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My daughters were six and eight when I resignedly said to my husband, “Well, that’s it, it’s too late to turn back now!”
From the time our girls were little, we’d allowed them to participate in “grown-up” conversations—despite our upbringing in which we, as children, had been excluded from such conversations. They were deemed “dangerous.”
We had also given our children more than two choices, against the advice of the culture and doctors who suggested we give children no more choices than they are years old.
The result was now two opinionated, spirited young girls who had no problem inserting themselves in our decision-making—bartering and negotiating like lawyers—on anything from dinner options to chores to vacation destinations.
These children caused looks of consternation from many a grandparent, who expected them to be “proper” young ladies and listen to their elders.
But now, there was no reversing our parenting decisions. Once a child has a voice, they will not relinquish it too easily. So, we would have to let this experiment play itself out, even if it often exhausted us.
But, we were considering the long-term benefits over the short-term convenience of a child who obeys without question. We were betting that our choices would encourage more independence and confidence in our daughters as they moved out into the world as young adults. We were hedging that, by giving them a voice at an early age, they wouldn’t have to fight for it later in life. We were betting against our own childhoods that an empowerment strategy would result in stronger, more resilient, and more capable human beings.
It was a risky experiment from the get-go, as we were making a conscious decision to parent differently than we had been parented (and also, differently than any pediatric doctor would have agreed with, let alone our social circles).
In making these decisions, we were choosing to be a generation of transition and transformation—not merely one of habit or hand-me-down theories. In doing so, my husband and I became part of “The Transition Generation.”
Many of my friends talk about the difficulties of being a sandwich generation—the usual definition meaning having to take care of aging parents while raising young children. But there’s something about the word “sandwich” that makes me cringe. It sounds like a burden. It sounds crushing.
I understand what they mean, but I prefer to think our of our generation using the heat and pressure of being “in the middle” to transform ourselves into something better, like coal transforms into a diamond. I’m sure the coal thinks of itself as being crushed like a sandwich, but it probably doesn’t complain once it’s showing off its diamond sparkles later in life.
Most of the transition generation was raised in the years before Oprah “found her spirit,” before Brené Brown coaxed us into releasing our shame through sharing our deepest vulnerabilities, and before Kristen Neff urged us toward self-compassion.
Our parents were the direct descendants of WWII soldiers who were raised to be tough, stoic, and silent, by mothers who were taught that to “spare the rod was to spoil the child,” and that babies should “cry it out.” My parents believed that we, as toddlers, could “manipulate” them and were vigilant about ensuring it never happened.
They didn’t know that they were passing along traumas or wounding their children by believing they were “being silly” for expressing their emotions.
But we know it now, and that’s one of the things that makes us the transition generation.
It’s no longer enough to provide for a child by giving them shelter and notifying them that “when you are hungry enough, you will eat what I give you.” We are raising children in a more stable physical and financial environment than our parents and grandparents did, but also a much more complex emotional and spiritual one.
The transition generation is the generation that breaks the emotional and spiritual path of those who came before us, gathering the skills our parents didn’t have and couldn’t access.
Our parents didn’t have YouTube videos at the ready, or inexpensive books within arm’s reach. They often relied on old wives’ tales and knitting circles to learn what was “best.” We have Instagram experts and podcasts in our ears so plentifully that we almost have to block them out.
Our choices may seem radical, scary, experimental, or foreign to our ancestors. They might even seem so to us; my husband and I certainly had concerns about whether we were doing the right thing.
We bear the risk of being the black sheep, or the “different ones” as we forge a new path, rather than the ones we were explicitly taught or implicitly raised to hold as ideal.
These choices may mean going not just against our family unit but against our culture or community as well.
It also may mean being isolated from our family in terms of support: to this day, I notice that when almost anything goes wrong for my child, I hear “but you’ve raised him to be that way,” from my parents, as if frustrations or challenges are uniquely my own doing thanks to my child-rearing choices.
I’m quite sure I was an equally difficult child, and it was not my child alone who created parenting challenges, unseen by other generations or parents.
But to my parents, I was raised to be (externally) compliant, which means I now bear the cost of finding my authenticity in middle age, since I wasn’t allowed in my youth.
It took them a great deal of force and direction to get me to comply in my childhood, but this is now forgotten.
My choices as a parent strike at the heart of the fear of the unknown to them, and it is hard to garner support for what they don’t know or understand.
It can be very lonely.
We all remember the mockery the Millennial generation absorbed as “snowflakes” who all got “participation trophies.” Emotional honesty and authenticity can seem uncontrolled, undisciplined, and random to generations who dutifully lined up, did what they were told, had identical haircuts, and behaved in the same way, no matter what their individual differences.
But we, the transition generation, are the generation of bold risk-takers who are connected to ourselves enough to trust our intuition instead of following expert advice or hand-me-down old wives’ tales.
We are often doing it alone.
We always have the option of drawing on the patterns and habits of generations that came before us. But we also have the power of creating new ones, healthier ones, and ones that, perhaps, our children will be proud to pass down. Just as likely, however, they will come up with their own ways of doing things—from parenting to work to relationships.
The transition generation is offering children the opportunity to be authentic now, rather than waiting until therapy in their 40s to express themselves, be themselves, and be whole and complete people, like we had to do.
We are the generation who ignore what we have been acculturated to think and carve our own path—in parenting, in our careers, and in our marital choices.
We are the generation that needs to come up with solutions that have never been considered before—from decisions about climate change to whether to give our toddler two outfit choices each day or a closet full.
We are the generation embracing the connection within ourselves and seeking the skills that were never given to our parents or grandparents, because the information wasn’t available or because our predecessors valued fitting in more than following their hearts or intuition.
We can raise our voices and connect to that which arises within and trust that more than one path is acceptable in the modern landscape of living.
And we can find and build our own communities, which no longer are limited to those in our immediate proximity to our neighborhood or even city.
Today, our daughters carry exactly the skills we had always imagined they would have when we gave them options and a voice at an early age. They don’t have to fight for it like I did. Neither do they accept as facts imposed limits, as I did. Because we didn’t knee-jerk parent—siphoning off child-rearing techniques from our parents—our daughters look at life’s challenges and come up with myriad solutions and pathways to every problem.
We can either let the idea of being “in the middle” make us feel sandwiched, ignored, or passed over, or we can take the opportunity from this vantage point to turn the whole world inside out and upside down.
We are not being sandwiched. We are transitioning and transforming.