When our kids were in the pre-teens and early teens, they started to question our wisdom. When they were old enough to go off to college, they came home with even more questions: deeper ones about our beliefs and how their thoughts now differed from ours--on politics, life style, religion, culture. It's the generation gap, and it tends to widen. They may never return to our way of thinking.
All of this is in the natural flow of things--they're becoming independent and that's what we want, isn't it? In a recent post on the subject in Psychology Today, psychologist Carl Pickhardt noted that "the generational differences should become more clearly pronounced as the young person is now more committed to seeing and living life on more independent and individual terms. In consequence, she or he can be more critical of where parents stand and what they stand for."
The question Pickhardt raises is how do we--and they--deal with these differences and still stay close. That is, how do we not let the differences rock the basic relationship, even when we're attacked for being politically incorrect, stuck in our traditional ways or otherwise "ye olde fogies."
Part of his answer starts with this observation: "The mistake parents can make when confronted by revisionist thinking... is to take offense." Rather than try to change the grown child's point of view or attack his or her ideas, he suggests that it's better to treat their ideas with respect and worthy of discussion--even if we find those ideas offensive or they run counter to our basic beliefs. By being "unwilling to change themselves but demanding change by the other, the generational difference is allowed to become a barrier to contact instead of a bridge to further knowing."
His "solution": Rather than focus on change--better to keep the discussion about ideas just that: a discussion--we as parents should focus on what needs no changing: "our commitment to stay connected as age and experience continues to grow us apart. How we live our lives, or believe about life, does not exactly have to match for our relationship to stay closely connected."
It's an important issue to tackle when it first rears its head. As those of us whose children have moved beyond the post-adolescent years have experienced, pretty soon it won't just be ideas picked up in and honed by college debate. They'll marry and come under the sway of another family's ideas. They'll start to raise children and have child-rearing philosophies that are very different from ours--as ours were from our parents.
Here's Pickhardt's parting shot--and one worth hanging onto: "As your adult child grows older and further differentiation between you occurs, your tolerance for these changes must grow as well if your relationship is to lovingly carry on."