28 October, 2009 by Kat
Wherein I work out my daddy issues and insult all Baby Boomer grandparents.
Please bear in mind this post is the product of gross generalization about an entire generation. Of course, obviously, you’ll know lots of people who are exceptions to what I’m about to say. I know several people who are exceptions. But I’ve seen and heard enough stories from other Gen Xers to know it’s not just in my little head.
And it’s really Generation X that this post is directed at. Brothers and sisters, I have sad news to deliver. The Baby Boomer parents who were not there for you when you were a latchkey kid and they were following their bliss to divorce and 80 hour work weeks, are not going to be there for you as the grandparents of your children.
They’re not going to magically wake up one day to become the people your grandparents were.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, that doesn’t mean you’re in this all alone.
The fact is, self-centeredness has been a sort of defining hallmark of the Boomer generation all along. It’s not for nothing they were called the “Me Generation” in the 70s. I was in a work-related meeting with a company that provides telecomm services to retirement communities and assisted living facilities. They talked about the explosive growth in their business in the last few years, as the leading edge of the Baby Boomer generation begins to retire. They’re entering retirement pretty much as they went through the rest of life: with a long list of demands and requirements. Dial-up is simply not gonna cut it for the retired Boomer.
I recently heard about a book for Boomer grandparents for whom the name “grandma” or “grandpa” is just not cool and special enough, and for the love of all that’s holy, might make them sound old.
Yeah. Okay. Because having grandkids doesn’t imply that you’re not a spring chicken anymore, does it? Does this mean they plan to refer to their grandsons and granddaughters as “my kid’s kid”? Because that’ll totally throw people off the trail…
I remember as a kid, every summer I would spend a minimum of two weeks at my grandparents’ house. Our grandparents and us kids got time to develop a relationship outside of the chaos of holiday get-togethers, and our parents got kidless couple time. Win-win, right?
Most Gen X parents I know have similar memories of grandparents who often were their daycare providers for at least part of their childhood, or who at least had regular visits, sleepovers and trips to their grandparents’ houses.
But the response we get when we bring up to our own parents the possibility of them keeping our kids? Sadly, it’s often a variation on “I’ve raised my kids. This is my time. I’m sorry–I just can’t.” Usually with a look that’s intended to induce guilt for even asking. Interestingly, in their memories of them raising their kids, all those weeks we spent at grandma’s seem to get forgotten.
Granted, this could be just me. Every summer begins with a couple of family birthday get-togethers. And every year, for the past three years, my retired dad tells my kids that he’s going to come by and pick them up from the sitters “sometime soon” and take them up to his camp, or fishing, or just spend some time with them over the summer.
Three years, and he’s not managed to find the time yet.
Even the five year old is wise to him by now. Ironically, my dad, who is in near-perfect health, has spent less time with my kids, who live 7 miles away, than Chris’ parents, who only just now fully retired, live 1,000 miles away, and one of whom is diabetic, had a quadruple bypass and walks with a cane. I also think it’s interesting that Chris didn’t spend much time with his grandparents as a kid, due to his family’s military moves, his grandparents health problems and other factors. If anyone could legitimately claim they raised their kids without grandparental help, it’s his parents. Yet they’re the ones who make the effort. What gives?
So yes, this could be just Kat letting her “daddy issues” skew her vision. Except I hear a similar story from a LOT of my friends. Enough that I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it.
The truth is, my dad was similarly self-centered when I was a kid. Which is not to say I had a rotten childhood, or was neglected or any such thing, or that I didn’t know he loved me–because I did.
But it was always 100% clear that the family schedule contained two types of items: Stuff Dad Wanted to Do, and Stuff That Did Not In ANY Way Interfere With Stuff Dad Wanted To Do. He traded my first car to someone else for a boat cover and a Ford Fairmont, which may have been the only car on earth less cool than the one I already had. Without telling me–I just came home one day and my car was gone. And let’s not even discuss the time I was grounded for two weeks for getting an A- on my report card, because the teacher wrote “Could try harder” in the comments…(although that one was really more on Mom.)
So, yeah… “rein in the daddy issues, Kat”… but still…
This is one post where I genuinely want to hear from you in the comments, assuming it’s not to say “I’m an awesome Boomer grandparent, you stupid…” followed by a lot of profanity that I’ll then have to moderate out.
Because I can’t help but think that parents who didn’t make having a relationship with YOU a major priority when you were kids, probably aren’t bending over backward to have a relationship with your kids now that they’re a grandparent. I hear that a lot.
But maybe it works the other way, too. Maybe some are trying harder because they learned from that. I would love to hear that.
And what I wanted to say earlier, and didn’t, is that for most of those same Gen-X parents I know, the amazing, surprising blessing is that they find other exhausted Gen-X parents who are happy to give them a break and watch their kids every now and then. In fact, there’s a whole redemptive story that springs from that, and it’s touching and sweet and will probably make you cry in your keyboards, but it’s currently 3AM as I’m writing this, and I’m worn out from ranting. So that will have to wait. Follow-up post, and whatnot.
So in the meantime, feel free to vent your own grandparent-related angst in the comments. Or grandkid-related angst. Or “kids of mine who are sucky parents now” angst. Just let it all out, people. In a non-profane way, of course.