We once sang about hoping to die before we got old, but quite a few of my fellow baby boomers have begun to sound like a cross between 1960s sitcom crank Granny Clampett and the 1980s SNL Church Lady when it comes to our kids' generation.
I've heard some in my age group lament that the millennials refuse to grow up. I've eavesdropped few remarks like, "Back when I was my son's age, I had a decent job and a mortgage. But you can't get a mortgage on a barista's salary. Come to think of it, back when I was my son's age, none of us knew what a barista was."
That grousing may fuel some lively discussion, especially if you're among people who enjoy a good handwringing session about the sorry state of affairs in our world, but the pride embedded in our insistence that we did life better in our good ol' days is counterproductive. And it's simply not true.
At midlife, we're tempted to throw a rose-colored tint on the rearview mirror so that when we glance backwards, we remember only the best of our own youthful glory days. To give into this temptation transforms us into people who start sounding like Old Economy Steve: "I never had trouble finding a job when I was 21. If the kids today would just apply themselves…"
So let's talk reality. Today's young adults go through their own glory days with crushing student loan debt and a severe recession that continues to affect those entering the job market for the first time. Those from every generation can affirm we are living in a time of unprecedented technological and social change, but millennials are doing so in the midst of the formative years when they build their adult lives. While some boomers unfortunately find themselves forced onto the employment exit ramp, millennials trying to launch their career may discover that no clear "on ramp" into the workforce exists at all for them, save for the merry-go-round of low-paying, part-time jobs (or worse, internships!).
I have watched my own 20-something children and some of my young adult friends struggle to find the kinds of mobile, sustainable careers we boomers have had. Some young workers don't crave those kinds of jobs, choosing instead to make a living through nontraditional outlets that rely on creativity, connectivity, and entrepreneurship.
Either way, we can't regard the employment issues of millennials as character issues. Many of my peers have tried. When they complain about the slacker, selfie-selfish ways of an entire generation of young adults, there is an implication that boomers have been blessed (if you measure blessing in terms of material possessions) because we did something right. Scripture never speaks of financial blessings as a virtue in and of themselves, but in terms of the responsibility of the recipients to honor God with lives that are marked by gratitude and generosity. Besides, negative overgeneralizations about an entire group, class or generation of people aren't exactly a mark of wisdom or maturity.
Rather than holding this younger generation under a magnifying glass, I believe it is high time we boomers used that magnifying glass to take a closer look at ourselves. We are responsible for shaping the world in which this generation of young people must now live.
We aren't 100 percent to blame, of course. Like every generation, we built our lives out of what we were given by those who came before us. The baby boomers worked with the determination of revolutionaries to dismantle old structures and challenge tradition, while at the same time leveraging decades of strong post-World War II economic growth to become the most pampered, prosperous generation in history.
Some of what we built ended up being helpful, productive, and good. And some of it has left a scattered jigsaw puzzle of a world for our children to try to decode. Rachel Held Evans' viral CNN post about why millennials are leaving the church captured a measure of the frustration some young people feel about the world we boomers have molded. While we may not agree with her conclusions on the church, she prompts a worthwhile question about what young people are supposed to do with the world we're passing on to them.
The generational issues we face today tie into this question and our shared fear of the future. We're scared… every single one of us. Boomer parents are worried about their kids – their livelihoods, their faith, their future. Millennials are anxious about the topsy-turvy, unpredictable and often inhospitable world in which they live.
Boomers' Old Economy Steve thinking and rose-tinted nostalgia may be a feeble attempt to rebut those fears. If we instead chose to humbly acknowledge those fears to our loving, merciful heavenly Father and to each another, we will be free to do the one thing what he has asked us to do – proclaim his unchanging faithfulness to the next generation.
The only way this proclamation makes any sense is as we walk with the next generation as allies – together – through the messy, confusing, glorious business of becoming an adult. Because no matter what generation we belong to, each one of us is growing up, every single day of our lives.