We need to talk. Pull up a chair. Buckle up. We’re in for some turbulence. I want to talk about our kids. Collectively. This generation of kids that is heading off to college in a few years. They are more educated than ever before. They are given more opportunities than most of us could ever dream of. And yet they are the most challenging generation to work with and work for. Employers actually give and take classes on working with millennials and how to manage them.
Seriously. That’s a thing.
You know what’s even MORE of a thing? Us. Parenting millennials.
See, these millennials who are so difficult to manage and work with are OUR result. We did this. We thought that making their childhoods magical would make them better people.
In some ways, it has worked. We have a beautiful generation of people who care about social justice. They are empathetic and want to be the change the world needs. It’s amazing.
It also sucks because they have no idea HOW to do that. Because as parents, we have been so busy trying to make picture-perfect childhoods for these kids that we have failed to allow them to fail. In parenting millennials, we have created the participation-trophy-wielding group that just may never move out of our homes.
Letting Kids Fail
Let’s talk about that, shall we? I’m guilty of this, too. I’ve got three kids, ages 15, 11, and 8.
My 15-year-old is brilliant. He works hard. But when things don’t go as planned the first time (which things seldom do in life), he melts down. He thinks he might need medication to handle stress. Maintaining a 4.3 GPA while doing sports and theater and having a girlfriend takes up a lot of time. Failure on any front isn’t a learning experience for him at this point—it’s a catastrophe.
My 11-year-old can’t handle any sort of constructive criticism, either. If he’s not constantly being told how special and wonderful he is, he feels worthless. He’s also afraid to walk 1 block to his friend’s house in the neighborhood in broad daylight.
My daughter? The 8-year-old? For her first three years of life, she couldn’t sleep alone. Now she still has a hard time sleeping without momma. Instead of sleeping in her room, she sleeps on the floor in the loft outside my bedroom. So yeah. My kids are basically screwed. As I said. I’m not perfect at parenting millennials, either.
Where does that leave us?
Think about how you grew up. How WE grew up. Now think about your own children and how THEY grow up. We are so busy making their childhoods into storybooks that we don’t see them feeling genuine awe and amazement at their lives. Instead, they EXPECT life to go that way.
And when it doesn’t? Let’s just say they’ll melt in the sun. They don’t look back and remember that birthday party that cost as much as a mortgage payment as being an amazingly special event to treasure forever. For them, that’s the norm. They’re SUPPOSED to have a Cinderella look-alike hired to float around the birthday party. They’re EXPECTING every party to have professionally installed bounce-castles rented from a local, sustainable, fair-trade, farm-to-table organic bouncy castle business. They would DIE if the face-painter wasn’t hired to draw the perfect Frozen snowflake on their foreheads.
Parents. We must unite and say “NO MORE!” to the face-painters and pony rides and real-life princess impersonators at birthday parties.
We must say “NO MORE!” to preparing the path for the child instead of preparing the child for the path.
Instead, we need to allow these children to explore, be IN the world without being the CENTER of the world. We need to allow them to fail. Especially when there’s still time for US to help them back up.
What Would Dawn Do?
There’s the difference, right there. As parents, we fail to let our kids fail anymore. We want so desperately for life to be perfect for our kids that we are depriving them of the skills they need to be functional, rational members of society.
So let’s make a deal, shall we? How about we back off a bit. Whenever we find ourselves overcome with the urge to smooth the way for Junior, let’s hold up a minute. And let’s think “WWDD”. That stands for “What Would Dawn Do?”. Dawn is my mother. Feel free to use your own mother’s first initial. Or use mine. Dawn doesn’t mind.
Parenting millennials wasn’t on her radar the way it’s on ours. She comes from the generation of steel and grit. She is made of the nicotine she received in-utero, some of the nicotine she inhaled directly from roughly 1975-1995 from her ultra-light 100’s cigarettes, steel, Diet Pepsi, and Old Fashioned Loaf sandwiches. I was terrified of her. I still kind of am.
I do realize that times are different. Technology has brought us to a different place than when Dawn had me back in 19-seventy something. Let’s get real.
Anyhow, back to what I was saying. Times are different. We certainly have new and better resources. We have bike helmets and elbow pads. These aren’t a bad thing.
The answer to that question, WWDD, is simple. No matter what the situation there are three possible solutions:
- Toss our asses outside.
- Make us apologize and kick our asses for being stupid.
- Pick me up, hold me and let me cry for a minute, then brush away the tears and tell me to fix it.
That’s it. And here are a few examples of those situations playing out:
My sisters and I were out of school for summer vacation. We were irritating one another. We were whining about being bored. We fought constantly.
The solution? Dawn tossed our asses outside. Now admittedly, this wasn’t to make us more independent problem-solvers. It was to get us off her last freaking nerve, which would explode at a moment’s notice if we detained her from the phone call with one of her sisters and her Carlton 100 cigarettes.
For us, that meant spending just about every waking moment outside. We were raised by the neighborhood. Neighbors kept tabs on everybody else and reported back if any of us were being assholes.
I would say there is about a 98% chance that during daylight hours of summer vacation, Dawn had zero idea where we were exactly. And that was ok because if something serious went down, we were with friends who would find a grown-up, call an ambulance, or help us lie to keep us out of trouble. It made us creative problem-solvers.
Yet in parenting millennials, we find we need to know where our children are at all times. Nobody’s neighbors are making sure the kids are fed and watered. Not that there would be kids roaming the neighborhood anyway. Moving on. Next example.
During the previously-mentioned summer outdoor time, my sisters, friends, and I decided to explore a neighbor’s back yard that had an awesome creek to catch crayfish in with a huge, ancient tree next to it. It was magical for us—shady and cool in the summertime with a babbling creek where we could take off our socks and shoes and walk barefoot.
We decided to tie a rope to one of the tree’s branches and swing over the creek like Tarzan. I know, I know–this sounds like the stuff of a really good play session. And it was. That was until, while swinging, the branch broke. I went flying into the tree roots and cracked my head open requiring stitches and a partial head-shaving.
If you think this is a situation where I might have been comforted and told everything would be fine, and then the neighbor gets sued for having a loose tree-branch that is a hazard to children, you would be wrong. The solution to this situation of WWDD is #2.
See, we were being jerks and destroyed somebody’s property. We had no business being in somebody else’s yard without their permission, let alone making it our personal playground. Nope.
Instead, stitches in half-shaved-head me goes knocking on my neighbor’s door later to apologize for breaking their tree branch. It was terrifying. I was grounded for about half the summer, too.
Of course, Dawn wasn’t being heartless. She loves my sisters and me with all of her being and always has. But there is a difference between LOVING somebody and MANAGING somebody. Case in point:
I came home from school pissed off. My friends all went to the mall together over the weekend then had a sleepover at my friend Amy’s house. I was evidently the only one not invited, and my heart shattered. Dawn, in true Dawn fashion, was there to hold me and let me cry on her shoulder.
After a few minutes, she looked at me, brushed away the tears and told me I was a smart, beautiful girl. I could do anything I set my mind to doing. And then she told me to go fix it.
There was not a single moment where Dawn picked up the phone to contact the moms of the girls who left me out. In her mind, I was probably acting like a superbitch or an asshole and it was my friends’ way of sending a message. There was no parent meeting, no buddy bench to sit on, no therapy session. Instead, there was a gentle reminder that I am worthy, that I am smart, but I am also human.
While I can’t remember exactly what I had done (or if I HAD done anything super cunty), what I DO remember is how nervous I was when I was calling my friend to ask her why I wasn’t invited. I remember telling her it hurt my feelings. I remember her telling me that I had first hurt HER feelings. We hashed it out. We were in junior high at the time.
In a world of Kardashians, we have Kris Jenner to aspire to as a self-proclaimed “momager”. When I was a kid, Dawn didn’t manage us. She set boundaries and if we stepped outside of those, we suffered the consequences.
When shit really went sideways, or when we were heartbroken or injured or when we made a mistake, Dawn was there to hold us. She would look at us, tell us we were brilliant, beautiful women who could do anything.
And then she would open the door and push us through it so we could start fixing it. Not her. Us. What our generation has done in parenting millennials is to try to fix everything for our kids. They make mistakes. We fix them. All in a day’s work of parenting millennials
Parents, I implore all of you. Let’s make a collective effort to give our kids the room to fail. In parenting millennials, let’s allow them to make mistakes. And let’s do it NOW, while they’re still young enough to allow us to help them fix it. The keyword there is help.
We need to agree to stop fixing everything for them. We need to stop clearing the path for our kids and let them find their own paths. Sure, it might mean scaling back on the organic free-range bounce castles for birthday parties. It might mean (GASP!) letting them get a D on a science fair project instead of doing it for them.
And then, when they spend a couple of weeks trying to pull their grades back up, maybe they’ll hesitate before blowing off the next big thing. Because they know mom and dad aren’t going to fix it for them. They will have to fix it themselves.
And THEN, who knows? Maybe we can make their childhoods magical while still giving them the tools they need to succeed in this world. Maybe we can still give kids magical childhoods while still allowing them to fail. So when things happen, and when things don’t go according to plan, they don’t melt. They realize that hey, That’s Just Life!