I’m a parent. In fact, my husband and I are the parents of four children, ranging in age from 26 – 32. I think that means that all of our children are millennials, though opinions and definitions of what, exactly, a “millennial” is differ greatly. I don’t suppose it matters all that much, anyway. While several generations have been given names (starting with the Greatest Generation), those designations aren’t what I hope to address today.
I was one of those kids whose parents were of the Greatest Generation. Well-known journalist Tom Brokaw gave them that name, by the way. These folks are the ones who were humble and worked hard. They were committed to whatever they did, they were faithful, and (my favorite) they took personal responsibility for their actions and decisions. They fought in World War II, survived the Great Depression, and saved their money for a rainy day that was sure to come. The Greatest Generation was a tough act to follow, as any Baby Boomer can tell you. In case the name “Baby Boomers” isn’t self-explanatory, this generation is the one that began about 9 months after World War II ended, and exploded through the year 1964. My husband and I both are “Boomers”; therefore, our parents were of the Greatest Generation, and our children are Millenials.
Think about that for a minute. If your parents, too, were of the Greatest Generation, I’m willing to bet that they were no-nonsense. I’m betting that they didn’t care whether you got a trophy for playing ball, and I’m betting that if you got in trouble at school, they didn’t make a beeline to the campus to bless out your teacher. In fact, it may be the Greatest Generation who came up with that famous parenting gem, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” My folks relied on that one pretty often.
History – our history, here in the U.S. – fascinates me. I love to study it in terms of these generations. As a student of human behavior, I believe with all my heart that the era in which we’re born has a great deal of influence on who we become. My second book examines these eras and their influence; specifically, Red Lipstick and Clean Underwear takes a real (if tongue-in-cheek) look at grandmothers, mothers and daughters. What do we teach one another? I’ll share an example.
My mother was one of 9 siblings. Born in 1925, she fell pretty much in the middle of the pack. Her family lived on a Virginia farm; they had very little in terms of possessions and sometimes, little in terms of something to eat. Surviving the deprivations and hardships they did, my mother and her siblings were strict, tough parents – certainly, by today’s standards, anyway. I remember an aunt telling me one time that she was proud of me for wearing such fashionable clothes. “Usually, a girl your size sticks to black and other dark colors.” Now I was 14 years old at the time. This particular aunt and a couple more were in town to donate blood for my mother, as she suffered and eventually died from leukemia and their was the only blood that was compatible toward the end of her illness.
My aunt intended her remark to be a kind one (if you can imagine). To that generation, or at least in my family, that was about as kind and touchy-feely as it got. I still remember her well-intentioned comment nearly 40 years later, so it obviously marked me somehow. However, I was never in therapy as a result of her frank observation (or at least, I don’t think I have ever been). Anyway, I can see the humor in her well-intended observation, so I guess I’m OK.
Now imagine saying something like that to a millennial. This is the generation that, according to a column in The New York Times, requires naps during the work day. This is the generation that’s taken a lot of guff for filling their parents’ attic with unearned trophies, and for terrorizing their teachers with parents who unfailingly stick up for their little darlings no matter what. Blunt honesty was not a tool in the Baby Boomer’s toolbox when it came to raising children. Imagine the fallout that my aunt’s comment would have had on a millennial teen. I shudder to think.
Of course I am generalizing here, and I am over-simplifying a very complicated subject, one made more complex by observing the interactions of grandmothers, moms and daughters. Still, we can probably all agree that yes, the times in which we grow up have a great deal to do with who we are, and with how we relate to others. The way our parents treat us weighs in heavily with the way we treat others. That is true no matter when we’re born.
Incidentally, we Boomers are now officially outnumbered by Millenials. It might be a good idea to take it easy with the trophy and nap jokes. They will, after all, be the ones pushing our wheelchairs one day.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published in 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her previous three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend. com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family, and life in her beloved South.