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Gen X-ers take the slow road - and love it.

Published on: October 01, 2004

Slacker Parenting

You were potty trained by 9 months, started eating solid food at 6
weeks, slept in your own bed from day one and had a schedule that ran
on military time. If you were breastfed at all, it took place behind
closed doors. You were seen, perhaps, but not heard.

If you were born between about 1965 and 1979, have a child and haven't
heard at least one of the above statements from some well-meaning
grown-up boomer, you probably don't know any -- or you're not talking
to your mother.

I don't know many people besides marketers and advertising executives
who think seriously about Generation X anymore -- even though I'm right
in the middle of it. Maybe it makes sense that a generation known for
trendiness isn't so trendy anymore.

The "X," in case you've forgotten, signified a lack of drive for
financial success, laziness toward achievement and a generally
lackadaisical outlook toward life; no surprise that the film that most
defined the group is called Slackers.

So now that many of us have reached the stage when we're having our own
children, it's also no surprise that we've questioned the authority of
the status quo and shown a willingness to sacrifice status for quality
of life.

Some (feel free to call my parents) wonder whether striving for balance
is simply a way to get out of working very hard. But despite Gen X-ers'
bad rap (which is, of course, a massive generalization), I don't think
balance is just about an unwillingness to work.

We were the first generation that was told we wouldn't do as well
financially as our parents, so it wasn't such a leap to ask ourselves:
"Is that necessarily a terrible thing?" Many of us paid a steep price
for our parents' relative financial success. We weren't the first
generation to grow up without seeing much of our dads, but we might
have been the first to grow up without seeing much of our moms, either.

We were often latch-key kids, and many of us experienced divorce close
up. As adults, that's made us more skeptical about the institution of
marriage (the age of first marriage continues to go up and the number
of never-marrieds continues to rise) and more understanding of the
commitment and time it takes to make a marriage work.

If we are the first generation to not do better than our parents based
on financial measures, maybe we choose to be the first generation to do
better on personal matters. Now that we're becoming parents ourselves,
we've chosen to spend more time with our children, both for their sake
and for ours.

Last fall, Lisa Belkin, the Life's Work columnist for The New York
Times, wrote a controversial cover piece for The New York Times
Magazine that smacked the topic into the public eye. In "The Opt-Out
Revolution," she surveyed several highly educated and accomplished
women who gave up successful careers to stay home and raise their
children.

In many cases, the women weren't saying they didn't want to work at
all, just that the typical way of work didn't make sense with their
desires for life. They're asking, "how much money do I need" instead of
"how much money can I make."

My friend Emily Russin, a Seattle freelance writer and mother of a
toddler, says, "I am definitely aware of how different I am from my
parents' generation, even though my mother was a full-time homemaker
and mother. I think that even though I am technically a stay-at-home
mom, I am constantly trying to carve out a separate life for myself,
even if, for the most part, it's an inner one that's constantly
creating and recreating plans for my working/career future."

Della Chen of Seattle recently left her demanding corporate sales job
to start a home-based photography business. She decided to work from
home, she says, "so that I could have the flexibility with Henry, who's
almost 2 1/2." She schedules her photo shoots for weekends, which
allows her husband, Ryan, to spend time with his son.

"When Henry was born I took a 4-month maternity leave, and my husband
followed up with a 3-month paternity leave. He was the first male in
his company to take a paternity leave, and I think a lot of people
forget that it is your lawful right to take family leave. We are lucky
to have the resources around us these days that make parenting so much
more fun."

Earlier this year, Reach Advisors, a market research firm, released a
report called "Generation X Parents: From Grunge to Grown Up,"
comparing attitudes of Gen X and Boomer parents. The survey confirmed
that Gen X moms and dads express more concern with making their jobs
fit into their lives rather than making their lives fit into their
jobs. They don't equate quality and quantity of time. Gen X fathers
spent twice as much time taking care of children and cleaning as Boomer
fathers -- and they were much more likely to say they wanted to have
even more time to spend at home.

The survey revealed that Gen X parents place family overwhelmingly
first, accepting that their career and life paths may be crooked but
they're happy to take them if it gives them more time to enjoy the view.

Call us the French generation -- happily taking the slow road. This
happiness translates for pregnant women and their partners into a
whole-hearted acceptance, even reverence, of the pregnant body. It's
hard to remember the shock of the August 1991 Vanity Fair cover,
showing a naked and extremely pregnant Demi Moore. Now, of course,
celebrities clamor to show off their glowing pregnant bodies on the
cover of People magazine.

For the non-famous, it's now easy to find sexy and fashionable
maternity clothes everywhere from Nordstrom to Target. No longer hiding
behind sack dresses and jeans with hideous panels, pregnant women
proudly bare growing bellies and show off expanding cleavage.
Businesses to document pregnancy have thrived as well, from glamour
photography of pregnant bodies to ceramic belly casts. And a host of
classes for pregnant woman, from swimming to yoga, encourage them to
take pleasure in their bodies' state.

Even birth has become something to share and experience. The doula
business has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. The
non-profit Doulas of North America had 31 certified doula members in
1994. By 2002, the number had jumped to 2,432.

And those who don't choose a professional helper commonly give birth
with the support of more than just the baby's father. Both my parents
and sisters attended the birth of my son. A few years later, three of
us helped one of my sisters push Violet into the world. Conversely, my
mother remembers long hours spent alone before the birth of her three
daughters.

After childbirth, Gen Xers approach parenthood differently as well.
More than half of all mothers work outside the home, according to the
Census Bureau, but for the first time in decades, the number of women
who go back to work before their child's first birthday has decreased.
After all those years fighting to get rid of the "mommy track," some
new mommies (and daddies) are wondering if that track is so bad.
Predictable, reduced hours, less work responsibility and less money for
many are a worthy tradeoff for more time at home.

The approach to child rearing is less rigid, too. Whether or not we
choose to practice strict "attachment parenting," our parenting style
is typically less formal and more child-centered. Take as one example
the fact that the average age of potty training is continuing to rise.
Our parents may think it's horrifying that a 3-year-old is still in
diapers, but the Gen X response is: Why make the kid miserable just so
we can get out of a few months of diapers? It's such a short period of
time in the grand scheme of things.

And ultimately that may be the main difference between us and our
parents. Our parents couldn't wait to grow up and take on the world,
and they wanted their kids to grow up and act like little adults as
soon as possible. We grew up reluctantly, if growing up meant giving up
all childish things. Childhood should be a time of remarkable growth
and tremendous learning and filled with plenty of moments of pure joy.
Is it a surprise that Gen X parents want that for themselves, too?

Audrey Van Buskirk is a Seattle freelance writer and mother of a preschooler.

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