pursued my career, then I was “a horrible mother.” I couldn’t win, and I wasn’t alone. An entire generation of women rode the cusp—and the men in our lives, bless ’em, were stuck with apologizing for us either way.
But the roles I’m talking about here go much deeper than the superficial roles we live. I’m talking about roles of the heart.
Roles of the heart are life defining. And they cut you no quarter and give you no mercy. They are what they are, with passion and conviction. If the role is a pleasant one, you experience bliss. If it’s a difficult one, you trudge through hell. Either way, you take solace in that you know what to expect.
I sifted through my past and was genuinely surprised at all the different roles I’ve lived. I can’t say played, because they were my life, and that’s been no game. Sometimes role changes were expected, and sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes I sought them, and sometimes, though I ran like hell, they caught me and I was stuck with living with them.
Transitions can be easy or difficult; there’s no pattern. And while our attitude toward them generally has a huge impact on how easily we make the transition, it doesn’t always. They say that everything in life has balance. Culture and counter-culture; good and evil; joy and despair. I suppose that holds true for everything, for as I sit here and ponder on it, I can’t think of a single instance where it is not so. Transition’s opposite is stagnant. We all know anything stagnant decays until it dies.
Some role changes come a little at the time, like a child growing up. You know that there will come a day when the child is a woman or a man. You know that all during childhood, your role will change and that holds true into adulthood. These are role changes we expect to happen. They’re a part of the cycle of life.
Some role changes are gentle, like the role reversal that occurs when you, the child, mother the parent. Or when your child, a young adult, clasps your arm for the first time when the two of you are walking through a parking lot.
Some role changes are neither expected nor gentle. Some are thrust upon you, and you find yourself in the challenging position of just having to accept them. I think of all the role changes, these are the most difficult. Because you have no choice and you have no control.
It is these changes that knock you to your knees and strike hardest at your heart. These that devastate, and change you forever. They’re the most challenging, of course, because you must respect (and stomach) the choices that others make, and find a way to live with them that doesn’t chew you up inside or fill you with resentment and hate.
I’m thinking here of a friend whose mother suffered with Alzheimer’s. She went from being a daughter, to acting as a mother, to being a stranger to her mother. I remember the day her mother first failed to recognize her. The pain was overwhelming, the despondency suffocating. We talked for hours that day. About what had been and now was. The emotional roller coaster was immense. She wept for her mother, her illness, for herself because her father had already passed on, and it struck her that with her mother unable to remember her, she was essentially an orphan.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you lose your parents, by death or a mind-robbing illness, it’s a shock, and even if you have a wonderful family of your own, when you are parentless, you still feel alone, abandoned, and, yes, even betrayed. But that’s another story best kept for another time.
This is about the role change in the woman who hadn’t forgotten. In the daughter, who remembered every kiss to every bump and bruise and broken bone. Who recalled hours and hours of Mom warming the bleachers at her ball games, helping her with homework, baking muffins and doing her time at PTA. She was there helping her dress for her first dance, on Prom night, and her wedding day. She was always there, to talk, to listen, to support and nurture. To love.
The daughter remembered everything, had done nothing wrong, and yet her role changed dramatically and she could but watch it happen, and mourn all it signified lost.
I learned that day that memories can comfort, but they’re a poor substitute for making more of them.
Still, change isn’t all bad. It’s a natural part of life. And it’s good that we change and grow as those around us do. But I think it’s important to not just drift through these changes. I think it’s important to acknowledge them. And, hard as it might be when it’s a change inflicted, I think it’s healthy to accept them. Accept that some changes come because you will them to come, and some changes are inflicted on you no matter how hard you rebel. Either way, the change has arrived and you’ve got a new reality. And that’s the part it’s healthy to accept: the new reality.
In this exploration, I find the variance of attitudes and the vast differences in people’s reactions astounding. One person can be devastated, and the other involved clueless. One can be thrilled, and the other totally oblivious. It’s an interesting thing to sift through on a dreary day.
I’m sitting here and asking myself about the heroine in DOUBLE DARE. How many roles does Maggie Holt play? How many hats does she wear during the course of the novel? The answer surprised me. It was more than twice what I guessed.
For people or characters, here’s the thing. Each of the roles we live, as we live them, brings something to our lives that make it richer. We can but hope that, as we live each role, we are enriching as well.
And on that note, I’ll end another writing day….
Vicki Hinze https://www.vickihinze.com
Note: I edit books and professional correspondence. But I do NOT edit email or this blog. This is chat time for me, so if the grammar is goofed or a word’s spelled wrong, please just breeze on past it. I’d appreciate it–and salute you with my coffee cup. 🙂
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–Vicki Hinze https://vickihinze.com
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Copyright 2005. VickiHinze (https://www.vickihinze.com), is a multi-published author, who has a free library of her articles on writing–the craft, business and life.