Lenore Skenazy and David Brooks (two of my favorite reads, by the way) touch on the tendency of parents of a certain age (mine) toward ultra-over-protection of their kids.
The theory from Strauss & Howe is being borne out today. It goes: since we generally grew up as latchkey kids as children (and perhaps grew up to be Latchkey Men, with a nod to the excellent Wek) and were largely left to our own devices as our parents granted us freedoms (partly out of their own absorption in their own lives), that now, as grown-ups with kids of our own, our generation tends to over-compensate as parents, and thus overprotects our kids to the point of stifling them.
We’re familiar with talk about how Vietnam permanently shaped the baby boomers. But if you grew up in or near an American city in the 1970s, you grew up with crime (and divorce), and this disorder was bound to leave a permanent mark. It was bound to shape the people, now in their 40s and early-50s, reaching the pinnacles of power.
It has clearly influenced parenting. The people who grew up afraid to go in parks at night now supervise their own children with fanatical attention, even though crime rates have plummeted. It’s as if they’re responding to the sense of menace they felt while young, not the actual conditions of today.
From Skenazy, advocating “Take Our Children to the Park…& Leave Them There Day”:
As you readers know, I believe in involved parenting — teaching our kids the skills they need to be safe and self-reliant. But there’s not a whole lot of chance for a child to put any of that into practice and get good at it, if mom is by his side for a full 18 years.
As a parent who admittedly trends toward overprotection, I’ve also left 3½-year-old Icepick Jr. in the backyard (which would make me a bad parent, according to the pediatrician in the Daily News article) for a whole 90 seconds while running inside to pee (with the windows open and an infield-full worth of outdoor toys, fully safety-approved, to occupy him). We’re fortunate in that we live less than a city block from the elementary school Junior will eventually attend. I’m looking forward to walking with him to that school someday. And someday later, (gulp) letting him walk there by himself.
Since the start of this year, our neighborhood church, our baby’s day care and one of our former newspaper employers have announced they were closing for good. Tonight we found out that our favorite local Chinese restaurant is closing, too, after 37 years. While we’ve been fortunate and count our blessings to not have faced the axe ourselves (if not so for all of our friends), the place where I occasionally write part-time has laid-off staff in the last three months. All around us, our comforting places and the institutions we shared with our son have had enough and are closing shop, belying the stability we thought we all had. It’s enough to make you wonder if, to paraphrase a line from The Dark Knight (which I watched again the other evening, and is therefore on my brain) we’re watching the world burn.
On the other hand, tonight in the cold in our urban backyard, I surprised a pale-faced possum who sauntered off along the outside of our garage, and I watched two gray rabbits sit silent and still and then scamper away flashing fluffy white cotton tails.
What is it about self-deprecation and Gen X’ers? Is it that we can’t abide success with the recent election of one of our own as president? (And please don’t start with that Generation Jones™ stuff here. I’m calling Obama a Gen X’er; if I’m wrong, History will tell me that, not the viral marketers. But I’m digressing again).
One thing that escaped me until recently (but seems rather obvious now) — our generation’s tendency to cast the proverbial jaded eye on everything includes casting that eye back on ourselves.
Susan Gregory Thomas runs with this theme in a lengthy piece for Babble (link via JenX67’s blog) in which she asks of our generation if “you, I, and the rest of us may be more responsible for this mortgage meltdown than we’d imagined” (at least, more than we’d like to admit; of course, as Americans, we’re all responsible at some level, but there’s my own self-deprecation again).
Author Thomas more or less admits as much as I’m parroting here: we collectively have a guilty conscious, justly or not. Or at the very least, we’re hyper-aware of not repeating the mistakes of our parents — perhaps to a fault.
She notes our tendency to be strong, protective parents, with a magnet-like attachment to the homes and families we’re creating. The banks must have taken notice, too, she says, and they preyed on that need for security and our collective insecurity.
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