Xennials are people born between 1977-1983: People who experienced an analogue childhood and a digital adulthood. What’s unique about the parenting of these in-betweeners who possess both the cynicism of Xers and the optimism of Millennials?
Not that we needed a label, but it was nice to cease referring to myself as a Geriatric Millennial.
I’m just not a Millennial. They’re cool and all (too cool for me), but I just don’t fit the part. I’m geriatric in my thinking, my energy, my dreams, and my philosophies. My layered tank tops just don’t fit in with the oversized flannel and post-ironic leggings. Why is it funny to place a dancing hot dog in a photo?
I’m also not part of Generation X. They’re old. They’ve always been old — in high school they were in their 30s, thinking of themselves as rock and roll rebels while we made all the mess and had all the fun. Gen X is too dark and serious, and Millennials are too chipper and…crazy. (I refer you again to the hot dog.)
When my roommate and I got an apartment the summer we graduated college, we sat down to discuss whether we would pay for Internet for our home. We decided against it, arguing we could go to the library or use it at work if needed. Two years later, a conversation about paying for Internet would have been like wondering if we should buy toilet paper this month or just use leaves from the atrium.
Since we’re not digital natives, we didn’t come of age with information overload. We’re not as likely to be habituated to constant social media presence during our day. 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, parenting as connected, digital people.
I won’t pretend to have the sociological knowledge to illuminate the parenting techniques of Xers or Millennials. I can only 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.”
2. We are skeptical of rules, but we recognize the need for them.
My friends have remarked that there are so few rules at our house. Their kids come over and are free to do crazy kid stuff — to use things in innovate, 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. We respect ourselves enough to make and enforce rules. We respect our child’s ability to follow them, as long as we’ve instituted them in an open and fair manner.
3. We want our children to feel special, but not too special.
There’s something you’re good at. It might just be trying. But we’re here to point out how great you are. Because if we don’t do it, who will?
And self-esteem is vital for growth.
Still, if you muck things up, we will point it out.
Self-esteem should be built around the things that make you a great person, an individual. Not just because you’re alive.
4. 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’re not entirely satisfied by the connections we maintain online. 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. At the same time, we’re skeptical of groups and the rules and expectations they have for us and our children.
5. Everyone’s opinion is valued, but adults still count double.
At our house we have a weekly family meeting where everyone gets time to express 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, as long as they don’t become abusive. Sometimes the filibusterer gets in the way, but we care about what they think and have to say.
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 desert 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.
We grew up as latchkey kids or in neighborhoods where everyone ran around together and went home when the streetlights came on. We walked to the store. Granted, it was nothing like the free-range childhoods our own parents had, but we were on our own a lot.
We figured things out ourselves and got bored most days.
Modern parenting seems to be a lot of taking kids places in the car and never missing an opportunity to connect or teach. We just don’t want all that on our plates. 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. You can be whoever and 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 schools and careers, but we do guide them to something that might pay bills.
Heavily entrenched in the start-up generation, we know you can make something big out of nothing. But that nothing 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.
8. Be nice. No, for real.
I have a Minnesotan husband. The utmost horror to a Minnesotan is the possibility of inconveniencing someone or—gasp—having a confrontation. There’s an element of this in Xennial parenting. We will sometimes be nice before being honest or sticking up for ourselves.
While Millennials have no trouble taking the day care people to task, Xers maybe just leave abruptly and complain to their friends. We try to edge our way around the problem until we can’t anymore. Then leave…along with a handful of bad reviews.
Think about Public Breastfeeding. This should not be an issue. Still, it took a minute for us to get on board. If people don’t like it, we thought, they will give us their bad energy and maybe talk mean 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. We don’t even use covers now. But still, the inconveniencing of people was something to get past.
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.
9. Attachment parenting makes sense, but we’re tired of the war.
Many of us practice or practiced attachment parenting. It fit our sensibilities. 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. With age comes even more skepticism.
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 can’t listen to all that all the time.
We just do what works and figure if someone doesn’t like it, they can leave a nasty comment.
We never read the comments.