The techniques of managing relationships between parents and their children is as old as.. well, parents having children. It’s not an easy job, either for the parent or the child. But, the key to any relationship inside or outside the family is the ability to relate; to have an empathy that allows us a slightly special way in which we can communicate with one another in order to understand, and to be understood. We make friends because of the similarities we may have in certain areas and we sometimes can build lifelong relationships on that basis. But, having children means we do not have a choice to make that relationship as we might have in meeting a perfect stranger. It’s a relationship forced upon us, albeit willingly in most cases. We as parents accept that as part of parenting. After all, as parents we have the opportunity to influence the development of our children to be just like us.. thus creating those similarities that enhance a lifelong relationship. Now, note that I used the word ‘opportunity’ in that sentence. I think as parents we all realize that in spite of what we do to manipulate their young lives our children will turn out as individuals just as we did with our parents. And that could very well mean that the relationship you have with your child is not based on similarities but more of accepting the respective family roles of parent and child.
Trying to relate with our children and getting them to relate to us is a great challenge to even the most determined and dedicated parent. Sometimes the frustration level is so great we wonder as parents why we had kids at all; especially when they reach the teen years and become demanding in their own right as they expand social contacts in their own high school social systems and expect us to conform to (and finance) that lifestyle yet requiring us to stay in the shadows so as not to embarrass them.
I often ask myself how it is my folks raised me in one method and yet I have helped to raise my kids using another totally different method and the end result appears the same. While our child-rearing is not quite over we have nonetheless been fortunate to have raised three wonderful children reflecting the values we feel are important; having developed socially and academically beyond our wildest expectations. Yet my parents felt that about me and my sister as well. And many other parents can also claim these same ‘successes’. So, what is really the key here?
The key is in a term I call ‘relational adaptation’; you might best know it as the ‘generation gap‘. When us boomers were born after World War II there were such vast numbers of us that our mere presence forced social upheavals in every facet of life. Our Depression Era parents had to adapt to raise us.. they had no choice. With the economy booming they had the natural desire to provide all of us newborns with the things they never had when they grew up. We were the first generation to be raised in an era of relatively instant mass communication, opportunities for college education, better jobs, etc. The morals and ideals which were prevalent in our parents’ day were being challenged daily.. many becoming obsolete and passe’ (I overheard my grandmother one day commenting to my mother as to why mother needed a book by some baby doctor named Spock to raise a child when she herself considered her own job at motherhood quite a success without it.). By comparison to previous generations we were indeed, ‘spoiled’. The generation gap was broad.. and to bridge it between parent and child in those days was a fairly gut-wrenching transformation.
So, how does all that translate to how we raise our kids now? Well, for the first time in the industrialized history of this country the generation gap between how we were raised and that of our children is the shortest. Our children do not have parents that were raised in a totally different lifestyle or social environment? We had rock and roll, and our children have rock and roll. We had instant mass communications and our children also have instant mass communications (albeit technologically far more advanced). It was our generation that blazed the trails to bring social taboos like sex and drugs to the forefront, which our children also deal with today. Our generation brought change on all frontiers and as we aged we accepted change as a norm.. and we adapted. In other words, as parents we can identify.. and RELATE far more with our children than in all previous generations back to the 30’s.
But while that gap has been closed to a great degree there are some significant differences within the generations. Us boomers realized that certain life compromises can be made.. that life is short and not necessarily a life to be dedicated to just child-rearing or career. When I was growing up there was the distinct attitude that the family centered around the children’s upbringing. By comparison we now feel that the family centers around a more equal distribution of quality of life; that kids can be allowed to develop on their own at certain levels; that parents don’t have to bust their butts to pay for their children’s college; and maybe understand that kids don’t necessarily need direct 24/7 supervision, but rather intuitive guidance.
Ok, so how can all these similarities and differences explain one method of child rearing being any more effective from one generation to the next? It seems the similarities make a great basis in forming a relationship with our children as they grow up; a way to broaden and enhance the ability to ‘listen’ to each other. The differences reflect the times we live in at that moment.. and our abilities to adapt to the ever-changing social pressures. And that adaptation is done in the togetherness of a relationship. For example, I may identify as a parent your need and desire, as a child, to take the car to work rather than walking, but there is a real economic problem going on in the here-and-now that makes gasoline pretty expensive, and we need to conserve money for other things. I was never raised in this situation before so this is not simply a parental control thing. So, let’s reach a compromise that works.
Play up the similarities with your children between your two respective generations and use that to establish a relationship. Then when those expected differences come along in life your relationship will be better armed for compromise, cooperation, and understanding. Make your children identify with you by sharing how you were raised as not being that much different. You may not have the family sitting around the dinner table like in the ‘old days’ but you just might have a greater closeness with your children because you did indeed ‘walk a mile in their shoes’.