Earning the Right to be Heard
I was almost 30 when I had my first baby. At the time, I was a high school teacher and theatre director and both mine and my husband's careers didn’t leave much time for a family. Once we decided to have kids, we had four in pretty rapid succession. Now, I’m a stay-at-home mom and friends with a lot of former students on social media (and in real life). I have students whose kids are older than mine, some about the same age, and some with babies or no kids. It’s kind of weird to be in the same life stage as my “kids” as I used to call them, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to encourage them and learn from them.
Let me start by saying one of my pet peeves is how we (meaning people of my generation or older) treat millennials. From making sweeping generalizations, to blaming them, to judging their every move. One of the greatest joys of my life was to be a teacher of people who are considered millennials. When people were making fun of their apathy or laziness, I was working alongside them being inspired by their intelligence and heart for others. I came to realize that people who pick on millennials were usually people who didn’t know very many of them personally. It’s not lost on me that this entire paragraph is filled with the same sweeping generalizations I’m complaining about, but put that aside and hear me out.
If you are a Gen. X, a Boomer, or from the Silent Generation, listen up. We need to improve the way we speak to young adults. Collectively, we have a lot of wisdom. We owe it to younger generations to share that wisdom, but we cannot do that until we treat them with respect.
Let me tell you a story about a girl I know and love. She took her little boy out to lunch one day at a place that offers small portions, regular-sized portions, and large portions. She ordered a regular size portion and a kid’s meal for her son. Another woman (a total stranger mind you) made a remark about how she chooses to get the mini portion because it’s plenty of food. My friend thanked her politely and turned her attention back to her son. Later in the meal, this woman stopped by another time to say she was full from the mini portion. There are a lot of reasons my friend could have chosen the regular portion. Maybe she’s nursing or skipped a meal and is really hungry. Maybe she likes to take home left-overs for a second meal. Maybe she has a good metabolism. Maybe she just wanted the regular portion because it’s THE REGLAR PORTION which by definition is the one people usually get. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what her reason was. She’s an adult and can make her own choices. And that woman didn’t earn the right to speak into her life knowing nothing about her.
Here’s another one, and variations of this story are everywhere. A couple doesn’t have children. There are a number of reasons for that to be true, but for some reason, people see that as a free pass for inappropriate questions and comments. If you’re a woman, you've been on the receiving end or have given one of these comments. It’s the innocuous, “When are you going to start a family?” or “Do you ever think about having kids?” You’re thinking, “I am forced to think about it all the time by people like you.” Unless you are a close friend to someone who has made it clear that you are in a part of their circle where they want you to know that information, SAY NOTHING AT ALL. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your own kids. You can tell an occasional story about something cute your toddler said, but don’t end with anything like, “You’ll understand one day when you have kids.” I don’t need to go into why on this. If you really think about it, you know.
I remember talking to a friend when I was a new mom. She didn’t have kids and I said, “Well, be careful if you do decide to have kids, because it can happen really quick.” To which my friend, said, “ Well, it hasn’t happened in a year in a half, so it may never happen for us.” That was the first and probably last time I said something totally stupid about that subject, because I knew what I said was hurtful. Before you say anything to anyone about their choice to reproduce, consider any and every situation they may be in and skip it.
This is true of people with a lot of kids too. We have four and I’ve heard everything from “You’ve got your hands full,” (about 10 times a day) to “You must be so tired,” to “You know what causes that don’t you?” When I get that comment, the evil side of me wants to give them all the details about how we became pregnant with our babies. If they feel like they have a right to comment on it, maybe I should overshare.
Outside of baby-having and body image things, we dump on millennials for tons of stuff. How they dress, how they spend their money, selfies, trigger-warnings, products they use, what they eat, how they parent, how they're snowflakes, you name it, we judge. This is ridiculous for two reasons:
Every generation is guilty of this stuff.
Most of what we rag on about millennials, we caused by raising them that way.
Aside from being decent humans, why does this discussion matter? (Note: it matters that we are decent humans.) But beyond that, we are older and hopefully that means we are wiser in some areas. Young women need older women to speak into their lives and we need to train up younger women. But the girl in the first example will be harder to reach because of that rude woman in the restaurant. Couples struggling with decisions about starting a family will be less apt to seek advice from people because some jerks tried to make it their business when it wasn’t.
I know these comments happen within generations too. We've all been hurt by someone our own age. But today I'm choosing to focus on how we talk to younger women because I know how important it is to have wise, older women in my life.
When we make comments (well-meaning or not) that are out of line, we are building barriers between the generations and that’s dangerous. I love talking to younger women. I love to encourage them and learn from them and I know others who are like me. We can’t be heard until all of us get better at this. Let’s get better at this. Before you talk, ask yourself the following three questions:
Have I earned the right to speak into this person’s life?
Have I thought through all the situations this person may be in?
Is what I’m about to say helpful? (If not, it’s probably hurtful)
If the answer to any of these questions is no, don’t proceed. Say something like, “You’re doing a great job” or “You are beautiful” and move on. Then, when someone wants your advice, she may ask for it. And what an opportunity that will be.