Worthwhile Reads: Generation Wars

This is a little late, but…

Old vs. Young, on The New York Times

In a partisan country locked in a polarizing campaign, there is no shortage of much discussed divisions: religious and secular, the 99 percent and the 1 percent, red America and blue America.

But you can make a strong case that one dividing line has actually received too little attention. It’s the line between young and old.

Open Letter from a Millennial: Quit Telling Us We’re Not Special, by Sierra

Dear Baby Boomers and Generation X,

Quit telling us we’re not special.

Believe us, we bloody well know.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Seditiosus

    That’s brilliant.

  • Morilore

    We stopped believing in our own specialness about the same time that we figured out who was the real Tooth Fairy. We grew up accruing praise, but not self-esteem. We learned that praise was a parenting strategy, not a sincere reward for merit. We stopped listening when you told us we were smart, brave, beautiful and unique. “You have to say that because you’re our parents,” we told you. You agreed.

    I wanted to cry for how on-the-nose this is.

    Even McCullough, in the midst of stabbing our supposedly inflated egos, urged us not to do anything that we didn’t love or feel passionate about. You know what? We don’t have that luxury.

    And again!

  • Rebecca M

    As one of the first Millenials (the last year for gen ex was 1980 or 1981, and my husband and I were born in 82 & 83, respectively), I read Sierra’s post and went, “AMEN SISTAH!” I’m sick of hearing how entitled we are and how special we feel, when I have a graduate degree and a half (I’m back at it because I couldn’t find a living wage with the first Master’s. How sick is that?!) and work full time at a bachelor’s level job for $21.5k. My husband is military, and he hates his job but is afraid to get out of the military because he doesn’t know if he can get a job or healthcare anywhere else. I’m not special? Kiss my ass, I get to eat dinner tonight. At this point, I think that is pretty damned special… but I’m not sure how it makes me entitled.

  • smrnda

    I think us younger people are the first generation to be so royally screwed over by our elders – I mean, my grandparents were alive when things like social security went into effect, and people of my parents generation have been working hard to undo all of the progress that was made before they were alive which gave them a huge benefit go away before I would get a chance to use it.

    I think I spent most of my life listening to baby boomer age people tell me “you kids think you’re SO SPECIAL!” No, I just thought I was a human being and that human beings should be entitled to a decent life if it can be provided. It wasn’t me being ‘special’ but me being fair – it wasn’t as if I wanted a lot of things for myself that I would have wanted denied to others.

    The baby boomers are a funny generation – they kind of have this mentality that wanting everybody to have health care and a living wage is ‘selfishness’ but that predatory business practices are somehow moral and just and a cornerstone of freedom.

    Another thing I notice is that their generation is much meaner and more hateful than mine. Perhaps they dislike us because we don’t want to line up to bash homosexuals, immigrants, minorities, single moms and the disabled. Perhaps I just figured it out – the baby boomers are a generation bullies.

  • Annie

    I don’t know, I liked some of Sierra’s points, some others I didn’t so much agree with. I guess I come down solidly on both sides of the argument. I’m an ’85 baby from Michigan, and we’ve been screwed mightily. But I grew up in a very affluent suburb which was extremely competitive. And I do know some kids, particularly of my sister’s age (’90 babies), who are unbelievably entitled. When they finished going to their expensive dream school and weren’t immediately presented with their fancy high paying dream job, they moved back home and waited for their fancy well paid husbands to appear. My sister actually threw a huge tantrum when she didn’t get a whole new set of clothes for her senior pictures. It blew my mind.

    The things I did agree with, though, include the idea that the boomers want us to bootstrap ourselves up the ladder, but then want to deny us the things we need to achieve it (low interest loans, health care, ect), and then get on our case as to why we haven’t attained their standard of living yet. I’m due to have my first child in January and I’m already worried about sending them to college. My saving grace through all of this has really been that I married young (21) and we’ve had a two (small) income household for these last 5 years. We’ve worked multiple jobs all over the country and have both pursued graduate degrees. But we’d never make it by ourselves. That’s not okay.

    But the thing that rang most true to me, above all else, is this: forgive me for not complaining, or taking a stand, or doing much else other than commenting on a blog and reposting a status. I’m too busy working.

    • Sheena

      I think the big problem that Millennials are facing is a combination of a huge “reality check” (i.e., yours and my classmates who grew up being Special and are now mad that life isn’t as easy as they expected) and what you’ve said and what we’re both living with.
      It’s hard to bootstrap oneself up the ladder when the bottom rungs (like entry-level jobs) aren’t there anymore, or are set higher than most of us can grab hold of them, or are otherwise difficult to get to. That entry-level admin assistant job isn’t just a target for college grads anymore; high-school graduates with several years of experience are going for that same job. That college degree that we were told growing up would guarantee a (non-minimum-wage) job doesn’t do it anymore. Millennials and Gen-Xers are in the same boat, really — we’re all trying to get or keep our footing in a world that the Boomers created and won’t let us change.

  • Tracey

    At first I was like, “WOOT! Gen X–the overlooked generation–gets some notice!” But then I see it was just to bash us. Ho, hum, what else is new. We grew up hearing how much we sucked compared to the incomparable Boomers, now we’re told we have to get out of the way for the Millenial children of the Boomers. As a forefront of the GenX generation, I know we’re not the parents of workforce-or-college-age Gen Y. My own kids are barely out of elementary school. And know what? Gen X didn’t have it easy, either. We went to schools after the Sputnik generation, when the money had run out, and we graduated into a world where, as Billy Joel sang, “They’re closing all the factories down”. Living with mom & dad wasn’t an option because our parents let us know that at 18 we were no longer their responsibility, so many of us shared one-bedroom apartments with five other people and ate ramen noodles while working part-time jobs at bookstores because the Boomers had all the jobs. When we were finally allowed entry-level footholds into the jobs we’d gone to college for (computer science, for me) we were told we had to kowtow to the incomparable Boomers, who were all that was good in the world. They couldn’t figure out how the internet worked or even how their computers worked, but they were sure clear that GenX (the generation that set up the Internet and taught everyone how to use it) would never be fit to shine their shoes. Our careers were first fought for against the cohort that simply will not get over themselves, and now also against their children.

    • Rosa

      I feel like most of the Xers I know are on Y’s side, but we’re so underrepresented in media & elsewhere that nobody notices. The media acts like X was all about the boom years but except for computer people (who got dot-bombed pretty badly, half of them after dropping out to take those high-paid jobs) we graduated into recessions, too.

      On the other hand maybe if we spoke up more for Y we wouldn’t get ignored. Because we didn’t manage to stop Boomers from pulling up the ladder after them in terms of college costs and funding, or pensions, or public investments in schools, roads, etc.

      • Tracey

        Rosa, I certainly agree with most of what Millenials are complaining about. X’ers lived through that, too. We had the expensive college and expensive housing. We had (and continue to have) no jobs. “Not so special”? We’ve heard that since we were toddlers. We can relate.

  • Maggy

    This was very difficult for me to read. I knew I wanted to make a response on Sierra’s blog or LJF, but I had to leave it for a day and return because I got very angry. Ultimately, I want to give Sierra the benefit of the doubt because I have usually found her insights to be very enlightening and thoughtful.

    I agree that age is often overlooked when we talk about dimensions of difference in our society. I’ve recently gotten interested in learning more about cross-generational communication. I did a presentation at the University where I work a few months ago on this topic. I’m certainly not an expert on this topic, but I did take away some important points from the discussions I had with the group. There were about 30 people in attendance who ranged in age from approximately18-60. There is a lot of information out there about generational preferences related to communication and the work place. I had the group take a quiz to determine their individual preferences. I was surprised by the number of participants who could more strongly relate to values and attributes typically connected to another age group. None of us live in a vacuum and our identities are influenced by race, gender, socio-economic status, education level, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, how we were parented, etc. I probably learned more from the discussion with the group than they learned from me.

    I think it is critical that we learn how to communicate and work across age differences. I think one of the reasons why I had a tough time reading this piece was that it felt like there was a fair amount of animosity displayed towards folks who are in the Baby Boomer and Gen X age ranges. While everyone has the right to their own feelings, I know that I have a hard time just listening in stillness when I feel myself getting defensive because of a perceived attack.

    I’ve worked in higher education for over 20 years. I have definitely seen changes in parents and the level of investment and involvement they have in their students’ lives. I have worked with parents who would fit the stereotype of the helicopter parents, swooping in to prevent their child from experiencing any discomfort. And I have worked with students who come to college without much skill in navigating conflicts because their parents have managed confrontations for them. But these tropes do not pertain to all parents and students today. And entitlement has been around for my entire career and is certainly not a uniquely Millennial trait.

    I wish I had more answers as to how we can bridge the cross-generational divide. I hope I have provided some helpful food for thought for anyone who is also interested in how to manage this challenge.

  • Desperate Millennial

    I’m actually grappling with some suicidal thoughts (and yes, before anyone asks, I’m receiving professional medical treatment) and speeches like (which I first heard a while ago) this are feeding my fears.
    How will I find a job that pays the amount of money I need to live (pays for food, rent, water, heat, electricity, healthcare, medications)? How will I keep such a job? I have a mental illness (cyclothymia), and if even the best, most prepared people in the world can’t find ways to support themselves, then just what chance do I have? I’ve done everything they’ve told me would ensure my future (went to school, took upper level classes, got good grades, got work experience, am going to graduate school in a “practical” field, stayed out of trouble, broke no laws) but now they’re telling me that whether or not I’ll be able to make enough money to live is a crapshoot. The only way I’m special is in how sick I am, and no one is going to hire me for THAT.
    I’m so scared. I’m so sick, but I can’t be sick; if I get too sick, they’ll kick me out of school and I’ll lose my graduate teaching money. Then I won’t be able to pay my rent, pay my electricity, buy food, buy food for my cats . . .
    I don’t know what to do. They’re stuffing me full of medication, but I’m still weeping, still struggling to function. What happens if I get worse?

  • Ismenia

    This article really struck a chord with me. I was one of the first generation that wasn’t allowed to do much unsupervised. Regularly my Dad would complain that we were “mollycoddled” and tell us that his mother walked him to school on his first week and then he was on his own (or more probably with other kids). Good for him. We weren’t allowed to do that. If my parents had permitted it that young I think the school would have had words. We were taught to see every stranger as a potential threat meaning that when I was finally allowed to go to the High Street on the bus (not on foot as crossing a particular road was deemed too risky) aged 10 I was terrified of speaking to the drivers. We could play out up and down our road but were not allowed to cross. One kid down the road was only allowed about 20 yards from her house.

    When I hear people of my parents’ generation complain we were mollycoddled I feel furious. Because we sure as Hell didn’t make those rules. Our parents and their contemporaries did. Fair enough if they want to criticise that but it was their doing not ours. We were forbidden from using any initiative and then criticised for not having it. I also suspect it has made families a lot more intense since kids and parents have less space from each other.

    I think it’s worse for those younger than us. When I picked my nephew up from school once I felt like a criminal. The kids are not allowed out of the classroom until someone comes to the door for them. This was no problem as they knew I was coming. Afterwards lots of Mums were saying “hello” to my nephew a lot and I reflected that it was nice he was so popular. One mother spoke to me briefly then ended the conversation very abruptly and went off. I told my mother afterwards and she explained that they were checking me out in case I was abducting him.

    The other day at a local park my husband was climbing trees with my nephew. A passer-by who had stopped to talk to my Mum and make a fuss of the dog actually told my Mum in a concerned tone that there was a man in the tree with her grandson. I dread to think what this overzealous approach does.

  • Noelle

    Hey now! Why the lumping in the Gen-X? My kiddos are 6 and 8. I’ve yet to send them into the world with entitlement issues. The Boomers were the me generation for a reason. The post war generation was given opportunities other generations of kids lacked. Their own parents (the “greatest generation”) complained about them in the same way you say they’re talking to you.

    Perhaps the struggle between generations is more an endless back and forth swing. Perhaps your children will say the same as you.

    But we GenXers aren’t old enough yet to be getting the scorn. We’re your older siblings. We’ve been telling you you’re not special the whole time.


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