| Learn about the issues | Work/Life Balance | Parenting Tools | New Parents

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

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.

There are no comments yet. Be the first to comment

Read Next