Back when I was a kid, my friends were my friends, and my parents’ friends were theirs, and there was nearly zero percent crossover. I wouldn’t dream of hanging out with the children of my parents’ friends, nor they me. My parents would not have dreamed of having supper with the parents of my friends.
Now, the world seems different. Or at least my world seems different to me. I’d been thinking about this for a short while when on Saturday evening, out to supper with my younger son’s best friend’s parents, who have now become friends of mine, a couple came over to our table to say hello. It was the parents of a fifth grade girl, who is friends with the fifth grade daughter of the couple with whom we were breaking bread. The parent of the fifth grade daughters are friends. Nothing unusual there.
In the course of this brief conversation, it was mentioned that the woman (not the one with whom we were dining) is friends with the mom of a fifth grade boy, who happens to be a friend of my son’s. I found myself surprised. And then I found myself surprised that I was surprised.
It occured to me then how seldom it is that I hear of parents being friends with other parents if their children are not friends. Nowadays. Not when I was growing up.
It has always been said that “the apple does not fall far from the tree”. But I wonder if this is particularly true in the generation of apples who are growing up now. Are we growing those apples to be more like us than our parents grew us to be vis a vis them? Are parenting trends different now such that the children grow up more identified with their parents, more similar in terms of social characteristics?
I was quite different from my parents socially, and I think they would agree. I was a social butterfly on whom my parents pushed violin and academics. But what I really liked was gymnastics and Barbies and accessorizing. When I was 14, I flubbed my All-State Orchestra audition, and I was free. I became a cheerleader and had my first beer at 15, my first cigarette at 16, all to my parents’ chagrin. My mom was the valedictorian of her high school and considered herself an “us” to the popular girls’ “thems”. I am fairly sure that she considered me a “them”. I ended up graduating in the top 10 percent of my high school class and getting into a prestigious New England university But it was a far cry from valedictorian. And all along, my mom seemed to pride herself in being different from the moms of my friends. They played tennis. She had a career. They belonged to country clubs. She didn’t need such things.
I don’t belong to a country club, but I don’t shun people who do. And maybe some day I will join one, because I like being among “them”. As do my kids. Even my older son, who is brilliantly academic and introspective, is also very much a social being at heart, to whom sports is equal in importance to academics. He plays the flute, but the flute takes a distant back seat to practicing his pitching and his shooting. And today he told me that for his upcoming eleventh birthday, he wants a BIG party. My younger son was born relating to people. He was a merry baby, and jovial toddler and a fun kid. As he “chugs” his apple juice, while being goaded on by his eight-year old cronies, I assume that someday, he will be pledging a fraternity and wearing stilettos around campus in the middle of winter after a night spent watching My Dinner With Andre for five hours straiht, all to show his commitment to his friends.
Somehow, my children are very close versions of myself and my husband, and their choices of friends make it easy for us to make friends of the parents of their friends. And vice versa.
Just this past week, my mom told me that she really thinks I ought to push Brian (I don’t think she used the word “push”, to be fair) to spend more time developing his musical talents. I reflected on that briefly, and as much as I would like to be that mom who can do that sort of thing, well, it’s not me. And as I realized that, I also realized that I am raising my children in a highly “empathetic” style. I am doing for them what I think they would like to have done for them, rather than what I think I would have liked to have done for me, or rather than what I want for myself.
And, I think, there’s the rub. I am starting to formulate this idea that my generation is following an “empathetic” parenting path. Breastfeeding. Co-sleeping. At times, perhaps a tad too permissive, at least according to our parents. Letting them dress the way they want instead of the way we want them to dress. Letting them keep their blankies and teddy bears even as they approach the age of 10 (mine was gone before I was six, to my dismay).
It might seem like a paradox that if we raise our children to allow their true selves to flourish, as opposed to pressing them to become more like ourselves, that they would end up becoming MORE like ourselves, with friends whose parents are more like ourselves. How to explain that paradox? I am not sure.
I know that Bebe is going to give me some MAJOR push-back on this post. But Bebe is a trained Child Psychologist. So, it would be great if she could put aside the emotional objections to what I am saying and help me to put together my theory here.
And I would love to hear any other thoughts you all might have.