“These kids today” — words from every older generation referring to the generation at their heals. Each generation thinks they got it right and the next is getting it all wrong. But we are always the products of the one before.
Here’s how I see where we stand in our parenting now. (You will undoubtedly note the generalizations):
Baby boomers were born and raised in post WWII during an economic recovery and unprecedented prosperity. They (we) got to do more of what we wanted than our parents did but punitive restrictions were still alive and well. We also learned to distrust government (read: all authority) thanks to the Nixon-Vietnam years. We actively demonstrated against the establishment and leapt out of our parents’ footprints to set our own way.
Most of us didn’t like being brought up to be obedient and silent and were determined to bring our kids up differently. So there we were, in limbo, raising our kids — differently.
Different meant the opposite of strict obedience, punishment to enforce rules, powerlessness. After all, our parents raised a disobedient generation.
We left hometowns and families to make our own way. We didn’t want our children to feel invisible and unimportant. We didn’t want to raise them on fear. So we tipped the scales and fell to the opposite end of the continuum.
Many new parents became permissive, hovering, and indulgent—all in the name of progress. Their babies would have the best, learn the most, be the best and smartest yet — until they voiced the voice that was now allowed.
Parents who were raised feeling powerless and unimportant generally feel powerless in the face of their children’s natural energies. Without the use of fear tactics to quiet them, parents either give in or scream with resentment and anger. It’s hard to find middle ground.
Many baby boomer parents of course towed the line growing up, especially if that line gave them wealth and power once grown. That line continues to the next generation. Many were wounded by restrictive upbringings and pass on their wounds to their children.
Humans are typically black and white thinkers. If we reject one end of the continuum, we fly to the opposite ignoring the gray areas in between. We don’t like baby steps; we think we must take giant steps. So we either leap unprepared or stay where we are out of fear or loss of love. We miss out on the nuances of relationship and connection.
A child’s job is to get what he wants when he wants it. That is normal development of the naturally egocentric, narcissistic child. But a very strict authoritarian parent, ignorant of child development, will use fear to eradicate that egocentric behavior fearing the child “will never learn”. Often this child grows to become a narcissistic adult driven to get only what he wants for fear of losing it. Need I say we have a perfect example of this in our daily news.
A parent’s job is to accept and support this egocentricity while gently guiding it toward consideration of others understanding that maturity takes care of much of it. But if not understood, many parents are left in frustration when they are not willing to use the fear tactics of their upbringing yet don’t know what else to do and revert to the only thing they know.
We are in what I call the limbo generation(s). Parents are trying to figure it out but often err on the side of unintended indulgence and then fly into rages when whatever they try doesn’t work. They may give in to their children’s demands to avoid meltdowns and disappointment — feelings never dealt with in their families of origin. They attempt to boost self-esteem, something they lack, with trophies and stickers and do for their children what their children are capable of doing for themselves.
Hence a generation or two that has learned to expect privileges and preferential treatment. Enter technology! “Faster than a speeding bullet” devices of all kinds give today’s children the best entertainment of all right in their pockets. What kid wouldn’t want that? They have learned that they don’t have to do what they don’t want to if they scream loud enough and have disdain for the older generation that hasn’t quite figured out yet how to hold their own.
Is this why “these kids today” seem to have no manners or consideration, think rules are for someone else, are stuck in egocentricity and self-absorbed in worlds designed by technology? Yet plenty are emerging with a good deal of self-confidence and finding their potential. The parents of tomorrow. It may take another generation or two for that level of confidence to reach the tipping point. I believe we are moving in that direction.
Finding the balance, the middle ground, eludes us. Taking baby steps, trying it out as we go, listening to what feels right, will get us to that middle ground sooner than over stepping it with giant leaps. But parents need self-confidence to find the middle, to know that the rights and needs of each member of the family are no more or no less important than anyone else’s, to be just as respectful of our children as we expect them to be toward us. Balance is the key, but the balance point is hard to find and easy to fall from.