Danny: Karen and I stayed together until Eliza went to school, but also, I just didn’t want to do what my dad did, you know? Failed marriages and… Ever worry we’re doing the same thing as them?
Loretta: But we’re so different.
Danny: You think so?
Loretta: So different. We were raised like animals. My worry is that we’re too different. We’re too close to our kids, don’t you think? Parents shouldn’t be best friends with their kids. I mean, I don’t think my girls are ever gonna move out.
Danny: I secretly hope that with Eliza, but, unfortunately, she seems pretty healthy in that area.
The expected norms for parenting understandably shift between generations and they’ll vary between cultures. If we were to go back to when more people lived in traditional agrarian societies, the expectation was likely that you’d have a whole whack of kids and they all pitch in to help on the family farm from a very young age.
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, we witnessed the rise of what we now see as “traditional” gender roles (even though they’re not really that traditional after all). Husbands go out to earn a wage, while the wives stay home to raise the children. These days, it’s much more common to see both partners work outside the home and to have both partners participate more equably in both household chores and childcare.
It’s hardly equal and I’m only speaking from the perspective of a “traditional” nuclear family for simplicity’s sake, but I’d like to think that we are making positive progress. Fathers are more generally more “engaged” than ever before and women are making big strides in the workplace too.
With my parents’ generation, the general goal was to raise reasonably healthy and well-adjusted children so they could be purposeful and courteous members of society as adults. My parents never really took much (if any) interest in the TV shows I’d watch or the games I’d play, so long as I did my homework and got good grades.
No judgement. It was what it was and that was that. They certainly didn’t raise me and my brother “like animals.”
Today’s parents, as a rule of thumb, tend to be different. They engage much more actively with the interests of their kids. Maybe some of us want to feel like kids again. Whatever the case, we’re much more likely to sit there and watch cartoons with them or play video games with them. I can rattle off the main characters in PAW Patrol and Daniel Tiger like no one’s business.
Is this better or worse?
While I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to temporarily disappear into seclusion, I did manage to sneak in a short Netflix session last night where I watched The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). The 2017 film fits somewhere between comedy and drama, depicting a dysfunctional retired artist father (Dustin Hoffman) and his dysfunctional adult children (Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel), and the rich complexities of their familial relationships.
Directed by Noah Baumbach, the same man behind While We’re Young (which probably explains, at least in part, why Ben Stiller and Adam Driver are in both films), The Meyerowitz Stories delivers jarring dialogue where the characters talk over one another… kind of like what families do in real life. They are and they aren’t really listening to one another. They are and they’re not really connecting.
Which brings me back to the relationship that parents have with their children. A big part of the reason why I don’t like being the bad cop and the strict disciplinarian is that I want to have a warm, open relationship with my daughter. I want us to enjoy hobbies together, especially when she gets a little older. I want her to enjoy my company and not just out of a sense of obligation, like we can actually have fun together.
Perhaps paradoxically, though, I don’t want her to view me as a peer, especially while she’s still young. I expect her to respect my authority, whatever that means, and understand that some things just aren’t up for discussion. It’s a tough balance, because I still want to play some Mario Kart with her afterward.
But I’m the cool dad, right? And cool dads can’t be bossy or lay down the law, can they?