Tag Archives: baby

If “Everything Is Possible,” Our Milestones Need to Change

21 Aug

singles-620x412Image from Singles via Salon

In the second paragraph of Sara Scribner’s recent Salon article about Generation X, the journalist says:

Few have even noticed that this small, notoriously rebellious clan – those born roughly between 1965 and 1980, which means about 46 million Xers versus 80 million boomers — has entered middle age.

The article itself is entitled “Generation X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?”

Let’s stop right there for a moment. The date range provided here for Generation X refers to people who are currently between 48 and 33 years old. Is 33 middle age? Is 33 “really old”? Hyperbole aside, is 48 even “really old”?

The rest of the article refers to people in their 40s. I get it. The writer is using the median age. Treatises on generations are always rift with broad-swept generalities, however the attention to age in this particular article is telling for the article goes on to bring up issues of delayed adulthood, parents, and leadership.

Scribner quotes historian and generational expert (side note: how does one get to be a generational expert? That sounds like an awesome job) Neil Howe saying:

“Xers experience agoraphobia — everything is possible.”

The article goes on to say:

That’s where this generation gets its reputation as reluctant to grow up. “It’s very hard to mature,” [Howe] says. “In order to mature and become an adult, you have to shut off options. The way Xers were raised, there were always options — their parents told them to keep options open.”

Further on in the article, Scribner explains the result of this:

[Sheryl] Connelly, the Ford futurist, says that some of the postponing of the traditional midlife period may come down to a pushing back of all the major life milestones: “Some of that [midlife questioning] would be fueled by empty nesters – the kids are grown,” she says, explaining a feeling of “now what?” “Demographics have shifted such that with each passing generation, people are postponing marriage.” With dependent kids at home, everything has been pushed back. “There’s nothing midlife about my situation right now.  I think that’s why you don’t hear this conversation.”

Maybe, but that’s assuming that we’re talking about a Gen Xer born closer to the 1965 date. Let’s take someone smack dab in the middle of Gen X. If we’re using the range 1965 to 1980, let’s pick someone born in 1972. That person today (well, depending on when their birthday falls) would be 41 years old. Let’s now assume this person married right out of college and then had a kid the following year, when they were about 24 years old. (Keep in mind, that’s younger than the median age for getting married which is closer to 27.) That child would be about 17 years old. It’s therefore not at all shocking that many—even half of—Gen Xers would have “dependent kids at home.” It would actually be rather traditional and, dare I say, old-fashioned.

More interesting is not that life’s “major life milestones” are happening later but that they’re happening at different times for Gen X.

And, just as interesting is that, even with these societal changes, Scribner still upheld conservative viewpoints of adulthood when she paired the phrase “major life milestones” with Connelly’s quote about “empty nesters,” “postponing marriage,” and “dependent kids at home.”

This is where the article gets fascinating but isn’t fully explored. Yes, perhaps on the whole, people are postponing marriage and children and many who did have children now can’t get rid of their boomerang kids, creating a period of limbo. However, just like the age range of Gen X varies, so does the age that they’re getting married and having kids. That’s apparent even in looking at the celebrities the article mentions. Kurt Cobain (born in 1967) had a baby, and that baby is now 20 years old. Winona Ryder is 41 and has never been married or had children. Liz Phair, who is now 46, married a film editor in 1995 and had a child with him the following year; in 2001 the couple divorced.

I have friends I graduated college with who afterwards got married and now have two or three children. I have other friends I graduated high school with who are still very single—and by “very,” I simply mean that they are not only unmarried but also not in a steady relationship. I have a cousin who is about two years older than me who has a seventeen-year-old son. And I have other cousins who are about a decade older than me and have children the same age and younger than the cousin closer to my age.

At a writing conference, I had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues. On so many levels we connected. We’d had very similar upbringings. We had comparable goals with our writing. We  shared parallel interests. Only about two years older than me, she is a mother of adolescent children and confessed to fearing empty-nest syndrome. At that moment in the conversation, my unmarried, childless self felt like a complete child next to her.

Going back to the statements about Gen X’s reluctance to grow up and the difficulty of maturing in this day and age, I think Howe’s concept of “agoraphobia” is worth more attention. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Howe’s assessment that we have a phobia, an irrational fear, of “shut[ting] off options,” but the fact that we have those options is significant. We have the option to get married right out of college or to wait until we’ve experienced more of life, know ourselves better, and have amassed a nest egg to support a family. There’s no longer the same social stigma there once was to have a child out of wedlock and so we have the option to have a child with a significant other who we may already be living with. With the advancement of medicine, we also have the option of waiting until we’re in our 40s to have children.

As Howe says, “everything is possible.” But what does that mean for our identities and for the concept of maturity and adulthood?

Does a Gen Xer who is single and childless at 48 years old have more in common with a single and childless 33 year old Gen Xer than with a 48-year-old Gen Xer with a toddler? Does a Gen Xer who is an empty nester have more in common with the Gen Xer who never had children? Does a divorced Gen Xer in their early 30s have a more similar lifestyle to a Gen Xer in their late 40s who never got married? Is the 48 year old who never got married and never had children less mature, less of an adult, because they haven’t reached certain “milestones”?

Maybe it’s time our concept of maturity shifted to match the time period in which we’re living. Maybe it’s time to recognize that today’s milestones have changed.

The Salon article says “Many Xers seem nostalgic for the serene ‘50s,” but the “serene ’50s childhood” is a myth. One, in fact, that we explore in Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” when talking about how illness killed off children, how war fractured families, how gender roles were back then, and how supposed countercultural icon Jack Kerouac longed for a wife and a ranch. Marilyn Monroe died at 36, never having a child. Ella Fitzgerald never had a child of her own but adopted one. Allen Ginsberg had a lifelong partner but his relationship was not considered traditional at the time. Clearly, there were people in the 1940s and ’50s who reached adulthood, reach midlife, without achieving traditional milestones. So why do we continue to use the same markers for maturity today that weren’t even accurate in the 1940s?

You may also like:

Blame Parents for Millennials Acting Entitled: Helicopter Parents Have Trophy Kids Who End Up Boomerang Kids

Shunning Cars … and Life

Parallel Generations

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Writing Wednesday: Story-Babies, or What I Learned about Balancing Work/Writing/Life from a Parenting Blog Post

21 Sep

Somehow, in the midst of a heat wave over the summer, I got a cold.  When I emailed my sister to complain, she lovingly sent me some kind words, saying:

Be gentle with yourself.

She related she’d read the phrase on Cup of Jo, a blog written by Joanna Goddard that my sister and I both enjoy reading.  I decided some blog reading might be a good distraction so I decided to peruse Cup of Jo, while sucking down a Coldbuster from Jamba Juice.  What I discovered was that it was Joanna Goddard’s mom, who told her, “Take gentle care of yourself.”  The advice was part of a series on juggling work/baby/life.

I don’t have a baby—at least not in the obvious sense.  Jack Kerouac once said:

“I’m going to marry my novels and have little short stories for children.”

I rather like that.  Although I don’t have flesh-and-bone babies, I am constantly giving birth to little stories.  I have my work-work (the 9-to-5 job that pays the bills) but I also have my “babies” (my creative writing projects).  Oh sure, if I don’t “feed” my book, I won’t be taken away by Child Protective Services, but I feel guilty when I don’t spend quality time with my story.  Like a parent, I feel like my life (sleep, socializing, etc.) often suffers as a consequence of my story-baby.

I turned to the Cup of Jo series on work/baby/life balance fully admitting that a book and a baby aren’t the same thing, but hoping to glean some useful tips.  Some of it gave me hope … and some of it made me bitter.

What I took away from the work-life balance series:::

  • Take care of emails in batches.  Ie, first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  That gives you more time than constantly checking your inbox.
  • Some things will inevitably slide.  Mothers who work full-time and don’t have nannies around 24/7, don’t look as put together as Katie Holmes and Angelina Jolie.  Writers who work full-time and go to grad school full-time and freelance may have bad hair days.
  • Some mothers can get nannies or hubbies to help out.  Writers are the only ones who can write their books.
  • Maybe instead of paying babysitters for a little free time, writers pay delivery men and cleaners for a little free time.
  • I’m not the only one holed up in my room.  Writers, freelancers, and moms work from home.  Maybe a trip to the playground is in order at lunchtime.
  • Compartmentalize.  Work hard and stay focused on the task at hand, instead of giving into distractions that lead to one job eating into the next.
  • Pamper yourself.  Moms almost never get time to themselves, and when they do they spoil themselves with pedicures.  Mental health days are okay to take.  Doing nice things for yourself is okay.  Writers, take note.
  • Create a schedule, tweak as necessary.  It helps mommies and writers to have a game plan for each day.
  • Make time for your husband, or in the writer’s case, a good book.  We write because we first loved books.  We need to always cherish the art of literature and never neglect it, lest we begin to lose our passion and vision.

I wonder if other writers feel like their books are all-consuming babies sometimes.