This article showed up on my fb feed, and unlike most articles that show up in my fb feed, I read it. I read it because I’ll read pretty much anything that talks about Gen X, a generation that my birth in the exact middle of the 1970’s puts me at the tail end of. Because I want to know more about myself, I keep hoping one of these articles, or at least a quiz about who I was in a past life or the true nationality of my soul, nails it. This one talks about how we’re shitty parents (the writer doesn’t say that exactly, but I can read between the lines and I know a self-hating Gen Xer when I read one).
Our parents were the Boomers, those hippie drop-out acid tripping spawn of the greatest generation, who turned eventually to worship the cold hard dollar then admonish themselves for it and dump a steaming heap of “find your passion” onto the first world. Our parents, the Boomers, who told us to go out and play, stuffed our faces with Kraft mac and cheese and NBC’s Thursday night line-up that began with The Cosby Show and ended, if memory serves, with Newhart. (I’m tempted to google that but if you really want to you can do it yourself.)
They were not the free-wheeling, beer swilling, value of hard work enforcing lackadaisical brilliant parents of a bunch of average would be nothings with a set of house keys jangling around their necks. They were a mess. The didn’t know who they were or what they wanted. They kept changing the rules on themselves. Tune in drop out turned into a Get a pro job and a mortgage. Love your kids like the beautiful rainbows that they are turned into Start saving for college now so they can grow up and get a good job and make something of themselves in the straight world. Loving each other turned into Divorce, Remarriage, New families in which the original Gen X kid got to learn a whole new set of rules and expectations and could knock themselves out trying to meet those expectations only to realize they are bullshit (yet still be trying to reach them, or maybe that’s just me). Have you ever tried to reach for the sky only to find yourself with a handful of complete shit, but keep reaching because you figure that once you get through all that shit there must be something real on the other side? No? Me neither.
I remember my Gen X kiddom. I was lonely and freaked out. On more than one occasion I thought the literal devil was chasing me down the street at magic hour. I learned about sex from Our Bodies Our Selves, drugs from Go Ask Alice, and romance from Molly Ringwald. I learned about love from pain and desperation. I learned about fear because I was afraid all the time, and I learned about the necessity of keeping secrets, even from yourself sometimes, through the will of self-preservation.
I didn’t feel close to my parents, I felt like they were in a world far from mine, a world with self-determination and all the wax lips you could eat. Is that what is being lauded when we talk about these great parents who let us run free? Who didn’t concern themselves with our internal selves? Am I the only one who remembers the pressure of trying to stay out until dark and not a moment later? Of having parents who were so concerned with themselves and my independence that they had no idea what I was thinking, feeling, wanting, or worried about? You guys I still get choked up when my parents say that they’re proud of me, and now that I’m a grown up, they don’t skimp on those words. A little participation trophy may have gone a long way to helping me engender my own sense of self worth. We all know a participation trophy doesn’t mean winning, but hell at least I’d have known that someone noticed I showed up!
Here’s my own list, here are the true markers of Gen Ex parents:
We know that to unconditionally love does not mean to unconditionally reward.
We put an emphasis on individuality and freedom of expression, without forcing the kid to just decide on something already and stick with it. What do I want my kid to be when he grows up? Kind.
We ask what the kid would like for dinner, because there’s no point forcing them to eat food that makes them wretch.
We strive for consistency. We try to react the same way to a given stimulus today as we will tomorrow. What gets the kid a time out today will not get them sent to bed without supper tomorrow.
We have a desire to show our kids just how many doors there are to be opened in the world, just how many rocks there in the great big forest that we can turn over and watch the beetles scurry, just so they know it’s out there, even if they decide to stay home, in New York City, by their mom.
We try to teach the lesson that life itself is its own reward, that being alive is an amazing gift. Treasure breath, and when you move on to treasure heaps of other things, still treasure breath.
We try to let them know that to be kind and generous and loving without judgement is to receive those things a thousand fold over in your heart, even without reciprocation.
We know that it’s not the quality of time you spend with your kids, but the quantity. A relationship cannot be formed in bits and pieces, no matter how many Calders you look at while doing it. A relationship, like everything else from basketball to writing stories to cracking jokes, takes practice.
We know that negligence may breed independence, but it’s not the only way to get there.
The world can be a harsh and soul crushing place, and kids will learn about that soon enough, but they don’t need to learn about it from the actions, or inactions, of their parents.
The parents of the Gen Xers were fine; they were horrible; they were loving and kind; they did what they thought was best; they did what they thought was best for themselves; we love them anyway, because a child’s love for a parent is very nearly unconditional. But just because we all grew up to be basically fine doesn’t mean they did it right. They didn’t think their parents did it right either; wanting to raise your kids differently, better, than your parents raised you is nothing new.
We’ve got our own way, and it is not inferior. Maybe our parents and critics should think on this: if they think we’re telling our children too often how much we love them, too much how dearly we value their existence and their personhood, trying too hard to guide them, perhaps that is all a reflection on what we feel we were missing in our childhood, and instead of scolding us- since apparently we all turned out fine- they should leave us alone to sort it for ourselves, like they did when we were kids.