This recent article in the Christian Science Monitor got me to thinking about the way us Gen X’er go about parenting. Back in 2006 our family did just what the article mentioned: we sold a house, our cars, pulled the kids from school and traveled around the world for 6 months (see the stories about our travels here if you are interested). Now I had never heard of Eat, Pray, Love at that time, but I can see why people would make a connection. The thing is that the character in the book was a single woman, not a family. So how do you explain that families (who have a LOT more ties to the ordinary life) are the ones described leaving the rat race? I realize it is just an article is more about anecdotal evidence, but it does seem to be a leap to think that someone with two kids and a house in ‘burbs would be inspired by it and pack their bags.
I think a better explanation is that Generation X (born 1961-1981) parents are sigk of running on the treadmill of life (designed by previous generations) and don’t really trust anyone else to educate their kids (as any grade school teacher about this if you don’t believe me). So they decide to do it their own way. Gen X’ers are the ultimate individualists, willing to go it alone and damn the perceptions.
I can’t tell you how many times before, during and after our travels that we got asked, “What did you do for the kids educations?”. My answer depended on my mood at the time. Sometimes I would mention that they went to school in Australia for part of the trip (true, but they both didn’t learn a thing at that particular school). Other times I would answer that they were only in 4th grade and kindergarten respectively, so they really didn’t miss that much. Most of the time I would go with the cheeky answer by stating, “I already mentioned we traveled the World for six months!” After all, Caleb (who was ten at the time) learned a fair bit of Thai and even some Arabic on our travels. When we returned home he was a behind in one subject: violin (which he never really caught up in after that).
I suspect our reasons for dropping everything and traveling were much like our fellow Gen X’ers: We just wanted to do something different and didn’t really care what anyone else thought.
BTW, if you ask our Millennial (born 1982-2004) kids whether they would do the trip again now, they both reply “No Way!”. We hit it at a great age but they are not interesting in doing it again now…
Generation X (born 1961-1981) are famous for their “I don’t give a damn” attitude. Many Gen X’ers sport tattoos proudly even now that they are moving into middle age. I know many parents with tattoos (including several who are pretty well covered in them) but there seems to be a new trend developing where Gen X aged parents are getting tattoos to honor their new babies:
As D. Anderson at “My Generation X” pointed out in a recent post, the meaning of tattoos has changed over the years. Millennials(born 1982-200?) seem to get tattoos as a sign of social inclusion. Older Gen X’ers remember a time when tattoos were a sign of an amoral attitude (or at least rugged individualism), but this does not seem to be the case for the younger generation. I am not sure what Boomers (born 1943-1960) but I am sure that most Silents (born 1925-1942) think they are low-class or even degenerate. The last generation that really seemed to have a high regard for tattoos was the GI Generation(born 1901-1924) where tattoos among the war heroes were seen as a sign of honor and respect among peers. No surprise that the Millennials might be taking on some of the characteristics of the last “Hero” generation.
The over-scheduling, over-achieving and stressed-out parenting style that has been the hallmark of the Boomer (born 1943-1960) generation may finally be coming to a close now that Generation X (born 1961-1981) is fully taking over as parent of young children. There is a backlash developing in the form of the “Bad Parent” who isn’t willing to sacrifice everything to be the perfect Mom or Dad. And, like everything suggested by Generation X it was initially reviled but now starting to gain acceptance. This short (2.5 minute) video on CNN give a quick picture of the shift:
While they seem to understand that the parenting style so dominant when the Millennials (born 1982-200?) is coming to a close, there is little awareness of what comes next. The Boomers dove into parenting like everything else they did, with idealism and righteousness. By the time that Gen X’er started to have kids they got overwhelmed with the expectations (that were unrealistic, especially for Moms) and are finally starting to rebel.
All of this makes sense in generational terms, but the thing that is being missed is the parenting style that will dominate for the next 20 years. According to Strauss and Howe’s generational theory, the next “cohort” or generation began a few years ago, perhaps in 2003, perhaps in 2005 (that will become clearer in time). The next generation (that they have named “Homelander” for now) will be raised very differently than the previous generation (the Millennials). The Homelanders will be raised during a massive crisis, much like the Great Depression and WWII that was faced 80+ years ago. This period of crisis is known as the “Fourth Turning” (the title of one of Strauss and Howe’s best, but most difficult, books). We are at the start of the Crisis/Fourth Turning right now (they call it the Millennial Crisis) and it will likely last until 2025.
So how will Gen X’ers (and eventually Millennials) parent during this Fourth Turning? Probably in the same way that the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) and GI Generation (born 1901-1924) did in the 1930’s: by protecting the children from the chaos in the world. This protection will go completely overboard in the upcoming years and the kids will end up in ridiculously cloistered environments (“They stroll in sidewalk versions of sport utility vehicles, learn to swim in U.V. protective full-body suits.” from a recent NYTimes article) and will probably turn out much like their grandparents, from the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942). As usual, most institutions (schools in particular) won’t be prepared for this shift and will assume what worked for the previous batch of kids (Millennials) will work with this bunch as well. The result will be a very challenging time for schools (and eventually companies) as these stifled, conformist and compliant kids move up through the years.
Of course, as I have mentioned before, their parents (Gen X’ers) will be entirely different (and more difficult) matter…