Mom and Me: Thoughts on Marginalization and Aging

Mom, Her Mom, and Me - 1973

From Mom to Me

As we age, we are treated differently, make no mistake about it, but until I felt it myself, it never rang true. In my professional life, from time to time I observed how people are marginalized – individuals with mental illness, immigrants, international students, people of color. Now, after years in college and ministerial circles, I’ve aged, and I sometimes feel marginalized because of my age. Someone might speak to me in a falsetto voice, pay no attention to my opinions, or worse still, not offer me a leadership role of some type. Sometimes I feel that young adults are patronizing. As I became more aware of ageism, at first I was perplexed, then angry, and finally curious. Is this a rite of passage for each generation?

Today when you told Dad and me of a conversation with your cousin, the gist of which is that gray hair raises barriers with younger colleagues and that the barriers sometimes lead to perceptions of less competence or inventiveness, I wondered does this cycle have to exist? How can we understand these new roles? Are we taking enough initiative? Are we now only acceptable as participants with less primary roles? Do young adults ever really know who “old people” are?

Yet, advantages and senior privileges accrue as I age – watching you and your family grow, becoming wiser, enjoying the flexibility to pursue interests, and so much more. And, of course, I have the knowledge and the perspective that aging is a lifetime process.

Mom, My Daughter, and Me-1994

From Me to Mom

Interesting, I think, that we spoke about marginalization or ageism today. Perhaps you are right, that this is all about rites of passage for each generation. Sadly, I have memories as a young professional of feeling irritated with older people who, from my perspective, seemed to know so much and acted like their experience was more important than my viewpoint. And now, sadly, people do it to me.

I’ve noticed that people seem to perceive me differently than in the past. Friends and colleagues my age comment about this all of the time. Most are my age – in their 50’s like me, say that the change in the way they are perceived seemed to happen over-night. One of my friends tells a story about how she suddenly noticed in meetings that people rolled their eyes when she was speaking – yet she knew she did not dominate, ask silly questions, or make extraneous comments. Our society seems to self-segregate by age, interests, political views, and more, so we may know a lot less about each other compared to when you and Dad were growing up.

Yes, there are benefits to growing older. I perceive myself differently, have much less to prove, and feel less stressed by little things. All of these develop only after long experience with life. I also have one other bonus, as I am aging — I watch you and Dad live fully and richly as you age gracefully.

2 thoughts on “Mom and Me: Thoughts on Marginalization and Aging

  1. This entry was insightful both for the subject matter, and for the unique “Mom and Me” format that you chose to use. I am looking forward to seeing more of these types of posts.

    As a student of psychology, a Public Relations Manager for a senior living community, and a former CNA, I’ve thought a great deal about ageism, and what causes it. I don’t think it’s something that has to exist, but I think there are several factors that cause it to.

    It’s easy to blame stereotypes and media portrayals of seniors, but I think those stereotypes are just a symptom of a larger problem. The real issue is that most younger people don’t know and associate with many seniors, and that lack of firsthand experience causes them to make snap judgments and rely on stereotypes to base their behavior.

    Often, culture differences cause younger people to associate less with older adults because they may feel they have little in common. Both may even feel a little intimidated by the other. This leads both individuals to more familiarity with coworkers or associates in similar age groups, which then creates a greater feeling of “us and them.”

    The answer to these issues is to build inter-generational relationships. Helping children from a young age to develop friendships with seniors, and encouraging young adults and older adults to interact with each other more in the workplace can bring about great change.

    One program here at Rose Villa that I think is really exciting is called “RASCALS.” The program brings an after-school group of fourth-graders to our community, where they work with some of our residents on different assignments. It has been wonderful to me to see the respect and admiration that the children gain for our residents, and the positive outlook the residents have for the future generation.

    There is more I might add, but this is your blog, not mine, and I just wanted to add my two cents. I think this blog is terrific, and I encourage you to keep up the great work!

  2. Your idea that much of ageism is due to lack of contact between seniors and younger persons is on target. My children were still middle school and high school and had difficulty initiating conversations with “different” persons. I began encouraging them by introducing them to others in strange groups. The introductions freed them to join in conversations, and they became enthusiastic participants. Initiating conversation with others can be learned. The value of regular encounter between seniors and children is well documented. Our senior community here at VMRC will include an intergenerational daycare unit, and we are waiting eagerly to see the results.

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