The Delicate Generation

I’ve been a parent for more than 16 years. As the child of divorce and a father that was never—and still isn’t—a part of my life, I vowed from early on that I would do everything in my power to support my children, encourage them, dream with them, and be present in their lives. And we all know that vows represent a very powerful presence for us. I wanted to seize opportunities to fight for and with both of my children. And both my wife and I have.

And it seems to be working. My children are both successful at what they do. They do very well academically and socially and seem to draw a great deal of strength from their home life. And as I look around, my wife and I are far from the only parents screaming their lungs out at gymnastics meets and swim competitions, basketball games, and dance recitals (probably not screaming there, but whatever the dance equivalent would be); working in partnership with them to tackle the mountains of homework these crazy teachers send home every night; and coming alongside our children as they plot their life’s would-be course. My children and their peers seem confident and self-assured. They seem to me to be self-motivated as well as well-adapted socially. And even if Generation X is not living vicariously through our kids, we’re by all means taken an “all in” posture.

However, in a recent conversation with a member of the generation that precedes us, this member said something that struck me as more than a little interesting. Apparently, when this person, lets say we refer to her as “Mother,” gets together with her peer group they inevitably a discussion of their grandchildren and, I presume, the job they believe the parents are doing in this regard. The news to me was that all agree that our children seem to be … delicate.That is, “Mother” and her group of Boomers friends believe that we’re raising The Delicate Generation.

My first reaction was, “What!? Xers are much more committed and successful parents that you guys. Delicate? My girl swims 5,000 yards 5 days a week and then does homework until 10:00 at night!!” But that sentiment evaporated almost as quickly as it surfaced when I recalled an article in Newsweek about helicopter parents not too long ago. At the time I didn’t consider myself a helicopter parent. The article tended to categorize these parents as fear-based, homeschool-like types that take every precaution available—think bicycle helmet. That couldn’t be me, right. since I was at the time cheering my oldest daughter as she propelled herself several feet into the air above a  4″ balance beam, executing a back tuck, and landing on said 4″ balance beam (most of the time).

In keeping our children active and challenged we believed that we were preparing them for life’s wars. In fact, I realize that it just goes to show you how pillowy soft our nation has become, quite possibly, when we have to manufacture and manipulate pretend battles for our children.

But now I’m not so sure. In honoring the vow stated above and creating a safe, cozy environment, certainly not a bad thing, I do wonder if I have also perhaps created a false sense of security, comfort, and safety. Because the world is not always so kind I guess the question becomes, “When do I allow reality to encroach upon the facade I’ve tried to create?” In keeping our children active and challenged we believed that we were preparing them for life’s wars. In fact, I realize that it just goes to show you how pillowy soft our nation has become, quite possibly, when we have to manufacture and manipulate pretend battles for our children. Will they be ready for the real war that we know as adults?

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe that the things we and what I see our peers doing in this regard is a beautiful thing, particularly in light of what we saw throughout the 1970s in so many American homes. And none of this is intended to be critical. “Mother” has another saying that is applicable here as well: “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” But I do think it’s possible that we’re complicit in creating a “delicate” generation. Although not a perfect fit, take a look at this clip from the movie Greenberg. I love the line here: “Your confidence is horrifying.”

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