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The Umbilical Dilemma

March 11, 2013

Everyone of a certain age remembers “In Living Color” – the great 1990’s weekly comedy TV show that helped launch the careers of the Wayans family—Kim, Shawn, Marlon, and Dwayne as well as Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and David Alan Grier.

In one skit Jim Carrey plays a teenager who literally has not been disconnected from his mom. Yes, the umbilical cord still projected from his Hawaiian shirt at the belly button, and a 10 foot long, thick umbilical cord went from there up his Boomer Mamma’s skirt in permanent maternal control and sustenance.

Mom not only controlled her son’s movements, but regularly made him lose consciousness in response to his desire for independence by kinking the blood/oxygen flow with a simple bent squeeze of the cord. Clearly a guffaw-producing absurdity, but now, 20 years later, I see the deeper, darker metaphor this skit’s central sight gag embodies.

So many Boomers, mostly raised in the mostly benign neglect of our Greatest Generation Parents, felt compelled to Frankenstein our kinders’ resumes, pysches, interests and schedules to create the Perfect Child. The results are kids who cannot cope unless the umbilical remains unkinked and flowing.

But once the spawn flee to the semi-independent realm of college, the new unending array of techno-tethers – texting, Face Book, Skype, phone calls and the now super lame e-mails allow for missives 24/7. This link is as abiding as that umbilical cord prop – its manipulation as affecting and its presence as inhibiting of the natural order of things as Carrey’s Mom.

I am glad to have these links, but, increasingly I am beginning to sense that level of unlimited info flow can retard the natural progression from post-fetus to post-graduate.

The problem is that the umbilical flows 2 ways – we parents are nourished by it as well, and feel as panicked and deflated as Jim Carrey felt when Mom crimped the cord when the connection is shut-off by the inevitable truth that humans grow up to be independent entities.

The real issue is in our mutual expectations. The Boomer parent-child dynamic has both overburdened our maturing post adolescent children with patterns of co-dependence that are unsustainable, and has warped that inherently asymmetric relationship into a simulation of friendship between equals. Forget about parent-child: How often does anybody feel deep abiding friendship for anyone who is 25 or 35 years older or younger?

I am completely devoted to my children, they have been my wife’s and my Prime Directive for almost 25 years, but they are not just my friends, nor should they ever believe that we are just a hip older couple who groove on their “flow”. Not happenin’. Parents have to reserve the right to pull rank, be judgmental and rain on any number of parades to prevent greater pains than the buzz kill of any asymmetric power-play we impose on our kids might cause.

The awkward hands-off mindset of my own parents’ incoherent parenting approach meant I called them every few weeks while in college and less when out on my own. That lack of intimacy ultimately meant that I could be fairly together and “responsible” when they passed away.

As my generation weaves ourselves further into our children’s day-to-day and lag-bolts that umbilical connection into a permanent status, we create an impossible conundrum for our kids. When we die (oh, and BTW, that can’t be avoided) our children will not only lose the living history of intimate love that is a natural bond between parent and child, our children may also be confronted with the loss of their life concierge, career consultant, dietitian, rabbi and sex adviser. Not good.

So as I pick up my phone and receive another text or email or call, I feel the familiar love, fear and desire to viciously protect that is natural for any parent. But when those natural impulses are projected upon 20-somethings, it perpetuates a connection that Jim Carrey so rightfully and outrageously mocked – the freeze-framing of a relationship that by all natural order should be term-limited.

Growing up is a 2 way street – for kids it’s a simple natural progression – for parents it has to include ending our desire to freeze our relationship with our children at a time when they were, well, children. We cannot defy gravity, and we cannot pretend that our central role as humans – perpetuation of the species – does not have an end point before we reach our endpoint. Not easy, but natural.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Zahl permalink
    March 11, 2013 10:45 am

    So true! And, well said. We have the ‘rule’ of almost never initiating contact w our boys….started back in college days, I think. Sometimes, P and I just have to live with that ‘longing’ for more connection, realize it is all about us, and let it float on by. Not easy, but good for us all, I think. Keep it up. This is so important! Love, Mary

  2. E Freiler permalink
    March 11, 2013 1:19 pm

    Amen, brother….

  3. March 15, 2013 5:25 am

    yup. Knowing of what you speak from this mother of 25, 24 and 20 year olds. And thanking God for voice activated/repsonsive texting. Too old to see those tiny buttons.

  4. June 1, 2013 10:18 am

    You are singing my song! As someone who is helping students choose and apply to colleges, I find that with some parents part of what I do is help them realize this is the first step in letting go. As I guide the student and family through the process, I require the student to take ownership. Unfortunately, many of us Boomers have gotten so enmeshed in our children’s lives and made so many decisions for them that they are unsure of how to do these things for themselves. In our quest to give them so much, we run the risk of robbing them of the confidence that they can make decisions for themselves. That is why some kids call home before making any decision, large or small. College administrators have called parents of Boomers “helicopter parents” because we hover and their children “teacups” who are so fragile they may break easily.

    Our parents were very hands off, we are the opposite. I wonder how our children will parent their own!

  5. Otto Katz permalink
    August 18, 2013 1:55 pm

    “Alex Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” Remember that one? I went through it 11 years ago, it was brutal.

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