Then and now

Today’s excitement: a trip to the salon (formerly “the beauty parlor”…if only) for an overdue haircut and 20 blissful minutes of “me time.” (Is there anything better than someone else fixing your hair? Not in my world. Lamenting the $5 price increase, though.)

My stylist (formerly “beautician”), a 30-something mom of 2 girls, age 15 and 8, and her other client, also a mom, were talking about how much they worry about their kids all the time. Both encouraged their kids to text them throughout the day to let them know they arrived OK, got home OK, were generally OK, etc. Client mom mentioned her daughter even texted her from a slumber party to let her know they were going to sleep. (“Hi mom, love you…”)

I sat quietly in my chair, partly because I go nearly comatose when someone messes with my hair and partly because I’m not a mom and have nothing to add to conversations like those. But I kept thinking conflicting thoughts.

Angel on one shoulder: “Isn’t that nice — they’re so close to their kids.”

Devil on the other shoulder: “Are you kidding me? Can you say HELICOPTERING? I would have no more called my mom from a slumber party than I would have dished with her afterward about the Ouija board-‘she looks dead, she IS dead’-first girl asleep hand in warm water rituals that went on.”

Then, it was all about getting AWAY from your parents and grabbing whatever breathing space you could. Now, it seems all about keeping your parents around, even when they aren’t and you aren’t.

I’ve mused about the helicopter parents phenomenon before, and still don’t understand it. Is it a matter of today’s parents (my generation and younger) wanting to escape the heavier hand we were raised with? Is it a product of the scarier times we live in? Is it because the ability to communicate incessantly is instant and omnipresent? Is it about wanting to be the “fun parents” you didn’t have?

What kind of mom would I have been? I’ll always wonder. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to be like my parents (definitely not the fun kind), so maybe that means I’d automatically be more of a friendly hoverer. I wonder if it’s possible to raise independent, self-sufficient kids (i.e., able to survive in the “real world” — the one that involves working for a living, not the MTV house) who love you, but love their own space, too?

I can’t help chuckle, though, at the thoughts of what “texting” my mom would have been like — “Hi mom. At Lisa’s. Trying to figure out how we can go to boarding school to get away from you all…” (Seriously, we found one in the phone book and called to ask how much tuition was…$2080…in 1976 or thereabouts…we were astonished.) Or “Hi mom… Annie and her sister and I were at Houlihan’s (we got served!) and missed the last bus home so we hitched from the bus garage to Annie’s. Everything is fine.”

Not that being in constant contact means your kids tell you everything. But why do I think they’re telling WAY more than I ever would have?

Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was.
~ Will Rogers

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New Dogs, New Tricks

I happened to see 60 Minutes last night and the story on Millennials struck a chord. Millennials are the future — young 20-somethings fresh out of college and entering the workforce for the first time. They are a generation raised close to their parents’ bosoms and content staying right there. They’ve been rewarded and awarded in every conceivable way throughout their young lives, often for just showing up. Though comfortable being fully wired (or wireless), and extremely technologically savvy, many have never had to punch a time clock.

My friends and I have had many conversations trying to understand the Millennial phenomenon and its creators — helicopter parents, so named for the way they hover over their children. College administrators tell of parents who call their child’s professor to argue about a grade or get assignments when Justin or Caitlin has a cold. Recruiters tell of kids who bring their parents on job interviews and can’t or won’t make a decision without first consulting mom & dad. Millennials describe their parents as “my best friends.”

I say collectively for MY generation — the young boomers (and probably the older boomers too) — HUH??? My friends and I can’t comprehend tolerating such intense parental involvement let alone welcoming it. Our parents couldn’t wait to trot us off to school, left us to mostly sink or swim on our own in our studies and social interactions, urged us to get a job and expected us to do it, were certainly (all too) willing to give (unsolicited) advice, which we were happy to ignore. Both we and our parents relievedly shut the door behind us with a collective WHEW! when the time came for us to make our own way in the world. (Case in point: I can still see my parents showing up at my new house shortly after I moved in, hauling a carload of my stuff that had been in the attic. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?)

What my friends and I haven’t reconciled is how the Millennials got that way — clearly our contemporaries created this situation, though all of us fervently deny we are or will be that way with OUR kids.

The gist of the 60 Minutes piece, though, was what happens when these pampered, idealistic, uber self-esteemed kids go to work? Chaos apparently, as the square business world tries to accept all these round pegs. A whole industry has sprung up for consultants who specialize in helping companies deal with Millennials (and the reverse, teaching kids how to act in the workplace. “Keep those tattoos covered up at work” was one tip.) Similarly, the “Motivation” business is a $50 billion industry — seeems that kids who have gotten stickers, ribbons, trophies, certificates, treat bags on their friends’ birthdays, and presents every time they or their parents entered a store won’t accept “you get to come back tomorrow” as their reward for a day’s work. Millennials say their friends and activities come before work and believe that adulthood doesn’t start until age 26 or so.

The more I think about it, maybe these kids are onto something. Maybe they’ve spent their whole lives watching their parents (e.g., my friends and I) struggle with long hours, corporate bureaucracy, office politics, and thankless toil — and naturally want none of it. How much time has my generation wasted bitching about work? Didn’t I leave the financial security of “a real job” to work for myself, make my own hours, choose my own clients, and put my family, friends, activities — my life — first? Aren’t millions of boomers looking forward to retirement as the chance to do something they really care about?

Why spend 30 or 40 years at work just biding time for the day you don’t have to do it anymore?

It’s conceivable that these millennials will be my clients (my bosses) in 5 or 10 years. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to the working world and how the working world adapts to them. Will the vast organizational machine change them, or will they build a new machine? Will they destroy America’s ability to compete or raise it to new heights? Time will tell. I hope I’m open-minded and savvy enough to learn the new tricks — and smart and credible enough to teach a few of the old.  

Our wretched species is so made that those who walk
on the well-trodden path always throw stones at
those who are showing a new road. 
                                                           ~ Voltaire