As I still mourn the loss of Prince, my mind wanders to the many, many memories in my life in which his music was the soundtrack. I remember so vividly my Father taking us to the Jackson 5 “Thriller” concert and I had just gotten the Purple Rain cassette. We listened to that the whole way there and back. Prince’s death is a true loss for our generation, Generation X. It has made me think more about my generation, and most likely yours too. In our work we talk a lot about our children’s generation – Gen Z as well as the Millennial generation but let’s take a look at who we are. As parents we are influencing what our children are doing and who they are becoming, so who are we and what formed our thoughts, opinions and how we choose to live our lives?
Some call us the “middle child” stuck between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials because we tend to fall in the middle on everything from political and social issues to technology use but to begin to understand who we are we must begin with our parents. Most of our parents were raised with the ‘50s, early ‘60’s role model – our Mother’s role model specifically – doting wives who raised children, had dinner on the table precisely at 5:30 so their husbands could watch the 6:00 news. Jackie O. But then, not only was this the role model, the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s rounded the corner and the idea of free love and free thinking crashed into “Father know best.” The once “perfect,” “tied up like a bow,” role model for women changed and our Mother’s struggled between two ideals of who they were supposed to be and become. The deceit of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War led to the questioning of our government. The new drug culture, the emergence of the music of the Grateful Dead, Jim Morrison and Janis Jopin to the writings of Judith Rossner in Looking for Mr. Goodbar as she explored single parenthood and life in an unsettling light – these were the early years of our Mothers figuring out who they were and our parents parenting us. For Gen Xers there were no trophies for showing up or even seatbelt laws to think about. It was all “Free to be, You and Me.” We became the MTV generation of the ‘80’s. We watched the Wall come down and the Cold War end. We witnessed the emergence of AIDs. We were the beginning of the Milk Carton children. We cheered as Rocky climbed the steps to “Gonna Fly Now,” mimicked the moonwalk, played Pac-Man and learned a bit about sex from Prince’s lyrics. We rocked out to Heavy Metal, watched the original Star Wars, had big hair and understood what “Less than Zero” was all about. Yes, this is/was us. And while I am still missing elements that make up Generation X and I am certainly no expert on generations, this is the culture that we came of age in.
In Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion, a collection of global essays, Professor Christine Henseler’s summarizes it as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all.” Maybe we do fall in the middle, but thinking about the societal changes that our generation faced when we were coming of age probably makes us the most resilient of any of the other generations. Paul Taylor, the President of the Pew Research Center sums up the Xers like this- “From everything we know about them, they’re savvy, skeptical and self-reliant; they’re not into preening or pampering, and they just might not give much of a hoot what others think of them. Or whether others think of them at all.”
How do we now translate what defines how we were raised into how we raise our children in a new generation of smartphones, social media, teaching to the test and the constant threat of terrorism? First we must truly understand who we are personally. Then, it still comes down to the same principles, be true to who you are, be kind, be tolerant, honesty is still the best policy, loyalty and love. Even though there are cultural differences, the underlying character of a person still matters. Being a role model and teaching our children these important qualities and life skills will help them make positive decisions and know how to navigate situations as they arise in their lives despite the definition of each generation.