A couple I know, or used to know, had an enviable weeknight routine: When he arrived home from work each day, she made two martinis, handed one to him, and the two of them sat together in a room to talk about their respective days. Their children knew better than to interrupt them, knew they were strictly forbidden from interrupting their parents during this daily, sacred hour of private, adult conversation.
I learned this story not directly from the couple, who were friends of my parents, but from one of their children who has tried, despite the many difference between our generation and our parents’, to honor this same nightly ritual.
The biggest obstacle? Parenting.
The cultural norms when our children were born, my friend’s and mine, didn’t look anything like our growing-up time. The helicopter parenting world of the 1990s was still in the lead after the turn of the century, and with that came the pull to keep up with contemporary expectations: Attendance at athletic events, programs, and other extracurricular activities; family dinner; nightly homework. (See 2018’s “The Relentlessness of Parenting.”)
We are both GenX parents, this friend and I, and our parents were from the Silent Generation. Outnumbered and overshadowed by neighboring generations, we occupy a no-(wo)mans land that’s always a bit out of sync when it comes to headline-making trends in relationships and parenting. (And, of course, work.) I sometimes think of our generation as the break-up girlfriend/boyfriend in between Boomers and Millennials. Because, in my limited and completely unscientific look at GenX parenting and relationship behaviors relative to these expectations, we said: Fuck it. Not doing it the way the generation before us did it. Did we (do we) have a better way? Not really.
But the Millennials might be using that break-up to set things on a different track. In 2015, the Time cover story, “Help: My Parents are Millennials!” painted not-too-great a picture of these children of the helicopter-parenting generation. By early 2020 the tide started turning though.
And then the pandemic hit.
One of the clearest voices coming out of social media and online advice for Millennial parents since March 2020? Dr. Becky, whose guidance, I must tell you, sounds identical to what I hear from the clinical psychologist and team of therapists in my work at Kindred Place.
The prevailing advice – grossly over-simplified — goes something like this: When the parents are OK, the kids are OK. When the parents are calm, reassuring, and supportive of their children and within their own adult relationship, children do better and parenting becomes less stressful. And within that high-level advice, is the subset: When parents (or partners, who are present in children’s lives) exhibit healthy relationship behaviors (think: Gottman’s “bid” approach), everyone does better. That means, it should go without saying, adult partners raising children would be well-served to follow that nightly ritual I described at the opening.
Thanks to the pandemic and all of its paradoxical mixed blessings, the cocktail hour is back. My friend’s parents might breathe a sigh of relief. And also say: We told you so.
(Side note, which seems worth writing: A cocktail hour ritual does not require booze.)
25 Classic Cocktail Recipes Everyone Should Know (Serious Eats)
This post is 55/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.