By, Kerris Dillon
Generation X is considered those individuals that were born between the mid-1960’s to the early 1980’s. These persons have been labeled as the “latchkey” generation because it was during those years that society’s values were drastically changing and divorce rates were skyrocketing.
My husband and I are part of Generation X and both our parents are divorced. My parents divorced when I was about 12 years old and Mike’s parents divorced when he left for college. I do believe this is part of why Mike and I got together. We had something in common the minute we met. Mike and I shared stories about how our parents “tried not to put us in the middle of the divorce,” but ended up doing just that.
When Mike and I reflect upon those years, it is shocking to me the extent that Mike and I went to cushion the pain of both our mother and our father during their divorce. Even though I was deeply hurting from the separation of my parents, I still shifted and softened the messages that I brought back and forth between them as did Mike. We often talk about how we tried to counselor our fathers to not do certain things because it would set our mothers off, but to no avail.
Mike and I had to sit and watch them make mistakes even though we knew it would blow up in their faces. Then, we had to help pick up their emotional pieces and never did they do the same for us. They often tried to insert “our feelings” into their conversations, but never did they truly understand what we were going through.
We were masters at knowing each parent and how to phrase things in a way that didn’t send them into frustration, anger, and hurt. We both saw our parents cry in front of us a multitude of times and beg to know why the other parent didn’t love them anymore. Mike and I watched our parents stop taking care of themselves and their hygiene and then buy new outfits and get perms and haircuts as they began dating again.
Mike was much more supportive about his parents dating again than I was. When my mother got remarried, I dyed my hair black…demanding for my feelings to finally be heard. People gawked when they saw me at the wedding, but I didn’t say much. I sat in the back and cried through the whole ceremony. I was crying because I needed to let the little child out of me, the one who’s feelings had been ignored and put on the backburner. My life and feelings didn’t matter and I knew it. If the situation happened all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. I would still dye my hair black because I still haven’t been heard.
When I meet other children of divorce, I can tell right away if their feelings were empathized with or not. If they were not, they have a hidden sadness and anger inside them. I can look at them, shake my head, and know that we get each other. It is a bond that divorced parents will never understand. I see a deep sadness and anger in my younger brother when I am over at his house. He now has 4 children and is seeking and determined to do things differently and I hope he is successful.
My way of dealing with my childhood was to shut down completely. I don’t tend to talk about my childhood with my three kids. I really don’t have much positive to say so why say anything at all? It’s not that I don’t have any good memories…its just that I’ve never had the bad ones validated so it has left a big void in my life that I don’t know how to talk about.
Do I tell my kids that my parents were immature, fought often, and don’t have any clue how badly they hurt me? Do a paint a fake picture of my childhood that everything was good? There is no perfect answer to this question and so I just haven’t talked about it at all. My life has been about making sure their feelings, needs, and comfort are met. I suppose this helped to create the “me, me, me” Millennial generation, but as they have grown they have begun to ask stories that I don’t know how to answer.
The truth is I never had time to reflect upon what I saw happening with my parents and just attempted to survive the bullshit until I could find a way out. I wanted out as soon as I could. You want to know why Millennials are not moving out until they are older? It’s because Generation X tried to compensate so quickly to what happened to them that they became a safety mat for all their children’s hardships. I didn’t want my children to experience one ounce of the hurt that I felt in my childhood.
I find it intriguing that the same generation that hurt us so badly as children are the first to criticize the generation that we have raised. Millennials are so soft and have helicopter parents that don’t let them fail. These children get a trophy for everything! I guess I am okay with trophies if my children don’t ever have to grow up too soon and mediate my arguments with my spouse. I guess I am okay with trophies if my children have a high self-esteem and enter into relationships without being emotionally broken.
I never got a trophy for just being a kid, a human being that deserves to be loved, heard, and validated. My children are my trophy that I survived a really horrible period of time and didn’t continue the cycle. I make sure my children are heard every single day and that they know that I know who they are and that they are loved by their mother and father.
I don’t ever want my children to be fearful of telling me something because they are afraid I will blow up, start crying, or insert my own definitions of how they should be feeling. I am a damn strong mother who is confident enough to take criticism and say I am sorry to my child when I know I have acted foolish. My husband and I had a long discussion about divorce before we got married and we both agreed that if we ever divorced that we would put our children first, no matter what. It was funny because when we got married, we went to a lawyer’s office and read some manufactured vows and signed our marriage certificate. We got married for us and for no one else.
After our marriage, there was some pushback on how we got married. Tears were shed and no one asked us why we did what we did. If they would’ve asked, we would have told them we weren’t happy with our parent’s own marriages and that we weren’t confident that we would make it. Both of us wondered why we would spend thousands of dollars on a wedding where there was no reassurance that we would make it? Neither of our parents made it, so where was the blueprint to success?
Mike and I were and still are very rational about our union. We have a love that has grown deeply with time and it hasn’t always been easy, but we remain committed to it. When times are tough, we try to bring comedy into our lives and find something to laugh about. There are ups and downs and we have been criticized for our lack of romantic love, but we both know the truth about our relationship and our love for one another. We have always been great friends and can talk about our inner feelings with each other in a way that we haven’t been able to with anyone else.
We don’t have a ton of time with each other anymore as we have three children with special needs. Mike works 3 jobs and I work 2 in an attempt to provide for all of our children’s needs, including Type 1 Diabetic supplies. None of our parents know how much we are struggling right now emotionally, psychologically, and physically. We are still attempting to protect and shield them from our hurt because our greatest fear is that they will reject what we say as they did years ago. I can no longer discuss my hardships with my parent or Mike with his and have them tell us a long story about how parenting was difficult for them. They still don’t see us as individuals outside of themselves. It is the weirdest phenomena.
I am proud of the way in which Mike and I have raised our children. Our oldest daughter is extremely empathetic to both of us and realizes that we are independent people that have varying needs. It is strange to have her recognize my pain when my own parent cannot recognize it. My 14 year old son who is Autistic can sometimes pick up on our emotional state better than our parents can.
This is what I hold to and believe our generation holds to as tightly as we can. I see it in my sister and the way that she unconditionally loves her children and follows them everywhere, helping them every step along the way. I try to tell her in as many ways how much of an amazing mother she is, but I don’t tell her often enough. I want to say, “I see you. I see you for all the things you are doing in the lives of your children that weren’t necessarily given to us and I am proud of you.”
I wonder sometimes where Generation X is? When I look at how many times “Millennial” and the “Baby Boom” generation are typed into the Google search engine they are three times as popular as “Generation X”. I don’t think it’s because we are a boring generation or because we don’t have our problems. I’m not exactly sure why that is?
Do we fail to appear as a generation because we “don’t have anything good to say” or because we are so overridden with work and our children that we don’t have time for anything else? Have we failed at making ourselves known because we don’t believe we’ll be listened to? After finishing that last sentence, I brought this blog into the kitchen and read it to my husband and the first thing he asked was, “Do you think our parents will read this?” His alarm was obvious. I knew right away he didn’t want me to publish the blog even though he knew it was our truth.
“Do you recognize how that question only drives forth exactly the point of what I am writing about, Mike?” I inquired. “Do you realize that question is still meant to shield your mother and father against the pain that you felt because of their divorce? It has been 20 years since their divorce and 30 for mine. Maybe we need to give our parents a chance to see us for who we really are, whether or not it hurts them. Don’t we deserve that? Don’t we deserve to heal as much as they do?”
I wonder sometimes if the story of Generation X has been repressed? I wonder how many times this generation has attempted to tell their story only to be told, “get over it”, “you can choose to still be angry”, or “that happened years ago and you’re still holding onto those feelings?” I want to know where you are Generation X! I want to know your story! I believe we are important even though the world may see us as cynical, apathetic, or the invisible generation. I don’t want us to leave this world without being heard, even if the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Let me know! Take a chance!