raising kids today

Just Because We're Doing It Differently Than Our Parents Doesn't Mean We're Failing

A few simple things I want to tell my parents.

What we want our boomer parents to know.
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

On a warm spring day my kids jet in from school, dump their gear, and sprint to the park at the end of our block. As I watch them, ages 10 and 12, head down the street, my mom pings my phone.

It’s her usual after-school checkin to see how their school day went — I look forward to it, and my 5-year-old loves to regale Gaga with takes from the “Kindergarten Chronicles.” The days when she’s the line leader are the best, of course. After her little update my mom asks where our other kids are. “Oh, they’re at the park,” I say while I brace for her comment. “That just makes me so nervous. You hear about people taking kids all the time…be careful,” she admonishes. Once again, I remind her that kids were much more likely to be murdered by strangers in the 80’s. Once again, we laugh tensely about the differences between raising kids today and raising kids three decades ago. Once again, we agree to disagree. And once again, my kids come home from the park safely.

These generation wars can feel exhausting sometimes. Of course we aren’t doing things the same as our parents. Did they do things the same way as their own parents? Considering I didn’t have to work in a steel mill before adulthood, it's safe to say that each generation learns and grows to adapt to a changing world. Some of those changes are annoying. (I could certainly live in a world without Fortnight dances.) Other changes are for the better, though — I’m looking at you, Curvy Barbie.

Amidst all the snarky posts and memes online lie some complex feelings about this generational rift. To be clear, generational rifts have existed as long as humans have — Reddit has just made it easier to vent about it. For the children of Baby Boomers, who are today’s Gen X and Millennial adults, despite our bold words and internet trauma-dumping, many of us look back on our childhoods fondly.

Here are a few things our generation hopes our boomer parents will understand:

Therapy is good. Every time this topic comes up amongst my peers, a huge generational divide is revealed. For our Boomer parents, going to therapy meant something was wrong. Deeply, tragically wrong. Therapy was done in secret, if it at all. When we post on social media about what our therapist told us, our parents cringe. While their generation struggled with mental health just like ours does, they were not free to get the help they needed. For that, I am sorry. You should have had the help you needed. You shouldn’t have suffered through postpartum depression or PTSD or bipolar disorder alone. The world failed you. Our going to therapy also does not necessarily mean you “did something wrong.” Many of us use therapy to process childhood hurts, but nobody escapes childhood without hurts — did you?

A diagnosis helps our kids (and us). It’s a common refrain from Baby Boomers: “We didn’t have all this autism and ADHD when we were kids.” Yes, you did. When my dad talks about his quirky childhood neighbor who only liked to talk about trains and ate three foods, I internally smile. Neurodivergence has existed since the beginning of time. There isn’t more autism. It’s not caused by vaccines, it's not caused by chemicals, it’s not “on the rise.” There is no credible data to support any of that. What has increased is our ability to assess and diagnose people for mental health conditions. Today, my dad’s young neighbor would get the help he needed to thrive. That’s a good thing.

Your body is fine. One of the biggest rifts between Boomer parents and their children is on the topic of weight and body image. Our parents — especially our mothers — were raised at the height of diet culture. They were never allowed to feel beautiful at every size, and they received false information about how to develop a healthy relationship with food. Now we know that being too restrictive and controlling about food actually causes more issues for kids. Let us choose how to feed our kids and talk about their bodies. Work on loving yours more. Have a cookie.

We know the internet is scary. We get it. It’s the new Wild West. We were the ones in AOL chat rooms talking to strangers before you were even aware it was possible, so we know a thing or two about how unsafe the web can be. We know you’re worried about your grandkids on the internet — we are too. But, as the first generation of parents to navigate raising true digital natives, we are doing our best. We are finding tools to navigate it and ways to talk to our kids about it. And as much as you are worried about what our kids might find on YouTube, we are just as worried that Facebook has convinced you that everybody gets kidnapped at Walmart.

And finally, choosing to raise our kids differently isn’t rejection. It’s true that there are many things we want you to know — places where we hope you can hear us, places where we need you to believe us. There are sore spots.

But despite all of the things we do differently, we know that most of you did the best you could with what you were given. As a generation of older parents, we aren’t quite sure how you stayed afloat raising kids at 19, 22, 24 years old. The things that are hard for us as parents aren’t the same things that were hard for you, but that doesn’t mean we don’t see that you tried. We know that some of your choices were because you had to choose between a set of bad options. When we know better, we do better. That doesn’t mean we don’t still need you.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.