Baby boomers love the idea of being best buddies with their kids.
The Wall Street Journal underscores this development in a recent article, explaining that parents in the 21st century offer nearly twice as much counsel and practical support as those in the 1980s.
As the boomer father of three adult millennials, I can confirm the Journal’s assertions. There are some good reasons for this. And some bad ones.
Boomers Don’t Have Friends
My parents, like others from the Greatest Generation, had a thick network of friends from church, service clubs, and Masonic organizations. They did not need my friendship because they had their own friends. Since divorce was almost unknown then, this friend network remained virtually intact until their deaths.
The boomers inherited these social networks from their parents, but made a mess of things, cutting connections to church and service clubs.
They also allowed divorce to wreak havoc upon these social bonds. In the past four decades I have watched countless friends and colleagues divorce. Even though my wife and I always try to maintain some contact with at least one member of a divorced couple, we generally lost contact with both. I sense this is generally what happens during divorces, and it creates a lot of unconnected, lonely people.
No wonder boomers want to be “buddies” with their children. They may be the only friends they have.
Weak Economy, Student Debt Makes Unexpected Buddies
Parents of the boomers were concerned about their children “being safe, getting a job and getting married,” notes William Doherty in the WSJ. In the 1960s and 1970s a job and marriage were givens for the boomers. They could find good-paying jobs that did not require a college diploma because they grew up in an economy that never seemed to stop growing. After they turned 18, their parents could wave them out the door with little concern they would ever need to come back.
That is not the case with the boomers’ children. While boomers profited from cheap tuition to get degrees, their children entered a harsh and changing economy which put a premium on a college education. Countless members of Generation X and the millennial generation leave college with large student loan burdens and little prospect of good-paying work. As a result, many graduates move back home to make ends meet. According to Zillow, 23 percent of all millennials live at home.
In a situation like that, a divorced boomer parent and a debt-burdened adult child will probably be friends. They have no other choice.
Boomers and Their Children Can Be Friends, Really
But is all friendship between boomer parents and their children bad? Of course not.
The WSJ article discusses boomers who are not divorced and whose children are financially independent. The experts quoted suggest that both sides create some distance to keep the relationship healthy: “Kids should refrain from telling their parents everything and parents should refrain from trying to direct their adult child or grandchild’s life. The distance can lead to a new kind of closeness.”
Distance can help, but there’s something even better. The arrival of grandchildren, in my experience, has a very positive effect on the relationship between boomer parents and their adult children.
I have six grandchildren. Grandchildren become the emotional focus of both parties. If grandchildren are ill, for example, their recovery becomes the project which unites everyone. The concern for their welfare has certainly deepened the friendship between my adult children and me.
Times have changed since the 1960s. The millennials are facing a much tougher economic and social environment than their baby boomer parents did. That, in turn, changes the nature of their relationship. Maybe they have to be better friends than prior generations were.
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