By Doni Joszef
If you were born in 1980 or later, these words may resonate with you: We are members of a generation that can best be described as spoiled.
Most of our parents didn’t know they were spoiling us; they just wanted to provide their precious children with cushy lives of ease and comfort. Most of us didn’t know we were being spoiled; we just wanted to provide our parents with opportunities to curb our embarrassing tantrums in the middle of Toys-R-Us.
Many of our parents are children of Holocaust survivors. They pursued the American dream to unconsciously compensate for their parents’ European nightmare.
Ours was the first generation of parents who wanted to be friends with their children. Until recently, parents were never “friends” with their kids. Parents were dogmatic disciplinarians, and children were respectfully obedient. Period. End of story.
But social standards were rapidly changing in the ’60’s and ’70s. Psychologists began exploring the inner world of childhood psyches. Behaviorism was giving way to more humanistic and cognitive approaches. Roles were reversing; it was no longer a child’s responsibility to respect the wishes of his or her parents, but the parents’ responsibility to respect the wishes (read: demands) of their children.
Consumerism flashed glittery images at our young eyes, and we knew we could manipulate our parents to pamper us with the products of our particular desires. (Remember Ninja Turtles, Game Gear, and Discman?) What we didn’t know is that we were the ones being manipulated to desperately want what we didn’t really need, as our parents frantically quenched our thirsts for more, until, of course, we wanted more. Spoiled means no matter how much we get, we always want more. And there’s never a lack of more to want.
Fortunately for my parents and their peers, America was taking an economic ride to new horizons. Money and materialism were bursting at the socioeconomic seams. Employers were eager to hire, and our parents were thirsty to make the most of this financial boom. American Jews made a ton of money in real estate, stock investments, and business ventures. Cash and prizes were ours for the grabbing, and grab we most certainly did. Jewish communities were growing, institutions were expanding, houses got bigger, cars nicer, and bar/bat mitzvahs became lavish black-tie extravaganzas. Sure, tuition costs and standards of living were rising, but who really cared when the money was flowing like milk and honey? Those who could keep up with this ever-inflating lifestyle did all they could to maintain it, and those who couldn’t silently resented those who could.
The spoiled generation saw a sharp shift in the Jewish education system; instead of children respecting parents who respected rabbis, the hierarchy of power was turned on its face, as rabbis tiptoed around parents who tiptoed around their children. If something goes wrong in the classroom, teachers are held liable until proven innocent. The inmates began running the asylum. Authority was not a part of our vocabulary, and if it was, Bill Clinton’s very public shenanigans put a nail in the coffin of American adults in search of some respect.
As we manipulated our ways through high school, we eventually grew up. We became pseudo-enlightened; we had enough of the petty posh. We saw with our own eyes how affluence breeds avarice, money mutates into misery. Wealth was a foreign god to which we wanted no more part in serving.
This was an easy mantra to chant, especially since our parents were still funding our spiritual soul searches. They paid for our therapists who made us continuously aware of how badly they spoiled us, and then they paid for our higher education which we pursued as a favor in return for their willingness to finance it. They paid for our weddings, our cars, and our apartments. They loved us unconditionally, and they still do.
But there’s one thing they can’t pay for, and that’s maturity.
We are a spoiled generation, which means we have a lot of growing pains to endure.
We want success without the hard work it takes to earn it. We want respect without the willingness it takes to return it. We want to be masters of a trade without the experience it takes to learn it.
But we’re slowly yet surely beginning to awaken from the pipe dream of our spoiled childhoods. For many, the awakening is a rude one. The job market is ruthlessly uninviting, and happy marriages are an endangered species. We always assumed things would work out as simply and smoothly as they did in Toys-R-Us. We always assumed we would get what we wanted, whenever we wanted it.
Dreaming is fun, but awakening is real. For many of us, it’s been a rude awakening. But an awakening nonetheless. v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e-mail DJoszef@gmail.com to schedule a consultation.