I've noticed a trend among my millennial clients and friends. A lot of millennial adults don't want to deal with their boomer parents, so they cut them off. This is extremely painful for the boomer parents. It's also the source of a lot of conflict for the millennial adults.
I want to talk about why this is happening and what we can do about it.
First, let's look at the history.
A while back I stumbled upon the work of James Gleick. He wrote a book entitled "Time Travel: A history."
Pretty clever title.
Gleick makes the argument that if you were an African living 2000 years ago, you might wake up, spend most of your day socializing, go on the occasional hunt, eat, tend to children and then go to sleep, just like your parents and grandparents. Your life was much the same as your ancestors.
The same if you were a European peasant. You might work the land of some lord, just as your parents had, and their parents before them. Life didn't change much from generation to generation. Until the industrial revolution.
When the industrial revolution hit Europe, innovations which people never conceived began to happen every other year. Things were changing fast. And for the first time it was possible for a child to grow up in a different world than their parents.
Before the industrial revolution a parent would have grown up only talking to people within a 20 mile radius. The child born during the industrial revolution could use the telegraph to talk to someone across a continent.
A parent would have grown up drawing of picture of a loved one. A child might hold a photograph.
A parent would have grown up playing music at night on a guitar. A child might listen to music on a phonograph.
For the first time kids were growing up in a vastly different world than their parents.
I think this is massively important because when you have major shifts like that, you also have major changes in expectations.
You can't have massive changes like this without also having massive changes in the roles of parents and children.
Why Millennials cut off their boomer parents.
It doesn't take a genius to see that societal changes are happening faster and faster nowadays.
These changes have led to major differences in the expectations between Millennial Adults and Boomer Parents.
I'm going to grossly exaggerate here, but in general the biggest complaints I hear from millennial adults is about how critical their boomer parents are. What they really want from boomer parents is emotional connection and support.
Boomer parents, in general, didn't imagine that emotional support would be expected of them from their kids. They are hard working and sometimes a bit calloused. They feel that their main job was to provide for their kids' physical needs, and impart a strong moral code, often through religion.
It's kind of a recipe for disaster. Boomer parents feel like the script has been flipped. And it has. The rules have been rewritten.
Boomers feel like their job was to provide a strong moral code and tangible resources, and millennials, oftentimes never having faced the level of deprivation and scarcity boomers had, value emotional connection more.
I remember hearing a millennial daughter and mom talk once and the millennial daughter said, "You never said you loved me growing up."
To which the Boomer Mom replied, "Well, you got to go to college. I thought that was enough. Why do I have to say it all the time?"
3 tips for Boomer Parents
So what do we do about this difference?
To boomer parents I have great compassion for you. You never in your wildest dreams thought you would provide for your child all the things you never had... and that they would tell you you failed and cut you off from your grandchildren.
The first thing I would say to Boomer Parents is, "Your voice still matters to your kid." That's why the cut off is so strong. If your voice and presence didn't matter to your kids, they wouldn't need to cut you off.
They need strong boundaries because the weight of your voice is still so powerful.
Second, I would encourage you to respect and honor the fundamental differences between you and your children. They grew up in a different world than you did. It's difficult to fully understand the difference between parents and kids. You don't have to understand it. But the more you can do to respect the difference, the more you can begin to close the distance between you.
Third, if you can, the more you can explore your inner world the more you can speak into theirs, which is what a lot of the millennial adults need. They want you to walk with them in their inner world. If you want closeness with your kids, that's the path to walk.
A word for millennials.
I have no idea if cutting off your parents is the "right" decision. That's such a personal choice, that it wouldn't be right for me to pass judgment either way.
My thought for you is to be mindful of your own children. As a parent I keep this in mind when thinking about parenting my kids.
My kids, without a doubt, are going to grow up in a world vastly different than the world I grew up in.
I had to learn to drive a car. My kids will probably ride in self driving cars.
I had to write papers, like you know, on paper. My kids will have artificial intelligence writing their papers.
I was excited when in college I finally got to travel overseas. My kids might travel to Mars.
First, let's respect that our kids will be different than us. We have to acknowledge that our kids are growing up in a fundamentally different world, and they are a part of a fundamentally different culture, than the one we grew up in. We don't understand their world. Let's respect that it's different.
Second, let's expect that they will hold expectations of us that we can't anticipate. Our parents couldn't anticipate the changes in cultural expectations. We shouldn't expect to be able to see the expectations shift either.
Finally, let's be humble enough to learn from our kids' world. If we're going to ask our parents to explore the emotional world with us, whatever world our kids find themselves in I think we owe it to them to explore that world.
That's all for now.
Jordan (the counselor)
Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists with over 10 years of experience. He's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his specialty is working with couples and marriages to rebuild connection, deepen intimacy, and strengthen communication.