Xennials are people born between 1977 and 1983: people who experienced an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. Here’s what’s unique about the parenting philosophies of those of us who possess both the cynicism of Xers and the optimism of Millennials.
As Xennials, we didn’t really need a label. We’re not young enough for this preoccupation with labeling everything and everyone. But it is nice to have a term instead of feeling like we didn’t belong to anyone. I guess I can stop calling myself a Geriatric Millennial.
I’m just not a Millennial. They’re cool and all (too cool for me), but I don’t fit the part. I’m geriatric in my thinking, my energy, my dreams, and my philosophies. My layered tank tops give the side-eye to their oversized flannel and post-ironic leggings. I don’t get their humor. How is it funny to place a dancing hot dog in a photo?
I’m also definitely not Generation X. They’re old. They’ve always been old — in high school they were in their 30s (practically middle-aged), thinking of themselves as rock and roll rebels with black leather while we made all the mess and had all the fun.
Gen X is too dark and serious, and Millennials are too social, too chipper and too…crazy. (I refer you again to the hot dog.)
What makes Xennials Special? (Not That We’d Ever Admit to Feeling Special)
The summer after we graduated from college, my roommate and I sat down to discuss whether we would pay for Internet in the apartment. We decided against it, arguing we could go to the library or use it at work if needed.
Only two years later, the whole conversation changed as it does with the rapidly growing n changing landscape of technology. A conversation about paying for the Internet would have been like wondering if we should buy toilet paper this month or just use leaves from the atrium. The Internet quickly became such a necessity in our lives that we no longer even consider going without it.
But, since we’re not digital natives, the idea of having technology all around us at all times took some getting used to. We didn’t come from an age of information overload. We’re skeptical of constant social media presence. We don’t love and live by apps that collect our personal or children’s data. We look at books for answers. We’re slower. And we like it that way.
As parents, that means we blend the old and new ways. We ourselves are children of an unconnected era characterized by only one kind of screen time (television), but we are parenting as connected, digital people.
I won’t pretend to have the sociological knowledge to illuminate the parenting techniques of Xers or Millennials. Xennials don’t parent like either of them, though.
Here’s what I extrapolate and glean from personal and cultural experience.
1. We rely on both the traditional and the technological.
We sift through information from all over the place when we make decisions about raising kids. What our parents said and did, what people we know of multiple generations advise, and what everyone and their llama suggests online. We care about it all.
This schizophrenic information-gathering is probably not more overwhelming than it is for someone who merely uses the Internet twice as long for the same predicament, but it is different. The social pressure when you don’t follow the advice of your aunt is different than when you ignore people you asked online. Having a living, breathing connection changes that advice.
Anjela, an active-duty Xennial parent in Maryland, said, “When she was still a newborn, I resorted to all the Googling and researching I could get my fingertips on, but in the end, it made me feel so overwhelmed and crazy. So I stepped back and looked inside myself and began relying on my intuition.”
We like the technology, but we’d rather not depend on it. It still makes us nervous not to have phone numbers memorized. You still remember your childhood landline number, right?
2. We are skeptical of rules, but we have a few.
Friends and visitors have remarked that there are so few rules at my house. Their kids come over and are free to do crazy kid stuff — to use things in innovate ways, no matter how messy. They can get into scrapes and make mistakes and learn from them. They do (slightly) dangerous and puzzling things. They solve their own problems until snack time.
We don’t helicopter, but we do have a handful of non-negotiable rules. The buck stops there in a big way.
Institutions are not our favorite, and we don’t want our family to become a well-oiled machine. We’re messier than that.
We’re certainly not authoritarian, but we’re not permissive either. Maybe this is lighthouse parenting. Maybe there is no term (the horror!)
We respect ourselves enough to make and enforce rules. We respect our child’s ability to follow them.
3. Do your own work — then you can feel good about yourself.
Helicopter parents we are not. We’ve never requested a specific teacher for our kid or doubled checked their homework assignment.
If they need more than a few minutes help with their homework, they’re lazy or there’s something wrong with the teacher. Not that we’d say anything to Ms. Hall, of course.
But self-esteem is earned through hard work and seeing what you’re capable of.
You do your homework, you bust your butt, and you find out you can do it! We know they can solve a lot of their own problems and expect them to do so.
If we have to spend too much time overseeing the homework, we get very antsy and annoyed. Isn’t homework bad for kids, anyway? (Quick google search.)
4. We want our children to feel special, but not too special.
There’s something you’re good at. Everyone has at least one thing. It might just be trying. Xennial parents are here to point out how great you are.
But if you muck things up, we will point that out, too.
Self-esteem is built around the things that make you a great person, an individual. Not just because you’re alive.
5. Everyone’s opinion is important, but adults count double.
At our house we have a weekly family meeting where everyone gets time to say their ‘business.’ They can say things they are happy about or upset about, things they’d like to do or see change. Everyone gets as much uninterrupted time as they want, so long as they don’t become abusive.
We’re still the adults and in charge, though, so when we vote on things as a family (what park we’ll go to, which dessert we’ll buy), adult votes count as two. If we had more than three kids, we’d just change the values. We trust our kids, but we’re skeptical.
6. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
When we grew up there was no such thing as a “latchkey” kid because we all were one. There was no worry about kids spending a few hours at home by themselves after school. Our neighborhood streets were filled with kids where everyone ran around together and went home when the streetlights came on. We walked to the store and rode bikes in big, concentric circles past the dollar theater. We would walk on our own to the local Dairy Queen for a Nerds or Kit Kat blizzard, walking miles before we went to sleep.
It was nothing like the free-range childhoods our own parents had, but we were on our own a lot. Now that I’m a parent, I want to know what my parents were doing while I was out. What did they do with all that free time? I feel like I’m always “on” when my kids are around and they are always around- I can’t imagine having ever afternoon to actually fold AND put away the laundry, prepare dinner, or even sit to read a book all while knowing my kids were outside playing and I didn’t have to be hovering over them.
The most modern parenting seems to be a lot of taking kids places in the car and never missing an opportunity to connect or teach.
Let them run, we say, and leave us alone.
Rachel, a parent in Minnesota, said, “I often feel trapped between the old and the new. I idealize the ‘carefree’ times of my childhood, riding my bike the 1-2 miles to the store for treats, walking with my sisters and brother to the county beach, sans parents. Learning to do things for myself while my parents were working. So much great stuff out there now, but I wish I could give my son what I had.”
7. We’re patient…or just slow.
I love my clothesline. It forces me to slow down and go into lower brainwave states. I don’t have to do it, so the slow, methodical placing of the laundry tells my brain: “There’s no hurry. You’re alright. Things are going just fine.”
You remember the old Internet? I thought it was a fad. There was nothing on it. And if you thought there might be something, or you wanted to chat on AOL messenger, you sat back and waited patiently for the delightful sounds of beeping and static connection. Then you waited for the program to load.
So we know about waiting. And if our kids need a snack or help to find their bedraggled stuffed jellyfish, they can wait a minute, too. It builds character—something we learned from people, not pixels.
8. We don’t want to belong to a group, we want the group to belong to us.
I return to institutions and the distrust thereof. Government, hospitals, churches, big businesses, even the library can bite you in the butt. We feel the need to belong there, but we want to belong on our own terms, which is often messy or disappointing.
We seek out friendships online but then again we are not entirely satisfied by the connections we maintain there. We are skeptical of groups because of the rules and expectations they have for us, and we have seen first hand how some online groups can be harmful and, well, mean girl-ish. We want our children to feel the physical presence of the tribe- the support and the way it weaves itself in and out of our lives. But at the same time, we understand the connection that can be established online, especially in a new world where the “village” no longer exists.
9. You can be whatever you want, so long as it’s useful.
We want our kids to follow their dreams, but we also want them to be successful…or maybe just moderately useful. We don’t plan out their academic path and push them in the direction of what we want or think is best, but we do think it should pay the bills.
We know you can make something big out of nothing. We’re right in there, part of the start-up generations. But that nothing you’re going to create with has to have some substance- Skills or something. At least a good work ethic.
So we do schedule play dates, make them try things, take classes, go to Girl Scouts, and generally widen their experience. We believe in the power of their dreams, but we’re skeptical.
10. “Go play outside!”
We may not lock them out like generations before us, but there’s a kind of invisible fence there.
We played outside quite a bit and living in a neighborhood meant running up and down the street with the other kids who lived there.
Our children, we argue, need plenty of time outdoors, making a childhood the way we made one. The scrapes they will get themselves into only add to the character-building aspect of the thing. We turn off the televisions and iPads and force them to spend some time outdoors. Their summers are filled with water balloons, time at the pool, playing in sprinklers with friends, or just riding their bikes around the neighborhood. But we also recognize a good movie day when we meet it.
11. We don’t turn our kids into puppies.
Instagram or Snap Chats or whatever it is that has those filters that turn you into a puppy or a lizard or make your voice like a unicorn— those are stupid. They are cute, even a marvel of technological engineering, but they look ridiculous.
Also, all this technology from an early age just isn’t natural. Babies and little kids can’t make sense of that. What is it doing to their brains?
I once saw a Millennial mom at swim lessons entertaining her toddler with those filters. The little girl was terrified by her distorted image, but the mom just laughed.
I’m sure this person is a perfectly fit and lovely mother, and in this brave new world it’s arguably dangerous to be scared of a screen.
But it’s not for me and my house—we will serve the bored.
12. We’re not scared of boredom.
We refuse to get a DVD player in our van because—A. It will probably break and B. It’s healthy to be bored.
Don’t you recall those long road trips and the sort of brain hum that developed after you’d exhausted all that your car ride bag had to offer? Klutz Press kept a good number of us going across multiple flyover states. But eventually, we were forced to sit with our own thoughts.
When my kids say they’re bored, I say “Good! That means soon you’ll think of a great idea, or you’ll realize something important!”
13. We’re wary of screen time.
We believe all the research about the dangers of screen time for kids. We still use the blessed things, of course, but we do so sparingly.
We don’t have to fill our children’s lives with enrichment and entertainment and opportunity. We want them to make their own.
14. We don’t share every artistic triumph or Walmart tantrum on social media.
Social media is cool, I guess. But it got going after we stopped being social. So we don’t have as much use for it. Sure, we share the important things like school pictures or our child’s baseball games but we don’t have 15 dots at the top of our Instagram Stories telling people what we ate for breakfast and how “we NEED that second cup of coffee from our Starbucks “Been There” mugs.” Plus, why would you want people to know all that stuff? Better to be thought a fool than open your mouth (or shutter) and remove all doubt.
Social media for us isn’t about sharing our lives with our over 1,000 friends that we probably don’t even really know. It’s for grandma and grandpa who live halfway across the country. It’s for ourselves, so that in 3 years Facebook can remind us of how much our children have grown and how awake we used to look. We don’t care about the number of likes or comments or views. Social media is simply a platform for us to share with those we truly have a connection with like family and close friends.
15. We look at Millennial dads with envy.
Our own dads didn’t do much. Fixed the screen door and made dinner occasionally. They were there for us, mostly on the couch with the game on, but there.
Our moms worked, but they still did everything around the house. We vowed not to fall into the same trap.
But our partner’s dad’s were the same as our dads, and they don’t really know how to be more and we don’t know how to let them.
Millennial dads are opening up the whole fatherhood world. They do much closer to half (or more!) of the housework, and are highly involved in the parenting. We wish our kids’ dads would take a cue from them, but we get that society changes slowly.
And we know that we’re on that edge of change—between the analog couch dads and the digital babywearing ones.
16. We don’t adopt new stuff until it’s not new.
The latest and greatest holds no pull for us. All that science fiction we had to read in high school made its mark.
Remember, our analog childhood is the norm and to be trusted. All this digital and AI and Web 2.0 is suspect. Awesome, but suspect.
So many of us don’t buy new parenting gadgets or use apps, games or ideas until they’re on the old side.
We remember the plethora of AOL CDs that promised free time online or whatever. Those things were everywhere — and completely worthless.
17. We believe most people are good.
Xennials all came of age in a relatively peaceful time. It was before Columbine and 9-11.
We trust the world to work itself out. We’re not terrified for the world we’re leaving our children. They have some work to do, and we’re sorry about that, but we know that they’re good-hearted and capable of doing it.
18. Be nice. No excuses.
I have a Minnesotan husband. The utmost horror to a Minnesotan is the possibility of inconveniencing someone or — gasp — having a confrontation. Xennial parenting runs along a similar vein. We’re sometimes nice before being honest or sticking up for ourselves or our children.
We try to edge our way around the problem until it creates its’ own problem.
Consider Public Breastfeeding. This should not be an issue. Still, it took a while for us to get on board. If people don’t like it, we thought, they will give us their bad energy and maybe talk angrily to us. Ugh. And, well, if it makes them uncomfortable, we should be nice about it.
But this is how we change the world, people! It’s for the good of all. We know that and we don’t even use covers now. Inconveniencing people was hard to get past. And we think that’s okay.
We admit the attachment to being ‘respectful’ or nice can be a stumbling block.
We still want to change the world, but we want to do it nicely. And we expect our children to as well.
19.Attachment parenting makes sense, but we’re tired.
Many of us practice attachment parenting because it fit our sensibilities. It seems like a nice idea. You let your children neeeeeed you for 8 or 10 years and then they are magically wonderful, responsible, and loving. Largely it has worked. It was also exhausting.
Some of it we let go of along the way in favor of more mainstream techniques or philosophies. Star charts and other horrors. We’re okay with that. We think. We’re not sure what mainstream parenting is anymore. We tried the things. But we’re tired now. We’re getting old. The older we get, the grayer we see in the world.
20. We are stuck in the middle of free-range parenting and being terrified of the world.
The age of technology has brought many great things into our lives but it has also brought something else- fear of the world around us. We grew up living much of our childhood without our parents watching our every single move. Our parents didn’t have to worry about a neighbor calling the cops because we were out unsupervised or watching our younger siblings as we played. But now we do. We have become so aware of all the horrors of the world that we fear letting our kids out of our sight. Society has started to parent for us when they deem us unfit, scaring us even more into constantly being present. For Xennials like us, this is a difficult thing to balance. We want to offer our children the opportunity to learn to be independent and problem solve like we did as children, but the digital age has terrified us into becoming helicopter parents.
As we approach middle age, we feel the swirl and cacophony of old and new that we’re caught in between. There’s awesome stuff on both sides, but we are analog at heart. We just do what works for us. If someone doesn’t like it, they can leave a nasty comment.
We never read the comments.