Trying to be less screwed up than the previous generation
While reading AWB
's latest installment of thoughtful insights into who her parents are as people, not just in the roles of her own mother and father, I got to thinking about the generation gap. I'm sure this is an unfair generalization, as surely there were caring, thoughtful people of every generation who had positive (if challenging) relationships with their parents, but I have to wonder if this isn't another remarkable accomplishment of our parents' generation. When I hear both specific anecdotes (from my parents and friends' parents) and generalizations (through books, movies, and tv) about the relationship between the baby boomer generation and their parents, I am struck by both how giant that generation gap is, and by how much it has managed to shrink in just one subsequent generation. My theory is that it's related to feminism in general and birth control specifically. When you can control (to some extent) when and how many children you have, and when you feel at least somewhat empowered to define yourself in ways other than as a parent, then when you do choose to become a parent, you can still see that that is not the sole definition of who you are. Which also frees you up to present that person to your kid.
It helps that my parents and I have social, political, and pop cultural references in common. They started taking me to concerts pretty much as soon as I could stand. They tell me stories about joining protests on their college campus and pulling pranks in their dorm rooms.
But they also tell me, in bits and pieces, about the crappy aspects of their childhoods. They're transparent (to an extent) about the things they're trying to do differently, and about the relationships they're trying to forge with my brother and I. So when they do inevitably make mistakes, when they hurt my feelings, it's not that I can readily excuse, or even forgive them, but rather that I have this larger context within which to place their actions. It doesn't make it hurt less, but it makes it possible to keep working on this relationship with them, it means it's easy to stay invested in the tough parts and the awkward conversations.
And it's not just the dreamy relationship that I maintain with my folks. I see it all the time - working the Amnesty International table last night, not only did I see parents who had encouraged their kids to come with them to hear REM, because REM is an amazing band and the kid 'needed to stretch his musical tastes,' but I also saw kids stop and sign our petitions because Dad works for the GA Innocence Project
or Mom told us about being a part of her local A.I. group in high school. One of my gymnasts spent a week in NYC with just her Mom, so Mom could show her all the places she went when she was her daughter's age. We are more than any one role that we play in life, and it's a huge accomplishment that our parents were able to break that cycle and share with us other pieces of who they are and dance that fine line between parent and friend.
AWB works hard on her relationship with her parents, but the bottom line is, in good times, she enjoys her mother's company. They can find common ground in movies and music and art and good food and drink. I know I over-idolize, but Dad and I are pretty much colleagues now. He calls up with stats questions and trusts my judgment (at least, when it comes to data analysis). I'm not sure his father ever considered him a colleague, even though their interests and professional work have even more in common than mine and Dad's.
I was also thinking about this because I wrote a letter to baby canadian, telling him about who his parents are as my friends. And I look forward to the day that we can all sit around, maybe with a kid or two of my own, and reminisce and flip through pictures, and endure our kids' mocking about how dorky we were. I know we'll find new ways to screw up the next generation, but I'm hopeful that we'll make a little progress along the way too.