If you watch TV at all, you’ve seen the commercials from Progressive Insurance, about Dr. Rick cautioning others about becoming their parents. It’s a humorous series of commercials about the quirky habits of older people that are deemed annoying or not socially appropriate. Becoming your parents is called parentamorphosis.
The commercials are good for a laugh and do make a person wonder about what children learn or emulate from their parents. Of course, we all learn from our parents, that’s how we become functioning humans. Parents nurture, teach and are examples. Skills, values, socializing and cognitive abilities come from family in our early years. Parents remain our teachers for many years. We pick up their opinions, traits, preferences, personalities and even obsessions from them. That’s what the commercials target.
Parents hopefully also teach cognitive and reasoning skills, help us form views, decipher problems and get us to think for ourselves. Not all parents do these things, or do them in the best interests of the child, but most parents make an effort. The imprint parents make on their children is lasting.
I’m not Dr. Mike, I’m not dispensing any behavioral science, just presenting some observations, in a witty and deeply insightful way.
I’m reminded of a very famous film, Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean played a very conflicted high school-aged young man, trying to fit in, but not finding much success. He lived with his parents and maternal grandmother in a household of conflict; his mother suffered from untreated psychological issues, and his father was henpecked within an inch of his life. It was a tragic home environment. The 1950s was filled with juvenile delinquent and teenage angst films mirroring the post-war evolution of families in America. The divide between parents and children, and parents and parents, was about to explode.
Parents were now squares, uncool and tragically behind the times. Kids were becoming more independent, had spending money, fashionable tastes, and were beneficiaries of the growing middle class in America. Suddenly, teenagers gained power and consumer influence. Advertisers noticed and in the 1960s, youth was cool, and important.
Kids rebelled. Who did kids listen to? Less and less the parents; more to friends, and young adults who modeled cool behavior, fashion, attitudes and lifestyle. Movies, TV, magazines, music. Parents were old-fashioned and represented a lifestyle and thinking to escape. That’s a bit of a generalization, but true in many cases.
Skip ahead a couple of decades, the free-thinking, rebellious kids are now adults and “settling down.” Although adults are marrying and having children later than their parents, they are just a slightly older version of their parents. Whatever socioeconomic class their parents are in, kids want to at least be that or better. And where do these kids-adults turn for how to navigate these new experiences? Their parents.
Not every child grows up and emulates their parents. There are fractured families and children who do not have close relationships with parents. Children and parents can have very different views and lifestyles, particularly around politics, religion, interpersonal relationships and parenting. When adults search for answers to life questions, where do they start? They look inside and they look at their own life experiences, including their families. We may not find the answers or best examples there, but it’s where we start.
Parents are of a different era. Friendly and without boundaries, we may not like how our dad tries to befriend every waiter or service rep, or how many sofa cushions our mother has, but we learned how to embrace people who are different from us from the open arms of our parents.
Yes, our parents can have irritating habits, argue with us about dumb things, and embarrass us in public without being aware, yet they seem to have more simplified explanations and less emotional baggage than us. Of course, representing different generations, parents can also bring intolerance and have rooted prejudices that are insufferable to us. To be fair, that can happen with people our age and younger. Wisdom and right are not defined by age.
Does it really matter if our parents are more engaging to strangers than us, or collect travel souvenirs or outlandish yard art, or print theater tickets instead of storing them electronically on the smart phone? That’s assuming our parents use smartphones. Of course we want to be techie, lean and ahead of the curve in life, more so than our parents. Funny, that’s what our kids, and even grandkids think too.