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Apr 14, 2023Liked by Joanna Schroeder

This is very relatable even for a Gen-Xer without children, who grew up outside the US and whose parents were Silent Generation, not Boomers. I don’t tend to buy into the stereotypical characteristics of different generations too much (because there are millions & millions in each group and many different variables affecting development of an individual’s character), but this piece brought up feelings, for sure! <3 Great work

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LOVED this! What I love about sharing stories across generations, is it helps you see the throughlines. Because humanity doesn’t change from one generation to the next.

My perspective is very similar. My oldest is almost 23 and my youngest is in first grade. So I started out surrounded by GenX parents (like me, but mostly a bit older) and now I spend more time around Millennials.

I can remember when kids started being treated differently. Like in the late 80s, after Whitney Houston sang about children being the greatest gift of all. Babies started being strapped into car seats, rather than sitting on a parent’s lap in the front seat. Child abuse started being talked about openly on Oprah. But she even challenged the norms on things that were perfectly legal, and perfectly accepted: spanking, hitting, and name calling.

My older brother struggled with dyslexia. As a young child, it wasn’t just kids that would call him mean, teachers could then too. Kids were told to toughen up: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I saw the before and after, and I was so glad even then that the culture was changing for my younger Millennial cousins and the kids I babysat.

There’s so much I’ve learned from younger generations too and my older kids definitely point out everything I’ve been wrong about — and there’s a lot. But still, there are lessons I’ve learned while growing up that I don’t want to forget and that I think are important to share.

And yes, the girl fishing with her dad video made me cry, the good kind of tears. Thanks for sharing :)

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This is exactly right! The question of Gen-X childhoods was "do kids really need protecting after a certain age?" and we grew up thinking "YES WE DID" ... so we overdid it. But it's not like we did a horrible thing. We did our best. I'll apologize to my older kids if I messed stuff up, and try to do better with the younger ones, but I can stand by the fact that I did it out of love and conscious effort to give them what our generation didn't have.

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Here's a much less heartwarming version of that "fishing trip" vibe, told as though it's supposed to be just as heartwarming. (By Kristi Noem at NRA forum.) I especially enjoyed the part about how Dad followed her (at age 10) and made bear noises so she'd be scared after he forced her to "hunt her way" back to camp on her own, miles away. Tthe link should be cued to the beginning of her story. I don't know how to make a YouTube clip with an end point, so you can stop after she sums up how Dad taught her valuable lesson by pretending to abandon her in the wilderness.) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvVi7wwMUMg&t=118s

I don't place much faith in the veracity of Noem's anecdote, but true or not, it sort of illustrates a wide range of parenting opinion and ability when it comes to giving children room to fail and succeed without doing everything for them. I think the dad in the fishing video was a great example of how to do it right, while Noem's dad - if her story is true - was something of a monster who makes a little sense of how she turned out the way she did.

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There's interesting new data out there about siblings raised in the same family and why some thrive and others do not - in essence, there can be one sibling who thrives despite the trauma (dandelion) around them and one sibling who has a life of struggle because of the trauma (orchid). When they identify those types, they can look at them in typical/healthy families and see how those types succeed/thrive in other environments. When in a healthy environment, the orchid tends to actually do better than the dandelion. You can even take an orchid who is struggling in chaos or trauma and place them in a healthy home environment and they can rebound quite nicely.

All this to say, like Noem's story (whether true or not), she may simply be a dandelion and she may have a sibling who is an orchid who was or would've been traumatized. That's the problem with extrapolation and saying there's one objective way to parent well. The one sibling thrown in the pool at age 4 and forced to learn to swim becomes a high school swim team champion, the other sibling with the same experience fears water for the rest of her life.

IMHO this is an argument for balance, when deciding how to parent. How do I let them have freedom, but not force them into adult situations that can be avoided? Any real freedom will ultimately give an opportunity to face an "adult" situation, so they do get the opportunity, but it's less intense and you're also close enough by to field a phone call for advice.

We used to send the boys and their bffs out into the canyon with walkie talkies - you send two or three groups and tell the kids to stay with someone who has a walkie at all time. Then the parents have one at home. We didn't do this when mountain lions were out (too much risk for small kids) or in 110 degree heat, but we did it A LOT and, man, those kids felt empowered. But we also practiced time and again what to do if you see a snake, where to walk and not walk (on trails, not through bushes), etc etc safety rules.

I don't think I've done everything perfectly (I wish, ugh) with the boys, but I do think I TRIED to find balance and sometimes I think the trying is what matters the most.

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I have come to believe that parents usually get both too much credit and too much blame for how their kids behave or turn out. I'm not saying parents have no influence, because of course they do, but I think the role of "nature" gets underestimated compared to "nurture". When a kid is a responsible achiever, people are quick to credit good parenting, and when a kid struggles in school or behaves abominably (by normal standards), people are even quicker to blame the parents.

I came to this belief long before becoming a parent myself, in large part because of how different me and my sister (2 yrs. older) were and are, despite not being parented differently. Our childhoods placed different demands on our parents, but they weren't more loving or more attentive to one of us. It's not like I was adored and she got beat, yet we did very differently in school and socially. She struggled academically, for example (with severe learning disabilities) while I excelled. Our inborn abilities and aptitudes (nature) shaped our academic experiences way more than ways we were parented.

I've seen such massive differences in siblings too many times to believe the main determinant is parenting. We're all just different flowers. I hadn't heard of the orchid/dandelion analysis, but it makes intuitive sense to me. All we can do (and all our parents did) is the best we can and hope it fits what our kids need, but we can't make orchids be dandelions or vise versa.

Being a parent to special needs kids has only strengthened my belief that parental influence only goes so far. When one of my kids melted down and got aggressive or destructive, even though she was "old enough to know better" by typical standards, that's not because we've modeled that or taught her that's acceptable. We're not raising flowers – we're raising some other metaphor. Aliens, maybe?

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Yeah, maybe what we can think with parenting our kids is that we are there to support the unique humans they are, that don't belong to us, in the best ways we can so they can thrive to the best of their abilities.

I have this joke about parents who have "perfect" kids only to have a second or third (or more) come along to prove that it wasn't their introduction of whole foods vs baby foods that made them a non-picky eater, it was just who the kid was. Same with sleeping. It probably wasn't your schedule, because your next baby sleeps like crap. We can set them up for success, adapt when they need us to, and then accept they are who they are.

That being said, all of my kids are picky in different ways, so I don't know what it's like to have a kid that eats everything or most things you put in front of them. I used to feel bad about this with the boys and now I'm like "Whatever, they'll survive." In general, they grow up and eat fine.

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