Parents and children
When living with the much younger, with those who have just become adults and with those who are groping to become grown up people, I realize that we are facing a more prepared generation – and at the same time, more unprepared.
Prepared in terms of skills, unprepared because they do not know how to deal with frustrations. Prepared because they are able to use the tools of technology, unprepared because they despise the effort. Prepared because they get to know the world in save travels, unprepared because of being unaware of the fragility of life substance. And for all this they suffer, suffer very much, because they were taught to believe that they were born with the heritage of happiness. And it was not taught to create from the pain.
There is a generation of middle class who went to good schools, is fluent in other languages, traveled abroad and had access to culture and technology. A generation that had much more than their parents. At the same time, grew up with the illusion that life is easy. Or that they were born ready – it would just be enough that the world recognizes them as genius.
I have met young people who expect the labor market to be a continuation of their homes – where the boss would be a complacent father or mother, that all grants. They were taught to think they deserve whatever it is they want. And when that doesn’t happen – because obviously it doesn’t – they feel betrayed, outraged with the “injustice” and a good part of them sullk and quit. As these rookies in adulthood were children and teenagers who have won everything without having to fight for almost nothing relevant, they are unaware that life is to be constructed – and to win a place in the world it takes a lot of hard work. With ethics and honesty – and not with nudges and yellings. As their parents were unable to speak, it is the world announcing not very exciting news: to live is for those who insist. Why is it that a good part of this new generation is like this?
I think this is an important question for those who are raising a child or a teenager today. Our time has been marked by the illusion that happiness is a kind of right. And I have witnessed the anguish of many parents to ensure that their children are “happy”. Parents who juggle it all to give their children everything and protect them from all the turbulences – without expecting any responsibility nor reciprocity. It’s as if the children were born and immediately parents become debtors. For them, frustrating their children is synonymous with personal failure. But is it possible, life without frustration? Isn’t it important that children understand as part of the educational process two basic premises of living, frustration and effort? Or the lack and the search, two faces of the same movement? Is there anyone who lives without confronting every day with both the limits of their human condition as their individual capacities? Our middle class seems to despise the effort. Prefer a genius.
The value is in the gift, in what is born ready. To say that “so and so is hardworking” is almost an insult. Having to work hard to achieve something seems to already be marked with the stamp of loser. Cool is the guy who has not studied, spent the night in the club and succeded in the entrance exam for Medicine. This attests to the excellence of their parents’s genes. Strive is, maximum, thing for the children of class C, which still need to ensure their place in country. The same way that supposedly it could be possible to build a place without effort, there is the not less fanciful belief that you can live without suffering. That the pains inherent in all life is an anomaly and, as I see in many young people, a kind of betrayal of the future that should be guaranteed. Parents and children have paid dearly for the belief that happiness is a right. And the frustration a failure.
Perhaps here is a clue to understand the “I deserve” generation. It is enough walking through this world to witness the face of astonishment and grief of young people when discovering that life is not how their parents had promised them. A facial expression that soon changes to sulky. And the worst is that they suffer terribly. Because they have many skills and tools, but they have not the slightest preparation for dealing with the pain and disappointments. They don’t even imagine that living is also having to accept limitations – and that no one, however brilliant they may be, gets everything they want. The question, as the philosopher Garrincha could formulate, is: “These parents and these children agreed with life that it would be easy?” It is day after day that the bill does not close and the project built on smoke disappears leaving no ground. Nobody learns that life is complicated when they grow or should grow – this moment is only when the human condition, fragile and failed, begins to explicit in the confrontation with the walls of reality. Since always we suffer. And the more we will suffer if we do not have space even to talk of sadness and confusion.
It seems to me that this is what has happened in many families around there: if happiness is a must, the main item of the complete package that parents supposedly have to guarantee to their children, so that they can be considered successful, how is it able to talk of pain, fear and the feeling of being dislocated? There is no room for anything that is of life, that belongs to the throes of growing up doubting of your place in the world, because that would be an admission of failure of the family project built on the illusion of happiness and completeness. When what can not be said turns into a symptom – since no one is willing to listen, because listening would mean to revise choices and recognize mistakes – the easier is to be silent. And not surprisingly this silence comes with medicines and increasingly early the discomfort of children who do not behave according to the manual. So the family can play everyday life without anyone really having to look to each other inside home.
If children have the right to be happy simply because they exist – and it would be up to the parents to ensure that right – what kind of relationship parents and children can have? How could a genuine link be establish if suffering, fear and doubts are previously out of it? If the relationship is built on an illusion, you can only pretend. It is up to the children to pretend happiness – and as they fail, they start to demand more and more of everything, especially material things, since these are the easiest to reach – and it is up to parents to pretend to be able to guarantee happiness, and intimately they know that it is a lie, because they feel it in their own skin day after day. It is for the objects of consumption that the family novel has unfolded, where parents pretend to give what no one can give, and the children simulate to receive what only they can get to themselves. And for that it is needed to create a new demand to keep the game running.
The result is anguished parents and children, who will live with each other for a lifetime, but are unknown to each other. And therefore are missing a great chance. Everyone suffers greatly in this theater of announced disagreements. And suffer the most because they need to pretend that there is a life in which they can do anything. And believing everything is allowed is the quickest shortcut to reach the frustration, but not the one that makes you move forward, but one that paralyzes. When I talk to these young people almost reaching adulthood, with their immense possibilities, and risks as great as, I realize they need a lot of reality. With all that reality is.
Yes, to take on the narrative of your own life is for those who have courage. It is not complicated because you will have competitors with skills equal or superior to yours, but because becoming what one is, seeking your own voice, is to choose a route dotted with detours and without any certainty of arrival. It is living with doubts and having to answer for your own choices. But it is this movement that we turn on to big people. It would be very cool that parents today understand that as important as a good school or a language course or an Ipad, is occasionally to say: “Figure it out, son. You can always count on me, but this fight is yours. “
Like sitting down to dinner and talk about life as it is: “Look, my day was difficult” or “I’m in doubt, I’m scared, I’m confused” or “I do not know what to do, but I’m trying to figure it out.” Because pretending that all is well and that everything is allowed, means telling your your child that you do not trust or respect them, since you treat them an imbecile, incapable of understanding the matter of existence. It’s as bad as turning the TV volume loud enough so that nothing that threatens the fragile balance of the household can be said. Now, if parents lied that happiness is a right and your child deserves everything simply by existing, patience. It is effortless sulking or whinning when discovering that you will have to win your place in the world without any warranty. The best thing to do is to have the courage to choose. Whether it is the choice of fighting for your desire – or to discover it – or the choice of giving up of it. And do not blame anyone because it eventually failed, because surely it go wrong often. Or do not transfer to another one the responsibility for you giving up. Growing up is to understand the fact that life is flawed does not make it smaller. Yes, life is insufficient. But that’s what we have. And you better not waste time feeling wronged because one day life ends.
ELIANE BRUM, journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker. She won more than 40 national and international awards for reporting. She is the author of the Prestes Column – The Upside of the Legend (Artes e Ofícios), The Life That Nobody Sees ( Arquipélago Editorial, Jabuti Award 2007) and The Eye of the Street (Globo).
Thanks to Fernanda, Luiz Gustavo e Luiza.