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What I Want My Gen-Z Kids To Understand About My ‘Overprotective’ Gen-X Parenting

My mom started a new job the year I started kindergarten. I went to a half-day of school and then walked through a path in the woods, about a quarter mile, to my babysitter’s house. I was often alone, even though it was a public path, because it was pretty quiet in the middle of the day. There were no other kids, just me. Nothing significant happened to me during those walks, but I remember feeling scared more than once.

It’s not a particularly wild story for people my age, either: Gen-Xers were raised to be independent at an early age. We often had two parents who worked and would come home from school to an empty house. It was also easy to lie about where we were going and who we were with. Our parents kept zero tabs on us and, honestly, it felt like a free for all. After my parents divorced and I became a teenager, I would sneak a boyfriend into my bedroom and nobody even noticed. In hindsight, I can’t believe stuff like that even happened.

My siblings and I often talk about the stuff we got away with, and after our laughter subsides and we thank our lucky stars that we’re still alive, we always come back to the same thing: I wish our parents were a little stricter and paid a little more attention. I remember thinking I just wanted to feel like they cared about us.

When I had kids, I knew, without a doubt, that I would raise them differently. Even now that they’re practically grown, I still check in on them constantly and want to know where they’re going and who they’ll be with. And my Gen-Z kids think that I am completely, ridiculously overprotective.

They’ve always felt that I was too overbearing, too protective of them, even when they were little. When they were younger and wanted to go to a friend’s house, they told me I was the only one who checked in with the parents. They were the last in their class to have phones, and when they got them, they repeatedly told me that I was the only parent in the world who didn’t let them take those phones to bed with them.

When they had friends over and wanted to be dropped off at the mall or go to the skatepark without me, I also checked in with their friend’s parents to ensure that was okay. Then, I was always very clear about the rules and never let them stay out after dark.

Well, I’ve come to find out — despite my kids insisting I was being way over-the-top — lots of other parents did this. I absolutely wasn’t the only one. And I think a lot of Gen-Xers were also reacting to how they were raised, just like I did.

We want to know where our kids are, unlike that famous TV catchphrase. We want to talk to them about sex, drinking, and drugs because a lot of our parents weren’t open about that stuff. We want to know what’s going on in their personal lives, because many of us had parents who didn’t seem to care, and thought our social lives weren’t really significant.

I know my kids want to have freedom. It’s a normal part of growing up. So when I put limits on them or make rules, I’m sure it does feel like I’m being overprotective and sheltering them. I’ve tried to explain my reasoning and my experiences as a child, as well as the worry that I live with as their mom, to little avail.

Each generation does the best that they can. And maybe my kids will grow up and be more lenient with their kids than I am with them. Whatever they decide is their choice. I just know I’m more than okay with being called the overprotective mom.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.

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