Baby, I Wanna Be Your Buddy

April 5, 2006

This article characterizes Generation X parents as chasing closeness and connection with their children through shared hobbies. We’re talking video games, skateboarding, playing the guitar, watching American Idol…

People who study generational differences say many Gen Xers want a closer relationship with their kids than what they experienced _ they’re less interested in climbing to the top of the corporate ladder if it means giving up family time. Gen Xers matured at a time when the divorce rate was soaring and working parents were away from their children for more hours than any prior generation.

I see this as indicative of a few cultural shifts. The first is the precedent being set by baby boomers, who refuse to grow old. Gen X parents are picking up where boomers left off, raging against the dying of the light and maintaining a certain identification with their inner teenager. I remember the first time I saw a Subaru station wagon ad aimed at Gen X women. Nothing like stuffing a surfboard in the back to sex up the quintessential family car!

The second is a shift in parenting expectations. My parents were neither motivated nor obliged to keep us kids entertained or to “be our friend.” It was our job as kids to entertain ourselves, and their job to provide food, clothing, and shelter, to keep us out of trouble, and to get us educated. But now, as a parent myself, I feel pressure to both keep my child stimulated and to be his friend and playmate as he grows older. It’s not just that I feel pressure; it’s that I really want those things for him and for me. But why?

My parents’ parents were not compelled to be their children’s friend, and before that, the job description of parent surely did not include “recreational activity partner.” So what has changed?