Generation X, Families and Faith

By Kimball W. Jensen

I am in the process of reading New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time by Gail Sheehy (Ballentine Books, New York, 1996). As I read the first portion of the book I was disturbed by some revelations about the attitudes of many of Sheehy's "Endangered Generation" - my peers - who were born between 1966 and 1980. What follows are excerpts from her book, my thoughts on the excerpts, and finally a "call to arms" directed towards my peers to not simply improve the image of our generation, but to change its identity.

Sheehy's opening words in describing my generation (Generation X, the Endangered Generation, or "whatever" we are called) are: "This confused Hip-hop Generation has hidden its heart behind a cult of indifference. Its motto is: Whatever. Its members also coined the word clueless. They are pragmatic, skeptical, unwilling to be pinned down, and desperately, secretly, longing to belong and to believe in something."

I took personal offense to the stereotyped label I was given, for I am nothing what Sheehy describes, and I hope that those who are like me won't sit idly by and be misrepresented either. I'll get to the details of my misrepresentation in just a moment. I'd first like to quote Sheehy further in her description of my generation.

"Many social analysts describe them as lackadaisical, underachieving, passive. I would argue that their 'whatever' approach is a mask, a defense that announces, 'I'm not revealing my expectations (because they'll probably be disappointed). Whatever. It just rolls off me.' The grunge look - ripped sweaters, baggy tramp pants, clunky work boots with road-kill treads - is worn with a 'Fine, fire me, I don't care' look. Whatever.

"Their views on marriage are somber. Many are haunted by their parents' mistakes and determined not to repeat them. Young women are still dizzied by the eternal problem of how one balances it all - marriage, family, career - without at least one plate crashing. And today, many young people do not expect to be married until their late twenties, or thirties, or not at all.

"Having grown up with one broken promise after another, members of this Endangered Generation are reluctant to make any but the most carefully weighed, realistic commitments. But something's missing: fantasy!"

If by virtue of the year in which I was born I am labeled a member of Generation X or the Endangered Generation, and am being told in essence "This is how you are," then I have no choice but to quickly and adamantly disagree: "I am not!" "We are not!" There are more people like myself!

I got married six months after my 21st birthday. I was not compelled into marriage because of a pregnancy; we did not have pre-marital sex. In fact, neither one of us had had sex before our marriage. At the time we were married in 1992, we were both only high school graduates. Our initial plan was for me to pursue my Bachelors Degree in Behavioral Science, and my wife to pursue a "PHT" (Put Hubby Through). We also wanted children soon - before I completed my first phase of schooling (Phase Two is to pursue a Masters Degree in Psychology). Our first child came almost ten months after we were married. My wife took maternity leave and after a few months back at work we decided that we wanted to raise our children with their mother at home. So she quit. I worked full time, delaying my first degree by over a year.

I donít want to bore you with my entire life story, so I'll fast-forward to the present (August, 1997). I have three wonderful boys, a wonderfully supportive wife (I wish I was a better husband to her), an excellent full time job working for my city, I am a full-time student with a GPA of 3.6 and one year to go before I get my Bachelors Degree. My wife has not worked since our first child. We have been foster parents to five children. We are ambitious, driven, and have been bouyed up by faith in two principles: "Families First" and "Talk your problems out". Our life has not been easy: we have had our relationship strained and have not always done well financially. We believe our sacrifice to have my wife at home will pay off greatly some day. By the way, she plans to be a school teacher when the time comes (Settle down all you feminists!)

Sheehy quoted a Yankelovich MONITOR study echoing a tremendous yearning by members of my age-group: "I want more romance and mystery in my life - I feel the need for it."

Sheehy quoted another young working woman, "We are searching for a conscience. We believe there is more to the life than the warped world we live in."

Another quote: "Our enemies are internal: drugs, guns, the widening gap between poor and elite, and lots more competition for jobs."

And another quote from a focus group on AIDS and adolescents: "People our age were forming their sexual identity with the understanding that we could die for our actions. No other generation has had to deal with this at this stage of our lives."

I am none of this! We don't have to be this way. We don't need "fantasy," we need faith! We need principles to live by that are bigger than us or our time. We need something eternal. I submit the principles of "Family First" and "Talk Your Problems Out" to be the surest anchors for obtaining happy and meaningful life.

For those who have experienced what I have gone through, whether or not you are of my generation, lets take an active role in our communities to promote "Families First" - the only true anchor and surest hope for a stronger, healthier, and compassionate future generation.

Kimball Jensen is "27 years old; married 5.5 yrs, 3 children, full-time student in Behavioral Science (1 yr left), full-time employee of my city for almost two years, and very very busy."