Not by dint of any intellectual or moral superiority, Gen X has developed a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long career (to paraphrase that cohort’s hit 2008 movie Taken) that make them uniquely able to weather contemporary family life. And they’re gung-ho on having young ‘uns—after all, psychologist Jean Twenge says in her book Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers and Silents, we have Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) to thank for reversing the plummeting birth rate of the 1970s by having larger families and bringing childbirth back into style.
So, with all the millennial parenting gurus like Emily Oster and Dr. Becky bringing their philosophies to the masses, why aren’t we also awash in Gen X-led tutorials on child-rearing? I’m a Gen Xer with a Gen Z son and Silent Generation parents, and I think a lot of it goes back to my generation’s “middle child” mentality. Born between two hulking generations—the Silent generation and Baby Boomers (about 92.6 million combined) before us and Millennials and Generation Z (approximately 140.84 million combined) after us—our little demographic (65.2 million) isn’t the first voice you hear. But we’ve got some surprisingly similar life experience to offer other generations: our smaller population grew up prizing individualism, watching flickering images alone while our parents worked. We Gen Xers know how to get by, but we’re not all about pushing the tips we learned (while watching MTV after school and biking alone around our neighborhood) on successive generations—we’re slackers, remember, and not super-interested in world domination.
However…now that the new generation of 9 to 24 year-old Zs have come along, they’re facing some similarly intense economic, health and technology challenges (a housing crisis, Covid and social media threatening to spread disinformation) to the ones we Gen Xers weathered (stock market failure, the AIDS epidemic and cable television threatening to eat our brains). So why not take a tip or two from the Generation X playbook? After all, we Xers did things, like invented Google! And we’ve raised some pretty awesome children, like Amanda Gorman and Greta Thunberg. So let’s look at three hallmarks of millennial parenting, and contrast how Gen Xers approach them differently.