The first time I heard this phrase casually used, I was a bit shocked. I grew up in the 1950s when people didn’t express affection, unless it was in the swoon of romantic love, much less using “Love ya” as a good-bye greeting.
Watching a movie recently, I was struck by how a mother and uncle constantly reminded their son and nephew, respectively, that they loved him. That wasn’t in the vocabulary of my parents—or grandparents or aunts or uncles. They belonged to a past generation that thought if you spared the rod you would spoil the child. It wasn’t just that a good spanking was considered a necessary part of raising an obedient child, but there was a sense that too much praise would give children a big head, and there was nothing worse than that. Children weren’t supposed to be coddled. In fact, my grandparents grew up at a time when child labor was still allowed. And people had large families because they needed the free labor on farms.
Thankfully, we don’t let children work in factories when they are 10 years old. And today, a 16-year-old boy wouldn’t be considered mature enough to leave his family behind and cross an ocean to start a new life on his own. But that’s what my German grandfather did. He never saw his parents again or his four brothers, who were killed in World War I, which would have been his fate if he hadn’t left the old country.
Any American growing up today would go through counseling for trauma to get over that huge loss, but my grandfather instead plowed forward with his life: finding jobs as a tool and die maker, starting a company, getting married and having a family that now numbers in the hundreds, including children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My generation of baby boomers wasn’t that resilient, but I believe we grew up more independent than current generations because we weren’t coddled or overly praised. Because we didn’t necessarily depend on our parents for emotional support, we developed more inner resources, I believe. As young adults, we weren’t afraid to challenge our parents’ views—on the Vietnam War, on drugs and sex, on how to dress.
I know there are members of my generation who have sought psychotherapy because they feel they didn’t get enough love. But if children get praised for everything they do, do they fail to gain enough toughness, enough ability to think independently, to succeed on their own? I worry that we’re raising generations that won’t/don’t know how to take care of themselves. I’m reading stories about the children who missed two years of school because of the pandemic and don’t know how to socialize or resolve tensions and get frustrated easily. How will they survive in the world? Or, even more important, how will the world survive if people don’t know how to communicate, how to take care of themselves and each other?
I believe we need more love in the world—especially to counteract all the divisiveness in this country—but we also need resilience to take on all the challenges coming our way. Are future generations ready?