Gen X Parents

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In 1991 the film Slacker brought the unemployed, or underemployed, lifestyle of many twenty-somethings to the silver screen. Generation X—those born between 1965 and 1979—were made out to be the antithesis of their boomer parents—lazy, non-joining, ambition-free, static, unenthusiastic, and manifesting an apparent lack of effort.

In 1994 another movie, Reality Bites, captured the myth of Gen X again—in a more Hollywood sort of way. Lead Winona Ryder (as Leliana) asks her friend, “Hey Sammy, what’s your goal?” To which actor Steve Zahn responds, “My goal is… I’d like a career or something.”

Well, many of us slackers have grown up, gotten jobs (or created our own), and had families. Turns out Gen Xers aren’t really slackers, but rather have a different view of the world than our baby boomer parents. We value family and, though mocked by popular culture, often exemplify a more traditional lifestyle than the baby boomers did.

Many Xers tend to be more conventional, discipline oriented parents, but with a twist. We are trying to find balance between being our children’s friends (so they will confide in us) and instituting guidelines and rules to promote a feeling of safety and structure that children often crave. There is communication between the generations, but the rules still apply.

Some of this need to create structure stems from the personal and political upheaval that took place in the world when Gen Xers were growing up. We were the first generation with large numbers being raised in what was termed “broken homes.” The divorce rate was skyrocketing, boomer moms often had to work full time outside the home, the country was in a cold war and corporations were laying off workers in huge numbers. It felt like an uncertain time.

A few more decades removed from the original feminist movement, Generation X moms don’t feel like they need to prove themselves the way their mothers did. We know we can have a career—that’s a given—it’s up to us to decide if we want one or not. Many Xer moms have college degrees, often graduate degrees as well, and have established careers before deciding to have babies in their 30s.

Bozeman mother of three (Jacob, 6; Maeve, 3; Rowan 1), Heather Crosby-Musselman was training to be a midwife when her first child was born and practiced until he was two years old. Although their were extenuating circumstances in her case, she recalls that, “I was never giving enough to either side; I wasn’t giving my son enough time and I wasn’t giving my profession enough time.” She decided to quit her job in order to be able to concentrate her attention on Jacob and her husband.

“It certainly was a choice,” Crosby-Mussleman says. Her mother was a single mom who didn’t get to choose whether to stay home with her kids or go to work, so Crosby-Mussleman feels fortunate to have the chance to focus on her kids and family now.

It’s not just moms who are staying home with their children, many Xer fathers have opted to raise their kids while their wives work, or to work from home and manage the family. Additionally, many dads share interests with their children in a way that their own fathers did not. Gen X dads can be found at the skate park boarding with their kids, playing Nintendo, and listening to punk rock. Since when did kids and parents like the same music?

In 2004, Reach Advisors, a market research firm released a report that showed that Gen X parents—both mothers and fathers—are more concerned with making their jobs fit their lifestyles than visa versa. The study “Generation X Parents: From Grunge to Grownup” revealed that Gen X dads spend twice as much time, on average, with their kids than their fathers spent with them. And most of the dads surveyed still wish they had more time with their brood. Overall, Xers value family above all else, even when that means making financial or career sacrifices.

Bozeman mother Tanja Tsukamoto (Kaden, 3.5 years and twins due in November) notes that she and her husband, “have scaled back on things” in order to allow Tsukamoto stay home. “It’s a short lived time in our lives,” she says, “and I feel fortunate because not all families can afford to have a mom at home.”

Carving out a life separate from their children is still important to stay-at-home moms; children may be the first priority, but they aren’t the only one. Many Gen X moms keep a foot in the door of their old career—writing the occasional article, attending conferences or workshops, taking classes—so that it is easier to jump back in when they are ready to return to the paid work world. Conversely, Xer parents may start new ventures—such as an internet business—that fits better with their lifestyle.

Crosby-Musslemann finds that she has become more politically active these days. As well as becoming involved in the public school lunch program, she wants to “work with the neighborhood to stay active.” She has a bit of her own life, which will benefit her children as well.

The difference between Gen X parents and their own parents goes beyond choosing how and when to work. While it was virtually unheard of for babies of boomers to sleep in the same room as their parents, many Gen X parents have opted to keep newborns close by for the first few (or several) months. With the advent of the co-sleeper baby is able to be next to mom and dad without being in the bed, which eases night feedings, and according to some, reduces the possibility of SIDS. Some folks even opt for a family bed, where everyone sleeps together.

Breastfeeding had been given a new lease in life by Gen Xers, as well. Stephani Gordon of Livingston remembers that her mother never nursed her at all. “It was a time when they thought science could do a better job than nature,” she says. Now women are encouraged to breastfeed (if they are able) for the first year, or longer if possible. Some moms opt to nurse for several years, hoping to ensure the best possible nutrition for their little ones.

Part of the rise in breastfeeding in Xers is health-based, part of it is a general acceptance of nursing in public. In our boomer mom’s days, mothers would sneak off to the bedroom or other private area to feed their babies. Essentially, they were housebound until they weaned their wee ones. No wonder most moms only nursed for a few months at most. Today, mothers are breastfeeding at coffee shops and parks, allowing them more freedom to be part of the world, even with a new baby. And freedom is something Generation X parents value. Freedom to follow their intuition and raise their kids the way that best meets the needs of the whole family.

Generation X-style parenting often starts before the first baby is born. Pregnancy has become something to cherish and show off beneath sexy and fashionable clothes. The baggy muumuus our mothers wore are a thing of the past. Pregnant women show up on the cover of magazines (and without the controversy of Demi Moore in the 1991 Vanity Fair cover shot). Belly casting and pregnancy-specific photography set-ups have sprung up around the country. Gen Xers seem to be reveling in the voluptuousness of the pregnant body.

Even birth is a whole new scene. Doulas and midwives are much more common than in the recent past. Doulas of North America had 31 International Certified Birth Doula members in 1994 and 2,625 at the end of 2006. Hospitals are becoming more amenable to having a doula or even a midwife present to lend support and expertise. In Gallatin and Park Counties many Gen X women are choosing to have their babies at home and sharing the experience with family as well as a midwife.

Reaching out to the community for support is another trait common to Gen X parents. Whether it is getting together for coffee with other moms in the Kidermusik class, meeting for a father-son basketball game, or gabbing with other parents to find out how to potty train a toddler, Gen X parents often rely on their friends to provide information, support and resources for child rearing.

Like every other generation, Xers are trying to figure out what works for them and what parenting style best meets the needs of their families. Unlike many previous generations, we’re lucky—the choices are abundant. Mothers can stay at home, work part time or stay in the workforce full-force; fathers have many of the same choices. Some parents keep their kids in their room (and bed) for months and months, while others put the baby in his own bed right from the start.

While an abundance of alternatives is nice, it can also be a bit bewildering. What’s best for mom? Dad? The kids? Like Troy (Ethan Hawke) mused in Reality Bites, “What happened is that um, I kinda got this arcane glimpse of the universe and the best thing I can say about that is… I don’t know.” We don’t know, but we are following our hearts and doing our best.

Montana Parent
November 05, 2007

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1 thought on “Gen X Parents”

  1. I liked your post, but have to correct you a bit. I don’t think Reality Bites portrayed Xers as Slackers. It portrayed them as survivors. And Winona picked the “artist” over the “capitalist” in the end.

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