OPINION: Sorting Out Generational Differences

OPINION: Sorting Out Generational Differences

Family gatherings often result in anger and hurt feelings.

Minding the Gap

OPINION: Sorting Out Generational Differences

The pain of family dysfunction is frequently on display over the holidays

By Megan Wallin

Farewell Patience

Despite the cries of “holiday cheer,” the truth is holidays can drain you of every ounce of patience and good humor you possess. The dark underbelly of family gatherings is that they often culminate in contentious  counter viewpoints. These instances can be quite grating for all parties, especially where generational gaps are involved. While it’s easy to dismiss such disagreements as being a result of an ageist culture, one that neither admires nor protects its most experienced members, I sense there’s more to it than that.

Times Change

Often, the mindset that genuinely worked for one time in history does not work when applied to another. During times of war, hardship and economic depression, children grew up fast. They often skipped the phase that allowed them to develop as individuals and instead adopted a more collectivist perspective, with an absolute respect for authority. Case in point: The idea that children are to obey all adults—absolutely and without question—is a concept that has actually led to insanely corrupt and egregious cover ups of child predators.

A Shift in Parenting Priorities

Now, armed with this knowledge, parents no longer tell their children to trust all adults or do as they’re told without a prior relationship established. Perhaps as a result, we have more self-aware young people and more challenging behaviors at times as today’s kids test boundaries with their parents, teachers, and older family members. Gone are the days of “Because I told you so,” as we usher in the new era of, “I understand that you’re upset, but you cannot do that because . . . .” We are demanding accountability from parents as well as children, and while it may be an exhausting way to parent, it’s by far the preferred method for newer generations.

Parental Involvement

The building focus on attachment and trust between parents and children has led to an increase in parental involvement—particularly for fathers. Social scientists observe a positive correlation between children who have strong relationships with their parents and positive traits like confidence, resilience, and other favorable long-term outcomes. What we’re seeing today is nothing short of an extraordinary social experiment. The children who grew up fearing the atomic bomb are now butting heads with the children who grew up with rigorous TSA routines at the airport post-9/11.

But, the Real Question is Why?

What about our experiences has made one generation call the other “snowflakes,” while said snowflake mutters a tired refrain of “Ok, boomer” under their breath? And is it appropriate to address these differences openly during the holidays, or should we turn the other cheek for just a few days in order to keep the peace?

Significant Differences

Well, the cause of these differences may be difficult to determine. (After all, there are many lurking variables when you consider any aspect of human psychology.) But there are a few trademark differences between the generations born before 1980 and those born between 1981 and 1995. Namely, the older generations grew up with an understanding that authority was to be obeyed, America was always right, and youth was equated with inexperience and, as a result, foolhardiness. That’s not to say the Boomers didn’t rebel. Remember the 1960s? However, the generations that grew up with MTV, the internet and the Disney channel all have one thing in common: They lost the joy and reason in standing up for something. As a 30-something myself, I’ll admit that the causes of my generation are a bit more obtuse or even intangible than the goals of activists past. Where people once fought for equal rights, we see newer generations fighting for things like respect, justice and other lofty ideals that are sometimes difficult to define in an objective sense.

Changing Our Ways

Our methods of discipline for our children must seem equally unsatisfactory for our parents and grandparents, who probably shake their heads at today’s parents who insist on handling a tantrum with words and “natural consequences” rather than a swat to the behind and series of unpleasant chores. (*Author’s note: Yes, I’m stereotyping. No, it’s not unwarranted. I see this a lot.) Likewise, seeing a generation grow up with their faces glued to tablets must be unnerving, and rightfully so, for people who can remember spending entire days outside on their bikes and coming home only for dinner while school was out.

Best Friends We Are Not

And there’s probably more people who insist on being their child’s “best friend” than there ought to be, given the absolute lunacy (and abuse) of insisting that a child relate to an adult on a level that constitutes true, reciprocal, and honest friendship, or vice versa. All that said, there’s more to be explored here, but probably not over the remaining few days of the year. Oddly strange, when people are ironically at their maximum stress levels, we are expected to take just a day or two off and come back “refreshed” and repaired. Hell no, we are not getting a reprieve during the break from work. In fact, some of us find ourselves longing to be back in the swing of life, from business meetings that could have been emails, to the water cooler gossip that was somehow less consequential and frightening than a full conversation with relatives you’ve known most of your life.

Parting Words

So, the parting words for the season are to be this: Treat your days off like days off. It’s not your job to bridge (generation) gaps in understanding, and if it was, the holidays are not a time to do that.

While this writer hardly follows her own advice, I figured since I wasn’t using it, I’d share it. Call it a gift. For Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever you celebrate. Just try to smile, nod, and save your confrontation for a day when you’re expected to work. And if caring too much is work, stop caring for just a day. That’s advice all age groups could stand to hear.


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