GENERATION GAP – GROWING UP BOOMER

My generation — the post-war baby boomers — had an unusually high percentage of dysfunctional relationships with parents. I thought it was a self-selecting sample. I had a pretty awful childhood. My father was a sociopath who should never have been allowed near children, much less to be a parent. Maybe I was just attracted to kids like me.

1963. I'm in the front, in the middle, arm on my knee.

1963. I’m in the front, in the middle, arm on my knee.

Blogging has given me a broader perspective. Younger generations have issues with parents, but they can talk, if both sides try. In my growing-up years, not so much.

“The Generation Gap” was a laugh line for comedians, a mantra for the young. Most people blew it off as media hype. It was not all hype. My parents, Garry’s parents, most parents of the boomer generation grew up during the world wars. With the Great Depression in between. They learned to be alert, to hoard goods, and food. You never knew what might happen. Be prepared for everything.

75-edited-GarryMomDad-WW2-300

They believed in America. Righteousness would prevail. They were solid citizens, responsible soldiers, dedicated parents, dependable workers. They determined to pass these values to us. Working hard and doing the right thing would always pay off.

They didn’t talk about family values. They lived them. They believed. Even when they weren’t good at expressing their beliefs in positive ways — or expressing feelings at all. They wanted their kids — us — to be an expression of their lives. The work that never ended. The house they bought, even though both parents had to work two jobs each to keep it.

If they were religious, they went to church. Or synagogue. Or whatever else was their place of worship. Minorities taught their non-white and Jewish offspring to keep their heads down and fit in. Don’t be conspicuous. Talk the talk, walk the walk. Go to college. That was how to get ahead.

Racial mixing terrified parents on both sides. Terrible things happened to mixed race couples.

Our parents had formative experiences in the Depression and World War II. The emergence of my generation in the early 1960s coincided with a vast wave of change. It engulfed America. So great was the change our parents were left in the dust. Clueless, unable to understand what was happening to their country, their world,  their children. War had been the ultimate righteous cause, and now there was Vietnam.

Rebellion? At home? How could that be? “We gave them everything! We worked our fingers to the bone to give them all the things we never had.” Except we didn’t want those things — not yet, not the way they wanted us to own them.

Marilyn 6th Grade class

Many of us eschewed a safe, job. We wanted freedom to find our way. To discover values based our experiences. The world was flying by at warp speed. We boomers didn’t agree that America was on the side of the angels. We weren’t sure there were any angels.

Our music was strange. Clothing, haircuts were aggravating or worse. But the culture was the bridge they could not cross. The willingness of a generation to experiment with sex and drugs. To “try anything once” when they had been largely unwilling to try anything at all.

Some parents found a way to communicate with their kids. My mother got there eventually though by then I was an adult. A dollar short and a decade late. To her credit, she never stopped trying. If she had lived a few more years, she might have discovered she liked the new world.

96-Me Young in MaineI always told Mom I was more her daughter than she would ever understand. She was no wimp. Dutiful insofar as she gave up the education she wanted to get a job and contribute to the family. Otherwise? She did her thing. Joined the Communist Party, but the boys were cuter at the Socialist club. So she dumped Communism for a better social life.

She was an atheist and a cynic. She didn’t think much of the human race and even less of my father — the one thing on which we always agreed. She loved me, in her way. It wasn’t what I wanted or needed. She didn’t give me appropriate advice or protect me.

1972

1972

Eventually, as an adult, she supported me. I wish that support had been available when I was young and fragile.

Being a parent to adult children today is easier. We understand where they’re coming from. We may not think they’re on a productive path. It’s hard to watch them make mistakes they’ll pay for later. Nonetheless, we “get” the world they live in because we live in it too.

75-edited-wedding-2

There are generational disagreements (assuming there are no religious issues), but not unbridgeable chasms. I get my granddaughter even if I think she’s behaving badly. I figure we all behaved like jerks, and it’s her turn. I hope she’ll skip the worst things I did. Save herself some pain and agony, but it’s her life.

96-Mom-May1944

My mother didn’t understand “it’s my life” as a concept. Most parents of her generation never got it. They disapproved of us. Their faces were wreathed in permanent frowns. We couldn’t do anything right. Whatever we were doing was wrong by their standards.

Grandpa-Samuel-Seiden-web

We couldn’t bridge that gap. Couldn’t yell across it. Love wasn’t enough to break the barrier. Not all, but most parents did the best they knew how. They were flawed, damaged, believed stuff we find peculiar in 2015, but they meant well.

I think I finally understand. It only took a lifetime.


 

When I was growing up, you wouldn't discuss anything
with a member of an older generation. Nothing was 
safe. We lived in different universes and had no 
common language. 
Polite Company

“It’s never a good idea to discuss religion or politics with people you don’t really know.” Agree or disagree?

87 thoughts on “GENERATION GAP – GROWING UP BOOMER

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  2. Now that I am my mother’s age, I wish I could go back and have a conversation with her because I think we might both understand each other better. 🙂 But talking with our adult children, now there is a whole other topic. It seems like unless it is posted on a wall, tweeted, texted, uploaded, trending or gone viral, there are a lot less face to face conversations. 🙂 Liked your post.

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    • I think we all wish we could have that conversation with our mother (or something, father). Talking with my son is getting more interesting as you matures. I hope I live long enough to see the same progress in my granddaughter.

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  3. This is a magnificent post. I got here through reading Debby Carroll’s blog, and glad I did. You hit it on the head. It was a different world and we were born unto the new world leaving old stigmas and morals behind, something our parent’s were oblivious to. For what did they know, they came from homes which made them products of their environments. 🙂

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    • Yet, in many ways, we were NOT the product of our home environments as were our parents. We were a product of our culture — mass media — television, radio, print. The kind of mass culture to which our parents were never exposed, which didn’t even exist for them. We weren’t raised only by our parents. We were raised by “the village.” And that’s the way it has been ever since. I don’t think it’s likely to swing the other way. Thanks for visiting. Hope I see you again 🙂

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    • Religion wasn’t my issue — at least not with my parents — but everything else was. As far as my mother was concerned, I had no morality. It wasn’t true, it was merely completely different. Sex, for example, for me had nothing to do with morals. It was entirely a personal decision with practical (and potentially life-altering) implications … but doing it or not doing it was not a moral issue. My mother, who didn’t believe in God, nonetheless had a strict code of honor (yes, she used that word — honor) and our minds never met in this area. In other areas, we were eventually reconciled, but in this? No.

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  4. After thoughtful consideration, I reblogged this on Tales From the Family Crypt and commented about just how much family dysfunction people struggle with. But you, like others, have found a way to come out the other end stronger for it. Thanks.

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  5. So glad Bette sent me to you. I’m following and I’m going to love it! The post resonated with me. My mother never “got” me and maybe, like yours she would have but she died at 63 when I was 25. We never got the opportunity to be adults together. We never spoke openly about what we really thought and how we saw the world. I was pretty sure she’d never have understood. I mean she didn’t like my clothes, my friends’ “unkempt” looks, my choices in boys, my music, I could go on so why would I have trusted her to appreciate my innermost feelings about the world? I loved her but couldn’t trust her. As you said it wasn’t a “safe” space to share what mattered most. My dad was typical of the generation, strong and silent. But he did live long enough to enable both of us to get to know each other beginning when I was about 30 and until he died when I was about 39. So, yes, it was short lived but a wonderful bond I’ll have forever. And, you’re right again, it’s different with my three daughters, all grown now. We talk, we really talk, probably way too much! We respect each other; we don’t always agree and sometimes things go horribly awry, but there’s an unbreakable trust pulling us through the difficulties. We have an unbelievably dysfunctional family. (Hell, it’s the subject of my book because for too many years when people would hear my stories they’d say, “You ought to write a book about these people but no one would believe it.” So I did.) If I didn’t have my daughters to trust I don’t think I could have survived the insanity of the last 30 years with the rest of the people I’m related to!

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    • The differences between our world views was vast. My mother’s heart was in the right place, but she had 19th century values. Never fully accepted the changes in attitudes toward sex and morals, that loosening which the 1960s and 1970s brought. She didn’t have a prejudiced bone in her body and she was all for free love and whatever for most people. Not for HER daughter. The hypocrisy of this position eluded her. She saw no contradiction. I was her daughter, not just anyone.

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      • I think it was typical of the times for a great many parents. They could see the value of liberal values for society as a whole but certainly not for their child, especially if that child was a girl. I believe times have changed enough now for parents and kids — even our girls — to communicate more openly to reach true understanding and trust.

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  7. Marilyn, great post, and Bette thanks for reblogging. Like granonine, my parents did talk to me and listen to my concerns, even if they did not understand or agree with me. Certainly, they did not understand my world view or desire to go to college. When I graduated and went on to a Master’s Degree and beyond, they were proud and supportive.

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    • Some parents were able to be less judgmental than others. Lucky for you. My mother intended to be supportive, but her lack of understanding of the way the world worked often tripped her up.

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  8. I’m the 3rd of 4 children. Born in 1964, the last year of the baby boom.
    My older brother broke my parents in, or down. I remember my dad taking me fishing and we’d site in a boat for hours and say hardly a word. He tried, I was just a big fat jerk!
    When my youngest daughter is a complete B to me, I get it. I was a big D to my parents. As my mother in law says “payback is a B”
    It’s painful to me that I cannot have a closer relationship with my youngest daughter, but I guess I’m getting what I deserve. At least I know this will pass with time. By the time she’s 30, we should be able to talk.
    Apologies for my rambling. It is a highly emotional subject.
    Andy

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  9. Wow, it seems like most of us are boomers with a high percentage of abusive childhoods. In some ways those days were the best. I grew up in the 50’s-60’s. Yet we had the stress of the bomb, the cold war, never enough money. And physical, mental and sexual abuse. Still, damaged as many of us wre/are, we have something from those days that today’s children don’t. Something that causes them to self-abuse themselves and commit suicide. . They don’t have what we did have, however imperfect–perhaps a family together at mealtime, and some continuity in life. Our lack made us strong, while today’s kids with only material needs are I’ll equipped to meet the formidable future awaiting them.

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    • I know what you mean. My childhood was kind of awful with all the abuses you mentioned. I came out of it with my own bag of issues, but I also came out of it able to face life, finish college, build a career, raise a kid. I was ready to live and I wonder what is wrong that so many kids who, to my eyes, have far fewer challenges, seem scared of everything. Maybe there is a truth in a tough upbringing produces tough kids. Though not entirely. My brother and I did okay. My sister was/is one of the lost. There’s no “formula” but I think growing up in a dysfunctional family, for all that, I knew where my parents stood. They had values, even though they didn’t necessarily live up to them. They believed in something. A lot of parents today don’t seem to believe in anything, including themselves.

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