Living Between Two Generations
I recently moved across the country from Texas to Massachusetts; it has been a transition, to say the least. My children, ages 10 and 14, have handled everything with a grace that I could have never imagined; I’d chalk it up to good parenting, but I think it’s just good luck. I am not implying that any of this was easy, but their ability to adapt has both astonished and delighted me.
One area has been remarkably difficult: we left my mother in Texas. My mom and I have always been very close; she was a single mother with an ex-husband that was often “take it or leave it” regarding parenting. We struggled a lot when I was a kid, but we toughed it out, and I never felt like I was going without. I realize now that I, like my children, was remarkably adaptable. We moved around a lot, and I took it in stride. I chalk that up to good parenting and good luck.
Because we have always been so close, this change has been quite difficult. She desperately misses her grandchildren; she has never been more than 30 minutes away from them. They miss her as well, but they have reached the dreaded ages where their friends and social lives are simply more important to them than family. This has added to our difficulties, as I am sure she feels like they don’t miss her. They do, but kids see the world in a different way than adults. They are able to compartmentalize; they can feel sadness and happiness at the same time.
As I have sought advice about the best ways to deal with this new reality, I realize that so many of us are in this world: younger X-ers or older Millennials that are “sandwiched” between being a parent and being a child. We are the children of Boomers, a generation that threw caution to the wind, changed the world, and decided to put an iron fist on top of the new world they created. They invented a whole new type of social change; as a sociologist, I constantly refer back to the activism of the 60s in my research. It was a game-changer. We give them a lot of credit for those changes, and they rightfully deserve it. But we often overlook the changes that came after; when we do point them out, it feels like “blame”, and they don’t like that.
In the late 60s, and well into the 70s and 80s, a brand new system emerged because of a perfect storm of activism, access to family planning, and a capitalist system that was hitting its stride. Families got a little smaller, excess got a little bigger, and work was the new black. Boomers invented workaholism; they lived for working. There were consequences to this; a whole generation of kids were left to their own devices. So much so that we had to invent a whole new term: latchkey kids. My friends and I were certainly part of this: the kids that returned home from school, made a snack, and plopped themselves down in front of MTV until their parents (or single mom, in my case) got home from work. We were resilient and headstrong; we were often given responsibilities that were likely above our pay grade. It shaped us into a fiercely independent group. That’s not a bad thing. But it also contributed to a negativity and pessimism about the world, especially a world where “greed is good” and the gaps between the haves and have-nots grew like weeds after a good spring rain.
There are consequences to raising a group of kids like this. Gen X and older Millennials often eschew the tradition of the past; they are fine without the big family gatherings. They don’t feel a strong connection to any one place or memory; in turn, they are comfortable with a more transient existence. This can feel like a slap in the face to their Boomer parents, I am sure. However, what they often don’t see is the natural aftermath of their choices.
So, this brings me back to the sandwich I am currently occupying. I am fully entrenched between two kids that need me for so many things: I am a cook, a therapist, a taxi driver, a benefactor, a nurse, a maid, and so much more. I am not unhappy about these roles; I chose to become a parent. I love them, and they drive me crazy, as it should be. I also try to excel at the job I am paid to do. But I have another job as well: daughter. As I said, my mother and I have always been exceedingly close. I chose a college 4 hours away, and it was a difficult change. I am now many states away, and I took her beloved grandchildren with me. She has every right to feel sad, angry, frustrated, and all the other emotions that come with that. My kids have pulled away a bit, especially my youngest; I think it’s a coping mechanism, but it is quite hurtful for my mother, as they have always been so close. In the sandwich, I am trying to recognize my mom’s feelings while allowing my daughter to sort out hers. I want to make everyone happy, and it feels like a failure at times.
I have a brother on the other side of the country, but it has always been me who bears the most responsibility when it comes to our family because I have always been geographically close. Now that I am just as far away, I still feel a responsibility to that role, but the strain and tension are fully present. I want to do all the jobs well, and the guilt I feel is immense. I am certain that there are many people my age that feel this strain as well, and I wish I had a solution. Unfortunately, life is not pre-loaded with easy solutions, and so we simply try to do the best we can with what we have.