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Parenting: Betty Draper vs. Gordon Gecko

September 13, 2010

How Did We Do?

In the annual migration of spawn fleeing parents called college matriculation, questions are raised.  Facing their absence, parents take stock.  “If they can’t ever get the Under Armor Compression Shorts off the floor, how can they begin to figure out how to be on their own?”

 More pointedly, for the pathologically over-parenting generation known as “Boomer” (or more accurately, “Me”), the questions inevitably fall back to us.  Since those who have lived through it know that being parented by Mad Men and their Betty Draper was pretty toxic, my generation found a better way – the Gordon Gecko parenting model. It is the parenting model where every possible enhancement for our beloved issue is gamed to get the product desired.  The movie “Wall Street” has Gecko espousing this baseline value system as “Greed is good” – my generation of parental Gecko’s has as their unsaid but omni-present mantra “My kid is better”.

 Just like the “perfect fit” college is Boomer-ese for “the best school he/she could get into”, the net result of our parenting technique may need decoding for accuracy.  We created unrelenting schedules for our offspring to max out the “perfect” kid part of that “fit”.  The by-products of this decades’ long march to hone and position our spawn are now obvious beyond any gloss of desperate spinning.

 We gamed every child-addressing system from pre-school application posturing, to four-year olds French lessons, to finding the arcane sport (fencing or perhaps German Hand Ball) where lame non-athletic kids can get on an “elite travel team” so fervently that we did not stop to smell the stank of our kids.  No child is as talented, sensitive or has the “incredible potential” as we collectively posited for our offspring.  We chuckled when Garrison Keillor declares that Lake Wobegon children are “all above average” but that is how we lived our parenting approach. 

 These kids hug instead of shake hands, text instead of talk, give friends “benefits”, and are loathe to oath any enthusiasms beyond comfort food and any Mac product. There is a transcendent “What, me worry?” attitude that translates into minimal response – up or down – to any stimuli.

 But this makes sense given how we parented them. Enthusiasm or fear is based on personal risk and reward. When just about every experience has been folded in with their parents’ lives they are second-hand participants in character building. With  Mom and Dad researching, prepping, counseling, fretting, compensating, lobbying and ultimately taking a measure of credit or risk in almost all things their spawn attempt no wonder there is little or no sense of urgency for our offspring.

 Thus it might be said my generation of parents has created a new model of familial structure: the Socialist Family. Like the workforce of mid century Iron Curtain countries, our children have no fear of failing – they are completely supported in all things – but they also have little motivation to “hit the beach” in competitive frenzy because they completely supported in all things.

 “We are all winners” is believable when your parents are writing the rules of just about every endeavor you have participated in . We Boomer parents crafted a intermeshing tapestry of each day’s 16 available hours for our children – each piece fully vetted out in advance, registered for, with all details accommodated. Coaches, teachers and every other authority figure in their lives were cross-examined, prepared, and had their expectations massaged by our unrelenting mission to make the “better” kid.

 Their risks were managed, with expectations directly keyed to predetermined outcomes, all swaddled in a pervasive parental buffer. We were our children’s Life Concierges. When every minute of their day was scheduled by parents that reserve the right to be “friends” who measure every measurable and analyze the upside of every “opportunity” taken advantage of, how can our children have any sense of perspective other than they are at the center of all schedules, measures and opportunities?

 The result:  The 10-minute wait at Starbucks for a cup of coffee as “gifted” Boomer spawn Barista’s create their own mode of communication, action and rationalization for every preventable error that drives their Type A parent’s generation patrons insane.

 As our “better” kids take their sullen affect and “whatever” ethos off to “perfect fit” places of higher learning, the looming silence of their absence makes the truth unavoidable despite all the distracting “empty nester” options (the 3rd book club, concert or theater series tickets, or drinking).

 In their absence it begins to dawn on us that our kids are just people; some are gifted in some way, and most are not.  Some are sensitive, but most are, at this time in their lives, absurdly selfish (just as we were).  Some of them are mature, but on average maturity is scarcer in this crop than for those of us who were reared in the dark Raised Ranches of Mad-Men-not-so-benign parental neglect.

 When parents poke their noses into every possible leg-up to make “better” kids, there is probably less chance of tragic accidents, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancies or other extreme byproducts of Mad Men parental abrogation.  But by trying to create June Cleaver happiness where too often we had experienced Betty Draper indifference, we Boomers went a little nuts and created a new type of kid.

 But perhaps the ultimate mirror held up to the consequences of our over-thinking, over-reaching, and ultimately self-deluding parental path is what happens when those kids finally finish their education and hit the undeniable reality of earning a living.  Our former boom economy absorbed every viable functionary available.  Our present bust economy is terrified of spending any money on any employee that is not optimal.  Tales of third and fourth interviews over months of vetting are now common, and more rejection letters than ever are in the “inbox” of our “fantastic” kids.

 The “all are better than average” model for our children has proven to be a lie.  The best qualified kids get jobs, the rest get better, work at Starbucks and/or live with their parents. It’s brutal but it’s true:  Our children have obtained a perverse sense of entitlement that they learned by witnessing our attitudes about them.

 But our attitude has some things to recommend it. The Draper family depicted on TV is based on what many of us experienced firsthand. My mother regaled a party with the phrase:  “I LOVED being pregnant – I could drink and drink and drink and never get drunk”. The resulting damage to my peeps is largely latent, but abiding  -and it has ultimately been visited upon our kinder as a make-up call with a vengeance.  Oh well, too late now.

Here are some previous rants on similar topics.

New Haven Magazine:  College Admissions Shell Game

New Haven Register:  Boomers’ nests drop in density

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 12, 2010 2:50 pm

    Beautiful, and scarily true.


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