Fox News seems to be surprised at how GenX raises its kids. I’m wondering why.
Let’s look at the 60s and 70s. The ’60s were the era of free love, which turned out not to be love, and actually turned out to cost a lot more than everyone thought, and really wasn’t all that fulfilling. The ’70s saw the wide availability of birth control and the legalization of abortion. Babies, wrote Strauss and Howe in Generations, were something you took pills to prevent. Kids in the movies of the time were hellions. Kids just weren’t a priority. The Boomers were trying to figure out what they wanted, in some cases having kids just in case, and going after what they wanted in no particular order.
One day when I was trying to explain it, I blurted out, “A lot of GenXers grew up with just one parent that didn’t want them. Lucky GenXers grew up with two parents who didn’t want them.”
That’s an overstatement, but not by much.
We are a reactionary generation, so we’re reacting to the way we were raised. We’re turning to religion (or, more frequently, spirituality), waiting longer to have kids, in some cases waiting longer to get married, and if we can work at home to spend more time with our families, we do it. (So when you ask me when I’m going to write another book, the answer probably is when I have a family to stay home with.) At the very least, we make an effort to be home.
Let’s go to Strauss and Howe. Keep in mind this was written in 1990:
“Economic risk-taking and cultural alienation will drive [GenXers] to seek stability in family life. First-wavers [born in the 1960s] may continue the Boom trend toward late marriage–not out of any quest for postadolescent self-discovery, but rather out of economic necessity and unwillingness to repeat the mistakes of their early-marrying, heavily divorcing Silent parents.”
In addition to this, they predicted that the USPS might come under ruinous attack by new enterprises run by GenXers. They had no idea what it would look like (they speculated it might involve computer hackers, as one of three possibilities) but it sounds to me like e-mail was just the ticket. They also predicted GenXers would change jobs a lot, and that we’d have loud, overpaid professional athletes who’d be full of themselves. They also predicted we’d be offensive (body piercing and tattoos maybe?), and…. AND they predicted an economic crisis right about now.
They also predicted a major crisis, along the same lines of World War II or at least the Cold War, sometime between the years of 2014 and 2025.
Fox News said GenX isn’t returning to the values of its grandparents. They’re right, and we won’t. Our grandparents are a different generational profile. Look to the people born from 1982 to now to do that.
What Strauss and Howe wrote was intentionally vague, because you can only predict trends, not events, by looking at generational cycles. But they sure seem to have gotten the trends pretty much right, especially now that we can go back with hindsight and start filling in some details.
So… GenX is going to raise its families in a more traditional manner than its parents, but won’t be as traditional as its grandparents. GenX will fight this current war, and get at best grudging respect and thanks from its elders. Analysts are already saying that the generation after GenX will be the next great generation, but they’re not old enough to get us through this crisis yet.
If and when the predicted crisis of 2014 comes, GenX will have to play a role in guiding us through it. But it will need help from the generations immediately before and after. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. George Washington’s generation found itself in exactly the same situation. The secret of Washington’s success was his ability to recognize the strengths in both his elders and his youngers, as well as in his own generation, and ask for help.
If GenX can emulate Washington, history will look on us with favor, though we’re likely forever slackers in the minds of the people who saw us alive.
Back to Strauss and Howe:
“Over four centuries, Reactive generations have been assigned the thankless job of yanking American history back on a stable course–and, afterward, have gotten few rewards for their sacrifices. Will this realization prompt [GenXers] to burn out young–or will it harden a gritty self-confidence around an important generational mission?”
But our time hasn’t come. So right now we’re just trying not to repeat the mistakes we saw others make. Those of us with families are starting at home. And that’s cool.