When I was growing up back in the 70’s and 80’s, I didn’t have any personal relationships with adults. Back then, adults and children seemed to live in two different realms. There was a perpetual solid boundary line that conveyed the message of separation. Parents remained behind the barriers of their own kid-free areas, while the kids were expected to occupy themselves away from them.
I think back to all the time I spent at my house and other friends’ houses, while the parents were quietly sitting in the formal living room while we tiptoed by, knowing full well that we were not to disturb them. I remember scenes of dads sitting in a separate room in lazy boy chairs, with a newspaper in hand while watching the tv, while moms worked in the kitchen preparing dinner. I have no memory of actually spending time with any of my friend’s parents, and I’m certain none of them had befriended mine. The culture of my childhood prevented quality communication between the two generations. We were not to bother the parents while we played. Our territory was in another place- away from them.
Growing up was so very different than today.
That constant divide between kids and parents, seemed quite normal to us kids. We didn’t long for anything more, because we didn’t know any better. Perhaps this environment was unique to general upbringing among other communities. Maybe it was just in our upper class suburban circles that solely founded this formality. Maybe not. I can’t say for sure.
All I can remember, was a strong divide between adults and kids. The only conversations I remember having with adults, usually began with, “Can I please… Mrs. Johnson,” and ended with a “Thank you for… Mrs. Johnson.” The interactions were short, awkward, intimidating and formal. I don’t ever recall actually having a full heart-to-heart conversation with an adult about personal thoughts or feelings. There seemed to be no interest or engagement on either side- that was simply understood as the norm. The definitive hierarchy and authority was set with the precedent that the adults lived in a different world than us kids… and we were not allowed to step in it.
We stayed on our turf, and they remained on theirs. No lines crossed, no deep relationships formed.
Perhaps I was raised in what some people deem- ‘old school conservative’ parenting, where there were no blurry lines of casual talks or group gatherings that filled the room with mixed company.
As I age and parent my own kids, I have become increasingly aware of the significance of those times. I’ve been reminded of this detached upbringing as I naturally continue to change the scenery with quite the opposite. I simply can’t have children around me, without wanting to know them, interact with them, play with them, and engage with them in a variety of ways. Maybe it was my line of work, as a therapist, a teacher, or youth leader… but I would guess it wasn’t just my profession. I see it everywhere now…
That generational gap is gone.
These connections have changed the parenting landscape for the better.
Adults connect with kids all the time, as families and friends come together for events and parties and activities. There is no concrete line that marks the two territories. It’s a rather blurry chaotic beautiful mess. Play dates are integrated, as kids often feel completely comfortable hanging with the adults and vice versa. I see adults forming trusted relationships with other kids, as I too have been able to open my home and my heart to many kids that have crossed my path, through other friends, parents or ministries.
As the kids get older, they may want their own time away from the adults. But the invitation seems to always be assumed. And the adults could stand to have some of their own time without kids too. It happens. But I still have older teens and twenty somethings reaching out to connect with me for guidance, help or simply time together. It’s rather lovely.
Each year, I discover that I have purposefully broken that barrier and created an open door for many kids to step through to my side. I absolutely love it when my kid’s friends seek me out to talk about difficult matters, or share exciting news. I want my children and their friends to always feel welcome to engage with me, and I pray it continues. I have felt compelled to step over into their territory or invite them into mine, over and over again.
Cultivating this integration is critical for our children, for so many reasons.
Because I grew up without those intimate relationships with adults, I didn’t have the opportunity to understand much about who they really were, or learn from their insights and perspective. My limited view caused me to believe that their timeline began as I saw them: Grown up. They had no history to me, because they didn’t share it. Their lives never had an impact on me, because I was never offered the opportunity to discover any life lessons they may have taught me. My friends and I were on our own. I don’t remember one adult hanging with us in my girlfriends’ bedrooms, or playing with us in the backyards all around town. We surely could have used a fun and friendly adult to step in and guide us through those years. We had to answer our own questions about life and all the gory details of it all. I wonder how differently it would have been, if we had opened those borders.
As I experience the freely shared personal stories of many kids and young adults that share their lives with me, I find myself wanting to open my own timeline and perspective for them to view. I want to invite them into interactions that may be helpful in guiding them toward creating their own path. Perhaps my history and my perspective may teach them a thing or two, or at least offer them some new insights or answers to those same questions I once wondered about.
I want them to realize that the decisions they make in their young years, will truly outline the rings on their own tree trunk- never to be forgotten. I want them to realize that they too, will make markings on their own course, each day they face difficult circumstances and celebrate personal victories.
I believe our kids need to see how we were once children too. There is significance in that truth, and opening up their peripheral vision to see beyond their years- may in fact be a valuable experience. It expands their compass, and enlightens their awareness…
To know that we adults have a history, and they can learn from it.
Surely there are appropriate boundaries that must be considered in these adult-child relationships, and I have witnessed the pendulum swing a bit too far. There needs to be clear authority outlined within our engagement. The roles between adult and child are solidified in respect, but shouldn’t be bound in complete segregation. If we are careful to discern what we share, the adult-child communication can be quite beneficial for us all.
I know I have found great joy in allowing this boundary to break. Dance parties with kids, talking about boyfriends/girlfriends, sorting through peer conflicts, navigating around hard choices and playing games with genuine laughter and excitement are the great opportunities our parents missed out on…
I’m sure they had their fun with their adult friends though- Sometimes, that cocktail party without the kids under foot sounds heavenly.
But I’ll take the messy madness of it all any day.