“Our kids don’t really know how to play independently, seldom get lost in their imaginations, and are always two feet away from us. It drives us nuts. You’d think we spoiled them rotten but it sure doesn’t seem like we did. I’ve written about this as a cultural phenomenon of “narrowing worlds and great expectations” for parents but I can’t believe everyone struggles with this to the same extent as us. If you do, let me know! I don’t remember needing my parents so much in order to play. We didn’t access our parents so much when we were kids. We went outside and played and didn’t want to come in. Shouldn’t kids want to be away from their parents to not be watched so closely? It doesn’t make any sense to me. I can’t help but think we are blind to something we are doing to perpetuate this.”
My brother wrote this a few weeks ago and I’ve thought a lot about it since then and I’ve come up with one very simple truth that defines the difference between parents today and our parents a generation ago. We were afraid of our parents. Your kids aren’t.
I’m not talking about an abusive relationship, but there was a distance. They were adults. We were children. We didn’t expect them to come play with us. They had different lives that frankly, we weren’t invited to be a part of. If we weren’t outright afraid of them, we were at least a little intimidated by them. Now everyone tries to be their kid’s best friend.
There are other factors of course. We grew up in a time where it was perfectly acceptable to leave the house and be gone all day with zero supervision. I’m talking like 6-12 years of age. Try doing that today. Even if you wanted to, you’d probably get locked up.
When I was in the first grade, we lived in Edmond, Oklahoma. I would go play on the playground at the elementary school a few doors down. Sometimes, me and a friend would walk the two blocks to the local grocery store, and if we had money, buy a candy bar. I had to wait at the light and cross the street. This wasn’t a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It was a typical suburban neighborhood.
I also remember being able to ride my bike to the local Five and Dime, a Woolworths. I honestly don’t remember how far it was, but far enough. At least part of it involved a trail between two houses. I would go buy BB’s for my Wrist Rocket, a high powered sling shot that was strong enough to break bottles. I would bring money, and buy bb’s, which even then the clerk had to get out of a locked case.
I was six.
So there’s that. We definitely learned to be independent at an early age. We all did.
But it wasn’t just what we were allowed to do, it was that my parents worked. They were busy. When they weren’t at work, they were involved in church. And they were with other adults. Kids weren’t supposed to hang out with adults. We’d get kicked out. Go play, we’d be told.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, well I could tell my kids that and they would just stand there, or they wouldn’t know what to do. Here’s my point.
They’re not afraid of you.
When you say go play, they think that’s a suggestion. One they’re not all that fond of, and one they’re not used to hearing. When our parents told us to get out of the house, they meant it.
I’m sure I’ll get push back from my youngest brother, the one who wrote the Facebook post. He’s the baby of the family, and yet too old to be a Millennial. It seems to me, he’s on the border of the world’s his older siblings grew up in, and the ones his kids are growing up in. I’m only eight years older than he is, but a lot changed in the world in those eight years. Also, he was the baby, so who knows how he was treated in relation to the older kids.
I myself get accused of not being very hands on when it comes to my grandkids. I don’t spend a lot of time on the floor, playing toys with them. It’s not because I don’t love them. I love them deeply. But I don’t want to play on the floor. It’s boring and it hurts my back. I like it when they want to sit on my lap. I’ll read books to them. I’ll watch tv with them. But I don’t want to build a lego castle with them. Even the box says 3-7, not 3-47.
My wife would just say it’s because I’m self-absorbed. And maybe that’s true. But I’ll tell you this. My parent’s generation didn’t feel the need to cater to our every whim and fantasy. Consequently, we learned to entertain ourselves.
We were more resourceful, not because we were better, or tougher, but because we didn’t really have any other choice.
Parent’s today spend a lot of time listening to their kids. Learning about how they feel. Talking to them at a kid level.
I don’t want to paint my parents as some 50s-era robots, but I’m telling you now, we weren’t living the same lives. I think families today are too immersed in each other’s worlds. I see a lot of adults who’ve lives completely revolve around the lives of their children. That was probably true to some extent when I was a kid. Maybe more than I realized at the time. I mean, shit there were six kids in my family. Just the sporting events alone ate up a lot of time. But they came to games, we didn’t go to games together. I played. They watched. When it was close by, I rode my bike to and from the games. My parents arrived and left separately.
You can give me all the reasons why this happens today. But if you want to know why your kids are up your ass all the time, I’m trying to tell you.
Another thing I see is this whole concept of equality. Equality is great, for adults. But if you’re the kid, and I’m the adult, not only are we not friends, we’re not equal. I pay all the bills. I own the car. I’m the only one with a license. So yeah, I get the TV remote. And if it’s something that’s not particularly kid friendly, you go in the other room.
There was a time when Dad’s ruled. We had a chair that no one else sat in when we were home. We sat at the head of the table. We got the big piece of chicken and we were the final word in all arguments. It wasn’t a discussion. It was a lecture.
I used to hate being lectured by my dad. Absolutely hated it. But like the rest of my brothers and sisters, when I really want someone’s advice, who do I call? My dad.
Now, all too often, what I see is a negotiation. My four year old grandson likes to try and do this. I’m not even saying his parents give in to this nonsense, but I know I don’t. We’re not negotiating. I said no. You ask me again, you’re going to find yourself in a world you don’t want to be in. I’m pretty light on the grandkids. Why do I need to be the bad guy? Fuck it, let his parents do that. But when my kids were younger, I didn’t appreciate my authority being questioned.
I think that’s whats missing. Parents have no authority. They’re asking their kids to do things. We were told to do things.
There is a great story I heard. I think it was from a comedian. He was saying that throughout his childhood, he and his siblings were scared to death of their father, even though he never laid a hand on them. He said, he was pretty sure growing up that his father was perfectly capable of killing him. But he was also a great, loving father. As an adult, the comedian was amazed at this and so called his father and asked his him how we did it.
“Well, one night you just have to come and throw the coffee table through the living room window,” he said. “Then you don’t ever have to do it again.”
It was the prison philosophy of picking a fight on the first day so you don’t have to fight the rest of the time you’re there.
Then the father told him a story that the comedian remembered.
One day his father came home after work and was yelling, not for the first time, about the kids leaving bicycles in the driveway. So we went door to door at each kids bedroom, and kicked the door off its hinges. The kids thought he’d lost his mind. They were afraid for their lives.
What the kids didn’t know is that he was planning on replacing all the doors the next day. So the next day, the doors were replaced, and the kids stopped leaving their bikes in the driveway.
That’s old school.