I love generational talk. I love comparing our parents to us, the generation that’s just after the Y, the X in all of their ground breaking selfishness, the way we pave the way for one another, how one group of people domino effects the lives of the group after them, and even the group after that.
I also have a lot of frustration and fist shaking at how entitled we have become. People can’t put away their phones and have a real conversation, there are shows like My Super Sweet 16 on MTV, the length at which my generation finds it acceptable to live at home even though they have a job and could move out (compared to the ones who can’t find a job and are getting screwed by the education system with massive loans, and the economy). Maybe it’s my anthropology background, my fascination with observing people and comparing them to cultures on the other side of the globe, comparing them to cultures separated by 50, 100, 200 years. It can’t be helped.
Yesterday Kamel sent me this article from the New Yorker titled: Why Are American Kids So Spoiled? And I almost fell over from nerd joy. It makes the assertion that:
With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world.
That’s some pretty hefty indulging we got there. And immediately I thought of all the kids who know how to use an iPad as their own personal entertainment system, and how the majority of adults don’t even have an iPad. And then I realized that in order for this to work, this theory that American Kids are little lords and lordesses, it can’t just be about stuff. It has to span all economic tiers otherwise I would call this article bunk and roll my eyes.
They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority. “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call.
Oh. Well yeah. I feel like this is a cliche idea, but I’m going to use it anyway: It’s like the mom or dad who have the struggle with “what to make for dinner” and one kid refused mac and cheese, one kid demands PBJ, and one kid wants nothing but carrot sticks. The mom or dad, out of frustration, ends up making up 4 different plates when the meal prepped for that night was spaghetti. Parents eat the prepped spaghetti and the kids get what they want. Poof! The Kids are now King and Queen of the land and the parents are the scullery.
Kamel and I sometimes pretend to be our future kids. We may be out on a walk or something. In the grocery store, whatever. And something will happen where Kamel will stomp his foot (in jest) and say “Mooooom! I hate you!” and then he will say, “Someday our kids are going to say that to us, and then you are going to cry.” Or we’ll talk about how kids will just refuse to do XYZ and how do we make them? How do we keep them from running off when we say not to, or being bullies, or staying out till all hours of the night when they are teenagers? And then I remember the one thing I so easily forget: Kids are not adults, they don’t all have the “I’m a human, and you’re a human, and I have the same exact rights that you do!” mentality. Even if they are kicking my ass and wearing me down like emotional tyrants, as long as I never admit to it, maybe I can hold on to the thrown.
But this is about little kids, which I am only mildly interested in. The New Yorker article goes on to talk about more adult sized children (those only a few years younger than me). And I would like to preface this by saying: Remember when all of the sociologists and the like said that all of this boomerang business was our fault? We were the sad, whiny generation who couldn’t get their shit together and have to have mommy bail us out. My hackles raise just typing that out.
Not long ago, Sally Koslow, a former editor-in-chief of McCall’s, discovered herself in this last situation. After four years in college and two on the West Coast, her son Jed moved back to Manhattan and settled into his old room in the family’s apartment, together with thirty-four boxes of vinyl LPs. Unemployed, Jed liked to stay out late, sleep until noon, and wander around in his boxers. Koslow set out to try to understand why he and so many of his peers seemed stuck in what she regarded as permanent “adultescence.” She concluded that one of the reasons is the lousy economy. Another is parents like her.
Ha ha! Blame game victory! Again it falls to parents like her. Obviously, I will be in therapy for many many years trying to deal with the fact that my parents just gave me too much and I didn’t know how to handle it. (Untrue. They gave me just enough, as I am obviously a perfect specimen of generational awesomeness.)
They inhabit “a broad savannah of entitlement that we’ve watered, landscaped, and hired gardeners to maintain.” She recommends letting the grasslands revert to forest: “The best way for a lot of us to show our love would be to learn to un-mother and un-father.”
When I was in high school I was a daycamp counselor for 4 years. I was really good at it. By the time I was 17, I was running the camp by myself. The supervisor I had would often go run errands for hours and hours and still get paid for a full day. I realize day camp is not like being a parent, but I could tell a lot about the parents by watching the kids all day. Some kids only responded to yelling, which was super annoying. They wouldn’t hear me unless I raised my voice and when their parents came and picked them up and yelled and yelled and yelled at them to get their bag, don’t forget their coat, get in the car. GET IN THE CAR. I understood why. The way I handled the kids was a lot of the time by not handling them. I watched them. If kid A was at the water fountain trying to fill up his water bottle and struggling, I wouldn’t help him. I would wait until he either dropped it on the ground, spilling all over himself, or figured it out. I once nannied a 6 year old girl and her 6 month old little brother. The mom had carried and carried and carried around that little boy so much, that he hadn’t yet learn to sit up by himself. After 2 weeks of me setting him on the floor and ignoring him (in the most loving, authoritative, care giver way) while he whined about needing a toy he couldn’t reach, he was sitting up and by the end of the summer he was crawling.
I am definitely not the master-parent here. I have no kids. I don’t even have siblings. But as I become more of a grown up and Kamel and I try and figure out what kind of parents we will at some point be, it’s useful to see what’s going on now, what has been done, and how that’s rippled and changed who we are and how we relate to one another.