A recent article on grandparenting.org says that many baby boomers are experiencing difficulties in their relationships with adult children, including “not enough time together, not enough regular communication, not feeling needed or wanted, not understanding why they aren’t closer.”
As I travel the United States as a public speaker, I talk with lots and lots of baby boomers. Indeed, they grumble a good deal about their adult children — but not about wanting more of a relationship. Their complaints — laments is more like it — concern their grandchildren.
Typical is the report from two 60-something boomers who told me they “don’t understand what is going on” in their daughter’s home. The grandchildren are disrespectful, disobedient, demanding, ungrateful and ill-mannered. They throw tantrums when they don’t get their way and constantly interrupt adult conversations. How is it, they ask, that a child — their daughter — raised to be respectful and well-mannered seems to have completely rejected her own upbringing?
When the grandparents try to give advice to her, she tells them to mind their own business. “Parents in my generation,” she says, “do things differently. We want our children to think for themselves, to question authority.”
Obviously, the daughter doesn’t realize she has no problem thinking for herself or questioning authority. In this instance, however, she’s merely (and mindlessly) repeating a meme that became embedded in America’s parenting culture in the late 1960s. Other popular themes include “children deserve reasons,” “children need a lot of attention” and “children have a right to freely express their feelings.”
These memes defined the new egalitarian parenting paradigm that emerged from that tumultuous decade. The new professional experts maintained that parents and children were equals, families should be democratic, and parents should be willing to negotiate any conflict with their kids. The result: a surfeit of children who defy authority, are openly disrespectful, argue, have no respect for adult-child boundaries and are ruled by their undisciplined emotions.
That’s what today’s grandparents complain to me about: grandchildren who refuse to eat what’s put on their plates, complain vociferously about minutiae and think they have (or should have) the final word on any subject; grandchildren who pout or throw tantrums when things don’t go their way, direct sarcastic remarks to adults and will do no household chores unless paid handsomely.
One would think that treating a child as if he’s a smaller-but-equal-in-every-other-way adult would result in a happy, contented child. That was, after all, what the experts promised (and continue to promise!). But these are not happy children at all. Compared with their 1950s counterparts, whose parents insisted upon — and stood ready to enforce — old-fashioned respect and obedience, they’re miserable.
The greatest joy of one’s older years is spending time with grandchildren — well-behaved, truly happy grandchildren, that is.
Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.
Let us hear from you
NO QUESTION, you love the grandkids. But let’s face it, many of us have had at least one of those days when we wish they belonged to someone else’s family. If you’ve had an event where your grandchildren were being impossible, maybe when their actions embarrassed you enough to want to give up grandparenting for a while, or they’ve had noisy or annoying habits never discouraged by indulgent parents, share your experience for possible publication. Were you shocked by their behavior? How did you handle it? Do you laugh about it now? Don’t bother with the mushy stories about how great the grands are; we’re looking for true accounts readers can commiserate with. Email your story to email@example.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Please include a picture of you and your grandchildren, if available.