When I started raising my children, I first hoped they would be like me. We all go through that — we are delighted when they look like us or talk like us. As they start to develop, it thrills us when they start to do the things we do and even do them like we do. There is something about imitation being a sincere form of flattery.
After some further thought, I modified my expectation to wanting them to be like me, only better. A model 2.0 if you will. I’m somewhat proud of my life, but there are many things that I hope they do better. If we are not careful, we can create relationship issues by trying too hard to guide our offspring into better performance and better results that we achieved. They also come with unique talents and gifts — even though they resemble us, they may be very different from us because of many factors.
There comes a time in raising teenagers that you lose a lot of control. It’s very disheartening if you are not ready for it. They exercise some rebellion (which is normal). We sense the relationship appearing to be strained. We often realize we don’t know everything they are doing and we certainly cannot control it. It can leave parents feeling a little helpless like we’ve spent all this time trying to nurture this human being and the whole project is slipping through our fingers. It’s going terribly wrong and we can’t do anything about it. Then, just about the time they turn into humans again, they move away and leave us wondering whether we did anything right.
I always hope that I did at least a few things right. I gave up on “Dad of the Year” or whatever crazy assumptions I had about being a parent. There are plenty of reasons to be satisfied and proud of them and even of the small contribution that I made. I eventually took inventory and realized I was just lucky to be a part of this impossible task of being a parent. Eventually, I became thankful just that I knew these three unique individuals that I call my children. They are literally 3 of my best friends.
But, there was another thing that no one told me about. This was a good surprise! It’s one of those things that if you don’t realize it at the right time, it might mess you up in your journey. At some point, I began to realize I was learning from my children. If you are not not ready for it, it can seem threatening. I think I was ready for it! Something about the amount of struggle and experience in my life prepared me to be ready to learn from my children and their friends.
So far, these are the things I have gleaned from this next generation. I know it’s popular to criticize the millennials. It’s what we generally do with anyone that is different from us. I think the fact that they are different is going to to turn out to be a positive thing and it may just be what gets us out of some of the messes we are in.
What I Am Learning from the Millennials
1. They are less certain. At first glance, this may sound like a bad thing. One of my daughters explained to me that they often have discussions and end the conversation with “I have no idea.” To my generation, that is frightening! Whether we admit it or not, we seem to have a deep need for certainty. We want to know what’s wrong, who’s responsible and what we are going to do to fix it. We may have developed this watching sitcoms where all the problems were solved in 22 minutes.
Millennials seem to have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and mystery. They actually listen to podcasts that are over an hour long (something we don’t have the patience for). These podcasts might have several people with different opinions and they may or may not resolve the issue. And they are good with that! Can you believe it?
In my opinion, my generation has made a lot of mistakes with certainty. The way we discuss politics is “I’m right — you’re wrong — shut up and sit down (or go somewhere else if you don’t like it).” We forget that even the Bible has some uncertainty and mystery that requires trust and faith. When we we think we have it all figured out, very often we experience disappointing outcomes. I want to become more comfortable and curious about mystery and less certain about the things I THINK I understand!
2. They are less judgmental. Judgement is a thing we like to do to control. Control is based on fear. Fear is something God repeatedly encouraged us not to do! Judgement is also something Jesus encouraged us not to do. Most rational people understand this, but we still do it and we seldom feel remorse for doing it. It’s a part of the way we do everything!
My children have taught me to express my beliefs and leave it at that. I can say “this is what I believe” but not “this is what you should believe,” or worse, “this is what I believe about you.” I am discovering, that even in matters of faith, there are mountains of things I don’t fully understand. If I am to be authentic, I can really only say “This is what I understand to be true — I hope we can journey together toward the truth.” Living authentically in this way requires making this a practice, not just a wish. The millennials are proving it can be done.
3. They are less needy. This may contradict what you have heard. Let me explain. When I would complain about someone not understanding my position, one of my daughters would say something like “Don’t get your validation from other people.” Are you kidding me? That is where I get most of my self-worth — from what people say about me. Isn’t that what performance appraisals are for? So, I can feel worthy enough to face another year as a valued member of the organization. We might call it worth or value or appreciation — it’s all the same type of elusive self-esteem that we rent out to other people.
I have noticed that millennials are less needy. They may get more upset at injustice (which is part of the next bullet), but they are pretty sure about where they stand. They don’t need you or I to validate them as much to have an idea or mission or purpose. We all want to be brave, but sometimes bravery is simply the courage to stand alone. I see that in a lot of millennials.
4. They are more compassionate. The reputation of teenagers is they don’t care about anything. I’m sure that is not true – they certainly care deeply about specific things — it just may not be the same things that parents care about. As we progress in life, the things that matter change. As my children began to mature, not only did I realize that they cared a lot about things that matter; but, in many cases, they cared a lot more than I did. And that kind of humbled me.
Millennials seem to care deeply about people – especially people in lower circumstances. Pay attention to who is fighting for the minimum wage worker or the immigrant or the marginalized. Usually, it’s those terrible millennials. Even though I was a pastor, I don’t think I set a very good example for my children in this area. I think my generation was too “self-made” to realize we are part of community. We often protected our tribe, but failed to realize the world is a community that needs to be nurtured.
I am grateful that this next generation has a concern for animals and the environment. My generation has performed atrociously in these areas. For many reasons, we have assumed that it was either silly or unfruitful and have largely largely ignored it personally. I think the next generation has realized that unless they do something, the health of the people, the planet and the animals is deeply in jeopardy. It is not as much about activism as personal responsibility. Veganism, environmentalism and responsible agriculture will definitely be trends of the future.
I’m not an expert on really anything. I’m just a guy that notices things. I study things carefully and I don’t think I’m wrong about the millennials; but, there I go being certain again! I’ve always been optimistic, but I don’t think this is a superficial hope. I truly believe we are on the cusp of a major shift in religion and politics and world affairs. Let’s hope I’m right – long live the millennials!