Clock by ddqhu licensed under CC by-SA 2.0
Last year, while visiting my parents, I went through some boxes of old keepsakes for my Dad. Tucked in with journals and letters I found a short note from my grandparents to my parents. It said they needed to know if we’d be visiting for a certain event so they could make reservations. The note urged them to write back as soon as possible because the deadline was coming up.
I laughed a little, thinking of my Grandma writing out the note, putting it in an envelope, finding a stamp, mailing it, then anxiously waiting days for the reply. I thought of my Mom, with 5 or 6 kids at that point, receiving the note and rushing to follow those same steps.
I thought it must just be my Grandparent’s thriftiness that kept them from making a long distance phone call, but when I talked to my Dad about it he assured me it wasn’t just our family.
Phone calls were a luxury back then, he explained. Long distance charges were outrageous, and sometimes applied from one city to the next. Most people wouldn’t make an expensive phone call over something trivial like that.
That got me thinking about all the time my parents spent on things that are almost instantaneous now.
I read an article the other day made me ponder that question from a new perspective. Titled “Millennial Moms Reject ‘Good’ Parenting“, the author rises to the defense of “me” time in parenting. She points out how the media portrays the rising generation of parents as selfish and narcissistic because we insist on maintaining our individuality, but how can one take good care of children if they are not also taking good care of themselves?
I agreed with the points she made, but there was an underlying theme in her article that I found even more interesting.
The generation gap.
What makes us think we’re so different from the generation of parents before us? What makes our parents’ generation think they’re so different from us?
When I read the article I thought back to that note from my grandparents. The whole process, assuming there were stamps on hand and my Grandma didn’t have to go to the post office, probably only took ten minutes. The whole process for me would have taken one, maybe two minutes. It was eight or nine minutes of extra work for my Grandma. But those minutes add up.
If my mom needed a plumber she would sit by the phone with a phone book and call each one to compare prices.
If she wanted to get a specific present for one of us she would go to different stores to find it/compare prices. No Amazon.
She bought a ten foot telephone cord just so she could move around the kitchen a little while she was on the phone.
She wrote lengthy letters to individual relatives to keep them updated on her life (I’ve seen the lengthy replies).
She received and paid all of her bills by mail.
The post office was a regular stop when she ran errands.
She kept track of her banking transactions with a balance book. No online banking.
Maybe there are people in my generation who do things that way. I don’t.
Then there’s appliances. You may not have a new dishwasher, washer/dryer, vacuum cleaner, or microwave, but chances are it’s more efficient than what our Grandparents used (or didn’t have).
So, life was different. I think it’s understandable for them to look at our generation and roll their eyes a little.
But with the advances that make our lives easier society has found new pressures to put on people. The millennial generation doesn’t just value individuality, we expect it. Along with fulfilling the roles of father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, coworker, and friend you must also make time to set yourself apart as an individual. And the world is watching very closely to see that you do.
Finding the balance between spending your free time on others or spending it on yourself is hard, just like it was when our parents and grandparents were raising us. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to make time for exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, reading good books, earning our degrees, developing political stances, and spending time with friends. The struggle is nothing new.
Maybe rather than working so hard not to understand each other the generations could take the time to learn from each other. Maybe the older generation could use a little more “me” time. And maybe the millennials could learn to focus more on living life and less on defining themselves.
Because, in the end, what matters most is not how much time we spend scrubbing our floors, or how many pictures we post proving that we are more than our traditional roles.
Let’s take the free time all the advances of technology gives us and use it to do some good, whether that’s spending more time working, or playing, or sleeping, or just being around the people we love. Be deliberate, be thoughtful, and choose how you want to spend your time. Don’t let society choose for you.