We unthinkingly live the narratives that we are raised with or we rail against them. When you are the parent, you craft the stories. As our children move toward adulthood, we often miss the necessary shift in order to have robust and respectful relationships with these adults we have raised. What does it mean to bring the posture of a learner to these interactions? Are you willing to consider that your children have their own life experiences that you would benefit from?
The baby boomer generation has been caught off guard by the political activism of our adult children. We often think: Who are they? What do they know? This is our playground. Keep quiet and gain some life experience before you speak. Our years of experience seem to be minimized by a Google search that must be right.
Those in their 20s and 30s have grown up with so much information. Of necessity, they have survived by categorizing. If you are this, then you are all that. For example, if you self-identify as a “born again Christian” then you are homophobic, judgmental and “Islamaphobic.” If you self-identify as a businessperson that manages a corporation, you are motivated by greed and are the oppressor. If you are wealthy, it is ill-gotten gain. In the midst of globalization, we all feel tribal as well as global. We are looking for our people, while also hoping that our views are transcendent enough to speak for a global community.
How can such disparate parties have a civil dialogue? I felt strangely juxtaposed by age. I was too young to be a hippy, and yet aware of the “generation gap” that was often referenced. I was not the one condemning “the man” but quietly coming to adulthood at the end of that era. The battles of long hair, free love and drug experimentation had been fought. Our hope was to “raise a child in the way they should go, and when they were old they would not depart from it.”
Growing up with parents who had somehow lost control, we were in the “Dare to Discipline” generation of parenting. It was all bundled. Have a home that had clear lines, lots of Bible memory and straightforward rules of right and wrong. This was the formula for a godly home, and I was not very good at it. I was at heart merciful. I was at heart not convinced that every formula for parenting (a + b always equaled c) was right for each child. I was not convinced there was only “one way to go” for a child—each beautifully unique.
My desire was to love well and listen carefully. These four small people in our home that became fascinating adults intrigued me. I continue to be curious. As a spiritual director and pastor, this posture of curiosity is part of my presence with others. I hold an open space for communication to happen. I invite honesty and vulnerability to the conversation. If I can offer this to others, can I offer it to my adult children? Sometimes not easily.
These are the people we taught to walk. They would not be alive if we were not attentive to their nourishment needs, their social needs, their emotional needs, and their physical needs. We were the discerner for them that said, “Don’t touch that, don’t say that, don’t hit your sister and don’t wear that.” Then there’s the “do thats.” Do make your bed, brush your teeth, say thank you, get your homework done, have table manners and clean up your messes. We then memorialize it all with scrapbooks of our own making, telling them the beautiful story of their lives the way we have seen it unfold. We launch them off to college and imagine that they will hold the course we have crafted for them.
Some do… for a time. Some do for a lifetime. Some begin crafting their own stories. Some reject your story of their life and tell their own story. Can we bear that? If curiosity is a component of open dialogue, and a transforming self is an appropriate posture, resilience is what can keep us afloat when we might drown in our differences. Can you let go of control? It is not for the faint-hearted. You will need to sit with their words and their reasons. You will need to release judgment absolutely everywhere you can without misrepresenting your essentials. Humility needs to partner with resilience. This is something you cannot do alone. You need a willing dance partner in this cross-generational civil dialogue. Do not barge in where you are not invited, and realize that to be invited into one space is not to be invited into every space. Respecting their privacy and not needing to comment on their every thought or action is a learned skill.
If through the years you have been a person they love and have felt respected by, then you might be a voice they are willing to hear. It is also true that they are not interested in your thoughts if they don’t respect your life. This generation hates hypocrisy. This may also be true in reverse. We do not easily identify hypocrisy in ourselves, but are quick to call it out in others.
Here is a fairly inconvenient truth. There is a new generational gap. Those who are over 50 need to reckon with the fact that our life experiences and stories are less a source of inspiration for those that follow. They are choosing their own heroes, and those heroes are a click away. We need to be okay with that. If our posture is rigid, we will be marginalized. We will be stereotyped and turned away. If we are resilient and humble learners who love well without needing to control, we may have a place at the table. We don’t get to choose. They do. Do your own soul work with curiosity, humility and resilience. Size your voice and actions with a primary motivation being to love others well as image-bearers of the divine. And listen to our podcast, “In Human Terms,” where my daughter and I step into these hard spaces and try to maintain civility!