The disappearing generation gap?

Today over at the National Review Online, Myrna Blyth has an article making fun of life coaches. In it she makes reference to a New York Magazine article about parents in their 30’s and early 40’s who, in her words, “in their hoodies and their retro sneakers, have decided it is really very cool to remain childish even when they have children of their own. ” She also refers to them as “shallow”. So I wandered over to take a look. It’s a long article (8 online pages) and I spent about the first 3 pages going, “why is this weird? Why is this even an article?” At the point where they start discussing people wearing $400 torn-up jeans, they lost me, but even as a teen I wouldn’t have considered wearing ridiculous, over priced clothing cool. Basically the premise of the article is that Gen X’ers (I am one), are keeping up with new music rather than screaming at the kids to “turn down that terrible noise”, not trading in their comfy clothes and sense of style for suits anymore and enjoy a lot of the same activities and entertainment younger people do. Not only that, they’re just not as willing to give up their freedoms and passions to make money as the last couple of generations. They’re still making money – just not by working for other people if they can help it. An HR person says “To motivate a baby boomer, offer him a bonus. To motivate a Generation-Xer, offer him a day off.” My first reaction was, “yeah. And?”
While my family isn’t taking mid-week trips to Mammoth to snowboard on a whim or deliberately working to shape our kids to have a hip music and style sensibility, we do listen to a lot of current music, my husband and kids enjoy many of the same cartoons and play “Yu-gi-oh” together. While I need a lot more money and a lot less weight to be truly fashionable, I don’t own a single plain colored t-shirt or sweatshirt, any “mom-jeans” or ugly, practical sneakers. If we could figure out a way for my husband never to depend on someone else for his employment, we’d do it in a heartbeat (actually at some point we do plan on doing just that). Does this mean that we’re acting like kids? I think part of this goes back to the discussion earlier about what it means to be an adult. After all, the article is talking about people who, like my family, are having kids, bringing in paychecks, maintaining a household and all the rest of the things which seem to me to equal being an adult. I didn’t realize that it was shallow or childish not to accept that such superficial things as music, dress and entertainment would define you as an adult or a child. (Of course, I’m talking about reasonably decent music, dress and entertainment here, not gangsta rap, dressing like a prostitute or being entertained by debauched things.) We also differ from parents in the last few generations by being pretty open with our kids about life, what we think about things and even what we’d like from our lives. Perhaps this is childish and self-centered as well, but we view it as part of raising kids who are connected with their parents (rather than seeing us as mysterious and unknowable) and who will know how to navigate an increasingly complicated world.
Then again, this came out of New York, so it’s relation to the rest of the universe is dubious. However, I thought it was interesting that I, a homeschooling mom in the middle of the country, had such a “and your point is” reaction to an article which is clearly meant to define some new trend for marketers and category makers to glom onto. I’m still also wondering what elicited Ms. Blythe’s negative reaction to the article. Actually, the most New York thing about the article (aside from some of the specific style and political preferences of the people in the article) is the fact that the author doesn’t seem to realize that parents and children not being at odds with each other’s sensibilities is pretty natural and is a return to the way things have been for millennia, not as he puts it “unprecedented in human history”. If we’re putting away the generation gaps which have poisoned and plagued parent-child relationships for much of the last century, so much the better. That doesn’t mean that the adults involved are childish. Perhaps they’re just mature enough to realize that clothes, music and money do not an adult make.

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