I went to a conference this week and sat in on a session of how to best work with Generation Y and Millenials as they enter the work force. At the start of this presentation, they broke out the life/work balance for the generations as follows:
- Veterans (AKA Silent Generation 1925-1945) – Work
- Baby Boomers (1946-1964)- Live to Work
- Generation X (1965-1979)- Work to Live
- Generation Y/Millenials (1980-early 2000’s)- Live
I thought this was interesting and the presenter focused primarily on the latter three generations that were still in the workforce, and supported her ideas with examples such as Boomers wanting lots of “things” their parents never could dream about and the advancement of technology allowed them to work and acquire and many fathers were largely absent from their kids lives. One of the Boomer dudes in the audience shared a “back in my day” story about how he’d come home from a long day of work, get the kids in bed (presumably his wife was a SAHM) and then head back to work to finish up projects until midnight or later. Live to Work.
While I may be on the tail end of how they classify Generation X, I firmly identify with that generation. Raised by Boomers, my father was a mailman, so most weeks worked long days and most Saturdays (while shifting his day off in the middle of the week). I respected him and held him up on a pedestal when he did spend time with us, but we were raised (especially the early years) more by my mother (who worked part time). Unlike many Gen X’ers, my parents stayed together (are celebrating 40 years this year) so that shaped my view of the family unit (and that’s not to say we didn’t have family problems, my father was successful in alcohol rehab and reintroduced himself to our family when I was around 11). Certainly I can appreciate some of the old-school discipline, work ethic and general life lessons (no debt, frugal existence, family-centric versus outside activity centric), I knew that when I became a father I wanted to be more involved with my children.
Generation X, according to a 2004 study conducted by marketing-strategy and research firm Reach Advisors, “went through its all-important formative years as one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.” Little wonder: Half of all Gen Xers’ parents are divorced. We were the first to be raised in record numbers in day care, and some 40 percent of us were latchkey kids.
Like the presenter’s point at my work conference, I work to live. I often like my job, but it’s not my existence. I don’t have the drive to put the time and effort to start my own firm or take on a higher paying job with more travel or longer hours since it takes away from my goals of being with my wife and kids most evenings; of being able to take time off to get them to events or doctors appointments or parent-teacher conferences; of being involved in daily household activities and discipline and imparting daily life lessons.
As parents, my wife and I are not helicopter parents who are so high maintenance that I believe many in the subsequent Gen Y are (and likely a bunch in my generation). We were both raised with freedom to run outside, explore, and “be back by dinner” mentality, though less so than the Boomer generation. We don’t want the kids to have to ALWAYS be entertained by us, or have us involved in their activities, which is from my perspective very common. We also don’t dominate our children’s lives (6 and 8 years old), at least at this time, with activities and sports. Getting them to swimming twice a week and a meet every month or two is plenty. They play outside often, and roam our little section of the neighborhood, with other neighbor kids that have parents of similar mentality. They climb, they throw rocks in the nearby pond, climb trees, tear around on bikes and generally get dirt on their bumps and bruises. Then they come in for hot chocolate or snacks and settle back in with Holly and I after a long day outside. We truly live a blessed life.
This parenting blog article on changes over generation was interesting to see how the emphasis has shifted over the years:
One 1929 article defined a parent’s job as “the reasonable regulation and supervision of the fundamental habits of a child throughout all stages of his development and a consistent plan for having him obey simple rules such as regular meal-times, regular bedtimes, training in elimination, eating what is placed before him, wearing the clothes that are provided, observing certain proprieties of conduct.”
That was still true in the 1950s, with an emphasis on a wide range of chores, the likes of which most children are not doing today (cleaning, shopping, meal preparation, furnace and auto maintenance, and nursing of sick family members.)
On the other hand, these same children were often allowed to leave the house for long stretches of time, without their parents knowing the details of where they were or what they were doing (which was usually playing pickup games in empty lots, exploring the outdoors, riding public transportation around town, and hitching rides on highways.)
Over the decades, though, advice on indoor obedience and outdoor freedom decreased, while advice on allowing children to express themselves at home while keeping them safe out in the world increased. Discussion of chores all but disappeared from the advice columns, too, replaced by talk of schoolwork.
I feel as though my generation can impart some of the old-school ideas and work ethic and life lessons we were raised with, while still having the connection with our kids with a good life balance while not being overwhelming with kids at the center of the family. Let me step on my soap box for a minute on that topic: I think putting the kids at the center (instead of mom/dad, husband/wife) is a bad, bad idea. I think letting the inmates run the asylum, deciding the family direction and dynamic for free time on the kids’ wants and desires is a poor example and one a good captain should not do. Sure, education and entertainment of the children is needed, but every moment should not be made with them in mind. I also believe that putting them as the core is a bad marriage decision. When the focus is mostly on the young ones, the connection between husband and wife is weakened. Often it’s the wife with the super-strong kid bond, and that leaves the husband left out… I know I felt left out of my own family for a number of years after having kids. After establishing more of a leader dynamic and reenergizing my relationship with my wife I felt the structure come back to how it should be, and everyone is happier. StepsOffSoapBox.
The problems I see now in my family is electronic devices and distractions. While we don’t have cable, we still have Netflix, YouTube, Candy Crush (my wife’s), Facebook, and video games. I am starting to see everyone on their own device (or sometimes old school books) and less interaction as a family unit. We usually still eat dinner together, do homework and then we’re in the same room usually. I think as head of the house, I need to do more to have family relaxation time be more interactive or engaging with everyone. Board games come to mind, as well as more outside games as a family when the weather is decent (we do “ghost in the graveyard” and play ball or do squirt gun fights during the summer). Spending time at a cabin this summer, we had a lot of fun doing nothing for an entire week with no television or wireless or cellular connection. That’s the type of general attitude (of having a fun time without every minute planned, like I grew up with) I’d like to bring to our family.
It is tough to balance old school in a new school world. Being tough and having freedom vs the everyone is a winner and touchy-feely mentality. The parent-centric structure vs the kid-centric structure. At the end of the day, this gray area probably doesn’t matter too much, but going too much in the direction of being a friend to your kid, versus being an actual parent and making tough decisions that your kids don’t like, is a bad direction to go.
Finally, this is sort of relevant: but I just hope your kid attachment isn’t quite as high as this woman (and no offense, but breastfeeding that long is just weird). My wife nursed for 12 and 15 months, and my bosses wife until 2.5 years, but the woman in our birthing class nursed until 4 or 5. Talk about putting your kid first, how do you think her husband looks at those breasts after your 4 year old had his turn first?