The Generation Gap: Generation X Versus Baby Boomers

A recent article on the Huffington Post has caused my head to spin. It even woke me in the night and caused me to totally revise my already-prepared blog post for the day. This post is fresh and raw, so it may not be as polished as I would like. So be it. Sometimes I need to be with emotion when it arises.

The article in question, written by Susan Gregory Thomas, raises issues that Generation X has with their Baby Boomer parents. In it, Thomas describes how touched she was when Erica Jong issued a generational apology for the mistakes made by Boomers. In receiving this unexpected affirmation of what Thomas had written about in her book, In Spite of Everything: A Memoir, Thomas discovered the power of apology to transform her own beliefs and to open dialogue between generations.

In typical Baby Boomer fashion, I was shocked to learn that we are no longer considered the cool people. When did that happen? I started poking around on the Web and discovered that this generation gap has been expressed many times by many writers. Time Magazine, back in April 2008, called Generation X the “Ignored Generation.” Oops. Apparently I’m one of the Boomers guilty of ignoring their plight.

I haven’t read Thomas’s book yet, and I’m not sure I will. That remains to be seen. In fairness to her, she gets great reviews on Amazon. However, I feel compelled to comment on the article itself and my own observations of its content and the emotional responses it generated. More upsetting than the article itself were the comments, some of which were openly hostile. I also feel that the article is to some degree unfair.

First, dividing us up by generation is limiting and problematic. Generation X includes those born from about 1965 to 1980, making them anywhere from 31 to 46. Therefore, some were raised by Baby Boomers, and some by the Silent Generation that preceded them. Some Baby Boomers have given birth to GenX, while others are raising Millennials. This complicates matters. We can’t assume that every great mom was a Silent and every lousy mom was a Boomer, or vice versa.

Second, not everyone in the Baby Boom generation grew up with the same thoughts, feelings, and politics. Look around at our current political climate, and you’ll see that’s true. Not every Baby Boomer was a hippie living in a perpetual drug-induced coma. We know that stereotyping race, gender, or religion has its flaws. If we do not apply that same recognition to a generation, our reasoning and conclusions also become flawed. Socioeconomic and other factors must be applied to create a clear analysis.

Third, I do not buy in to the reasoning that Thomas points to, from a 2004 marketing study, that concludes Generation X to be “one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.” Really? Have you ever visited the Tenement Museum in New York City? There might be some ghosts of the tenements who would find this conclusion odd. Children often worked, and moms, with no labor-saving devices and often working themselves, weren’t exactly available to act as full-time nurturers.

Further, where I grew up, I and my fellow Boomers were expected to start earning money as soon as possible. Some of us babysat while others worked in the corn fields. I was, by the Generation X definition, a latchkey child, though I never thought of it as such. Mom worked outside the home, and we handled the housework as well as lazy teenagers are capable of doing. I don’t remember feeling deprived. We were pissed off and sullen because of our age, but I actually thought it was cool that I had a working mom.

Finally, an old song by Mike and the Mechanics begins with, “Every generation blames the one before.” This has been true since the beginning of time. Thomas ends her article with a mention of her oldest daughter, who is starting middle school. Ms. Thomas, you need to be prepared. Your daughter will transition into the teen years, and then she will grow up to blame you for her problems. Why? Because it happens in every generation. She will decide that you made a mess of the world and are leaving a big mess to clean up. She will be right, just as you are right in some respects. Despite your best intentions, your generation, too, will come under scrutiny, and that scrutiny will make you cringe. This is why it takes several generations to understand history–we need to be removed enough from the emotions of it.

When Ms. Thomas spoke to Erica Jong she expected harsh judgment and instead received compassion. Perhaps Ms. Thomas will let go of other judgments about Baby Boomer women once she gets to know their stories better. The Boomer Women I know are often kind, loving, and supportive. While Baby Boomers weren’t perfect parents, they weren’t always so horrible, either. Sure, there are lemons in every bunch, but most were hard-working people who did the best they could and sometimes had to make hard choices that others blithely criticize.

I write about Boomer issues here because I am a Boomer, and that’s what I experience. Still, I try to recognize that within our generation, we are a diverse group of people with a wide range of attitudes and beliefs. Some are good parents, some are not. Some are divorced, some are not. Some divorces work well with families, some do not. That’s life. At some point, we have to lay down our blame and get on with the business of living. Yes, we should work out unresolved grief and anger, but at the same time, our adult choices are ours. We can stay stuck in the past, or we can move on and find joy in our lives. We cannot look to our older generation to be what we wish they were or to give us that joy; we have to find it for ourselves.



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