Parents gone wild

December 4, 2007, 5:42 PM UTC

On the way back from a biz trip to Miami last week, I picked up a copy of Details, enticed by the “Ultimate Guide to Office Etiquette” coverline. Leaving aside for the moment how much of a dork this makes me — after all, I do it for you guys — turns out I probably should have paid more attention to the ones that asked, “Are You Dating a ‘Tweenager’?” and “Are Your Parents Squandering Your Inheritance?”

Before you click off in disgust, a bit of explanation: I’ve been struck recently not so much by how Yers have been acting, but how parents are behaving.

Consider the aforementioned Details stories. “Tweenager” decries the 35-going-on-12 woman, the center of a “Big Girl Epidemic” that has grown women wearing babydolls, “OMG”ing all over the place, and shrieking over The Hills. And the inheritance story sports the somewhat alarming headline, “It’s Time To Cut Your Parents Off: Mom and Dad are living it up well into their sixties. Guess who’ll pay for it?” According to the story, a Fidelity Investments survey in March not only found that the average Boomer has saved “a paltry $45,000,” but also that “one in five households led by 25-to-42-year-olds has either begun providing financial support to their parents or expect to soon.”

And if you weren’t frightened enough, just flip a few more pages to “Totally Blonde,” where the Girls Next Door are joined by 40-something Real Housewives of Orange County Lauri Waring and Tamra Barney in an, um, swimsuit photo essay the cover calls, “The California Blondes Taking Over Your Sexual Fantasies.” (Notably absent were either of the housewives’ grown children. I’ll let you Google this one on your own.)

Yikes. Admittedly, on the right day, I too might be called a Big Girl. I love The Hills, have long favored the empire waist, and abbreviate with the best of them — and you know my feelings about emoticons. But that sort of thing is generally reserved for indulgent conversations with my girlfriends, not the general public, and I think many of my peers would say the same. And even then, at 27 — despite a melding of pop culture and youth culture that to some extent legitimizes this hair-twirling act — I can actually feel myself aging out of this demo.

Why, then, are people our moms’ age trying so hard to be twentysomethings again? And if they were, was it judgmental to begrudge them that? It’s not as if it hurts us. If Housewife Waring wants to look her kids’ age — as she told Details, “I will never look a day older than 32” — and she can, well, good for her. Maybe.

Even as I was pondering these pressing questions, what should come on but Keeping Up With the Kardashians, featuring another mom gone wild, Kris Jenner, whose necklines, hemlines, naughty mouth, inability to tell the truth, and, oh, everything else often drive even her less than demure daughters to comment. As my friend Jon Caramanica wrote in the LA Times this weekend, “This is a family with severe boundary issues — it is Kris who encourages Kim to pose for Playboy and who cheerily does crisis management about Kim’s sex tape. She seems more interested in the cameras than Kim is.”

And therein lies the problem, right? It does hurt us. Sure, Kim might not have been destined for a Nobel, but with her mom’s expert parenting, she bypassed all the other options and went straight to reality TV caricature and sex object. And the saddest part is, whatever Kim’s feelings about her “career,” she’s obviously living out her mom’s dream. It takes stage-mothering to a whole different place, moving it from behind the scenes to an embarrassing front-and-center.

It isn’t so much that I want our moms to become decrepit hags, rocking away their twilight years over embroidery and weak tea. I appreciate the desire to stay youthful, and the need to build friendships with one’s children — based in part on shared interests and tastes — but surely succumbing to these pressures at the expense of good parenting isn’t the answer. Rather, it’d be awesome if our parents would both take care of themselves and act like adults, so as to, you know, set an example. (Maybe forgo that tanning session for an episode of What Not to Wear; Stacy London would set ’em straight.) And it’s not to suggest that these parents don’t love their children; in fact, I’d bet that if they really knew how their actions would affect their children in the long-term, they’d be horrified and repentant.

But obviously, they don’t know. And the children (we) do end up paying for it. It’s something we first mentioned on The Gig in our “Gen Y on ’60 Minutes'” post — the idea that if we’re not acting our age, it might just be because our parents aren’t either. Perhaps our helicoptering parents put too much of their own lives on hold for us, and now, finally able to do their own thing, they’re overdoing it. Clearly, I’m not sure exactly how I feel yet, but I bet some of you are. What do you think? Is this a case of out-of-control parents, or uptight kids? Or is it just a matter of our parents trying to live their best — albeit somewhat irresponsible — lives, which in the end, is exactly what we want, too?


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