The “new 40” will remember the movie Gigi with Maurice Chevalier, Hermoine Gingold, and Louis Jourdan. Set in Paris on the turn of the 20th century, it defied all propriety of upper crust Parisian social life. Gigi was a young girl raised by aunts to be a courtesan. Filmed on location in Paris and released in 1958 it won accolades on almost every level of cinematography; including music. One song in particular sticks to the very fibers of my mind. Sung by Maurice Chevalier and Hermoine Gingold it clearly defines my feelings about today’s parenting, youth, and society. The song was entitled: “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore.” How apropos!
Addressing baby boomers and the “new 40” club; what has changed? Why do I feel a sigh of relief that I am not raising kids in the 21st century? Why do I secretly wish that like some species, some children should be devoured at birth? I was young when Rock an’ Roll hit our world hard like a fist through a dry wall. It was right up in our faces. Our parents were livid because the “crazy” gyrating music would lead us toward “no good.” Elvis Presley had set the world on fire to be followed closely by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and myriad of other long-haired gyrating “yea, yea, yea” bands that made us scream to a frenzy. Nonetheless, eventually we all knew and realized that our parents ruled and that at some point in life we had “to make something” of ourselves. The “making something” expression was universally and globally prevalent because in our days parents really cared about their children’s future. Our parents transferred their own life expectations to us: their kids. Not so much that they wanted to live our lives, but wanting to make sure that we could cope with life and eventually take care of ourselves as adults. In time we all outgrew our “yea, yea, yea” long-haired days and “made something” of ourselves.
Fifty, forty, thirty, and even twenty years ago; one rarely heard of teen suicide, teen murder, or any relative serious teen lawlessness. Gangs in large cities were more interested in stealing tires off cars then sell hard drugs and kill. The West Side Story romantic side to gangs was more about surviving the inner cities as immigrants, protecting families and turf. The “Tony and Maria” teen gang element seems naïve compared to the hard core criminal and dangerous element of today’s gang warfare. What has turned our youth into the worst version of themselves? Why are today’s young adults so bent on making the wrong choices and ruining their lives? Why are children so easily warped into joining gangs, terrorist groups, and losers? What has happened to the “make something of yourself” parenting guidance and love?
Would I want to be young today? Hell no! Would I want to be a young parent today? Equally and emphatically hell no! What has gradually eroded parenting, and why? My theory is not popular but sustainable. Motherhood went under attack in the late 60’s early 70’s by well-intentioned women’s groups who equated being a mother with being brainless, unsociable, unproductive, and frankly useless to society. Their idea of a liberated woman was a woman who sought employment (not necessarily a career) and attempted to raise a family at the same time. Not necessarily doing both well either. This was glorified even in commercials: remember “bringing home the bacon?” A woman cooking bacon for her family’s breakfast dressed in a business suit. Women were brainwashed to believe that they could do it all; and well! Mysteriously enough none of the women’s groups led by NOW (National Organization for Women) ever elaborated on why going out to work in lieu of raising a family was liberating to women? I raised many an eyebrow when confronted by “liberated” females who belittled my contribution to society because I stayed home to raise my kids. I articulately asked if having children for the purpose of having them raised by strangers was in their parenting plan? To this day I have yet to receive an intelligent coherent answer; probably because there is none. One cannot profess to be of deep liberal views when one does not accept other options to liberalization: such as opting to stay home and raise the kids. The one sided “liberation” argument became self- destructive as these hard core activists failed to recognize themselves as the protagonists of a movement that disenfranchised women who chose to be “mothers” rather than just womb donors.
Thus started the disintegration of the oldest profession (besides prostitution) in the world. In 50 years we managed to take the family unit and banish it from society: why? Oh yes…the economy…cannot afford to raise families…heard it all before. We have reduced parenting to a chore, a hardship, a social dilemma. We have convinced young families that they cannot raise a family on one salary, and that staying home raising children is somehow counterproductive to success and a happy life. Really? Seen any over-the-moon over-joyed dual-career or dual-salary parents lately? Why are these folk having kids anyway if they do not want to raise them? What is the point? Has parenting become a hobby, or a commodity, like a new BMW? Is parenting a mere social standing among the liberated elite? For example movie stars collect children like we used to collect Hummel figurines: just to say that we had one! Children are now a bargaining chip in political campaigns: the debate on conception has been going on for 40 years and it will go on for another 40 because it provides fodder for good campaign slogans. Parents, especially women, are caught in the disingenuous concern to freedom by activists, whose only concern is a fine-tuned “tunneled” agenda discriminating against families wanting to “raise” their children in lieu of having them “raised.”
This generation of children, youth, and young adults stand little chance of cultivating strong values that our parents had diligently instilled in us. When children are left to their own amusement or in the hands of technology, they develop a distant relationship to the parents who are supposed to be nurturing and guiding. How can a generation of self-absorbed, self-centered adults raise responsible children? What is a child to do when disenfranchised and abandoned by parents and raised by strangers? Should we really be surprised that a gang or terrorist group provides these kids with the nurturing and guidance lacking in the home? Should we really be uber angst because a child seeking some form of parental or adult direction will opt for anything or anyone to fill the empty parental shoes? Is it surprising that this generation of youth cannot handle life set-backs and look for ways to end their lives?
A few weeks ago I watched a family having breakfast. The parents were texting or tweeting or whatever their “I” devices are capable of doing, while the three kids ran wild. The amazing thing was the utter non-engagement of the parents with the children and the equally total lack of parenting. The children stopped their “terrorism” on the rest of the innocent breakfast imbibers when one of us decided to “parent” and yell “stop.” Give you one guess who that was! Even after the intervention, the parents remained totally oblivious to their surroundings and slightly annoyed that their “tweeting” had been interrupted. What is unacceptable is the responsibility such useless parents put on society: society is supposed to raise and discipline their kids. In point in fact: they hatch the morons and we have to put up with them or worse; discipline them! They are prime candidates for gang bangers and terrorists: after all they started young. Who is to blame? I rest my case.
My parents raised seven kids during and after World War II in Europe. My mother had little time to be “liberated,” because between the cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes, she was kept on her feet all day. As a matter of fact I do not remember my mother going to bed or rising in the morning: she was the last to go to sleep and the first to get up. However, we wanted for nothing, or if we had; we did not know any better. As children our pleasures were simple because life was that way. We did not seek gangs because being a sibling in a family of seven one tries to look for peace and quiet and not more chaos. I tried to raise my kids the same way my mother raised us. I was a stay-home mom. It is even silly that we have to give a politically correct title to motherhood: stay-home. In our day; it was a given. If you were a mother or opted to become one you stayed home. But that is a story for another day.
Now I enjoy my “liberated” status albeit I long for the times when I was with my kids and involved in their young lives. They are both adults but they both thank me for “raising” them and not allowing others to do the job for me. Am I liberated? Probably more than any woman I know or knew. I stayed home raising the kids because I wanted to and not because some pinhead woman or organization told me to. Later I went to work and had a successful career because I wanted to and not because I was shamed into doing so by patronizing irrelevant women. I went back to school and finished my undergraduate and graduate degrees because it was my aspiration in life since always, and not because a “liberated” elitist led me to believe that only higher education would give me relevancy as a woman. Do I regret staying home to raise kids? Never.
My experience as a mother and parent led to the success later in life. The hardships and tribulations of raising families give us the fortitude to face life and its ambiguities. Parenting requires a self-less life which is why so many parents become disillusioned with their role as parents. This generation of parents have been molded to believe that society owes them something, and we cannot expect them to change overnight. How do we break the cycle? How do we turn the clock to when being a parent was the most fulfilling occupation one could experience? Maybe if more of us stepped forward and said “stop:” we might change the trend of poor parenting and save our youth from a hopeless future.