Generation X, millennials, and baby boomers.
Each group represents a huge portion of today’s world population. These three clusters of people are often talked about, because they help us understand and imagine the past, present and future of humanity.
But there’s another group of people who are seldom talked about, yet are extremely powerful influences on our present and our future.
They are called the silent generation. They were born before 1946.
If you are a Gen-X or millennial, the silent generation has had a tremendous, largely invisible effect on your life. What makes them so important?
They raised your parents.
5 Important Facts About the Silent Generation
1. They Were Defined By Their Sacrifices
The silent generation grew up during the Great Depression, where they coped with food rations, and lost fathers or husbands to the war. They either fought in World War II, or were growing up during it. This generation was profoundly affected by deprivation, struggle and fear. For them, mere survival was a concern of their everyday lives.
The silent generation was heroic in many ways. They not only fought and sacrificed for the war, they started the Civil Rights Movement. This is a group of people who placed strong value on the sacrifice of one’s self for the common good.
This generation is no-nonsense, traditional, and conservative.
Why are they called the silent generation? Because they lived by a code of silence, born of necessity. They were the seen but not heard generation, and this largely applied not only to themselves, but to how they raised their children.
2. The Seen-But-Not-Heard Approach to Parenting
What happens when a child is raised by parents who have had to fight for much of what they needed to survive? Parents who were exposed to the ravages of war, and the necessity of great sacrifice for the common good?
Chances are, this child will not be encouraged to talk and share. Chances are, what this child feels or needs emotionally will not be on his parents’ radar screens.
3. Respect = Love
Because baby boomers were raised by the silent generation, many grew up in authoritarian homes, where respect was confused with love. Immediate obedience was interpreted as loving by the parent. The converse was also true. Anything less than immediate obedience was felt by the parent as a lack of love.
Another giant swath of baby boomers’ parents were left traumatized by the losses and deprivations of the war and the Great Depression. Preoccupied by their own pain and trauma, members of the silent generation were prone to inadvertently failing to notice their boomer children enough, set limits with them, or attend to many needs that went beyond the physical.
A roof over the child’s head – Check
Clothes to wear and food to eat – Check
A school to go to – Check
But the child’s deeper emotional needs, like learning what he feels and why, how to name and manage his emotions, or that his feelings and emotional needs matter, all fell by the wayside.
4. The Baby Boomers Either Adapted or Overcame
Many, if not most baby boomers grew up in an emotionally neglectful environment. Many, not surprisingly, grew up feeling essentially deeply ignored. Even the over-controlled children of authoritarian parents went emotionally unseen and unheard. Only their behavior mattered to their parents. Not their feelings.
Some of the boomers grew up with a bit of awareness that they were being on some level stunted and blunted by their well-meaning parents. Many others had no idea that anything was missing or wrong, yet were nevertheless greatly affected by it.
The first group heroically vowed to raise their children differently. They taught themselves how emotions work, and tried to pay attention to yours as they raised you.Then they went on to teach these skills to their children. If you are a Gen-X or millenial, and your parents did this for you, I encourage you to give them credit, as they have fought for your emotional health.
The second group were not able to do this for themselves. They inadvertently, probably through no fault of their own, could not see what they did not get. Perhaps their parents were more silent, more traumatized, or more blind to them. Perhaps they grew up with little access to information about psychology and the science of emotion, or perhaps they were not able to take it in or process it. But no matter why it happened, these boomer parents unfortunately passed the Emotional Neglect of the silent generation right down to their Gen-X and millennial children. You.
5. Now, It’s Your Turn
As the world moves forward, we keep learning more and more about the neurology of emotion. How it’s wired into our brains and bodies, and why. How essential our emotions are to being able to live fully and reach our potential. Thanks to science, and the relative absence of mass deprivation and world war for almost two full generations (fingers crossed on that), we are now in a time to take advantage of this great resource inside of us, and learn to use it to its max.
Whatever your boomer parents were able to give you, or not give you, emotionally has left an imprint on you. But you are the future of humanity. You are the group who will take us forward and leave your imprint on the coming generations.
Will you look for the emotion in yourself and your children? Will you learn (or use) the emotion skills that your boomer parents either didn’t have, or had to scramble to learn themselves? Will you make sure that you are able to teach them to your children?
Dear GenX and millennials, I have deep sympathy for the weight of history that we place upon your shoulders, and the powerful responsibility of the baton that we press into your palms.
Can you give your children what you never got yourself? There’s no denying, it is your turn now.
Our future is in your hands.
Emotional Neglect is silent and invisible, so it can be hard to know if you grew up with it. To find out, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire.
To learn more about the challenges, experiences and characteristics of each of the generations, see this excellent description.