Generation X: Bad Parents?

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…

Generation X as Parents: Wildly Overprotective

Photo Credit:  Pak Gwei
Generation X’er are definitely over-protective when it comes to their kids. But do they give a damn about anyone else’s kids?

This interesting article in MSN by Susan Gregory Thomas describes parent’s attitudes today. The article makes some great points about the nature of Generation X’ers of parents, but I think it misses the marks in regards to their children.

A couple particularly good quotes:

“Generation X parents seem to have mistaken emotional ‘enmeshment’ for ‘attachment parenting,’”


“Our parents, the Boomers, didn’t pay so much attention to us — they were getting divorced and working and respecting independence, so they left us a lot of times to Scooby Doo,” says Calhoun. “But we’re going a bit far in the other direction and paying so much attention that we’re picking up on every blip in our kids’ whims.”

(note that many parents of Gen X’ers were actually of the Silent generation born 1925-1942)

But this one totally misses the point:

As for today’s little kids? “No one will want to hire them,” says Brody. That’s not an encouraging thought, especially in these economic times.

The kids described in the article are the generation AFTER the Millennials (born 1981-200?), tentatively known as “Homelanders” (born after 2003 or so). They are likely to follow in the footsteps of the Silent Generation by becoming conformist young adults. How is this possible? Consider that most Gen X parents are not particularly permissive with their children. They often enforce strict rules and boundaries for thier kids inside and outside the home. But Gen X parents don’t really care what society thinks about their parenting or whether their kids obey society’s rules.  So the kids get two messages: my parents will protect me from the outside world as long as I follow their rules (and they will be there to enforce them).

The message that Gen X’ers give their kids is, “Follow MY rules and there will be a good outcome”. Once translated into an adult mentality (in the Homelanders) that sounds a lot like a recipe for conformity (“Follow the BOSS’s rules and there will be a good outcome”). I think that some of the psych’s interviewed are confusing the permissiveness of the Silents and Boomers with the “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks” of the X’ers. Just because we don’t care whether Johnny takes away your kid’s toy, doesn’t mean we are permissive: it means we don’t give a damn about YOUR kid.