What this Generation of Children Really Wants from Parents

BackyardpoolIn a survey conducted by Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute over a thousand children were asked, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?”

What would your children say if they were asked this question?

Think about it for a minute or two. This is a profound idea.

I asked our thirteen-year-old son Ammon this question, and his immediate response was, “I don’t know.”

Many thirteen-year-old boys use this as a pat answer for a lot of questions.

When I pressed him further, he said, “I guess, um, I would wish you guys to be less intense about things, just relax more and have fun.”

I was shocked by his answer, not because it didn’t make sense, but because it also happens to be the number one answer of the children in Galinsky’s poll.


As author Bruce Feiler summarized the poll: Children were asked what their one wish was for their parents, and most “parents predicted their kids would say spending more time with them. They were wrong. The kids’ number one wish was that their parents were less tired and less stressed.”

I have three thoughts about this.

First, people should read Bruce Feiler’s excellent new book, The Secrets of Happy Families.

It is full of tidbits like this that will help parents improve their family.

Second, it’s interesting that today’s Generation X parents thought the kids would want more time with them.

That’s exactly what the Gen Xers, also known as the Latch-Key generation, wanted from their own parents.

But in truth, Gen Xers are notorious for being extremely involved in the daily lives and activities of their children, and if anything for over-scheduling and over-planning their kids’ lives.

They are the mini-van moms and mini-van dads who spend countless hours driving their kids from one activity and lesson to another.

But, third, all that planning and activity takes its toll, and today’s parents are frequently stressed and tired.

Isn’t it interesting how generations learn from each other?

The Generational Approach

The Boomers were self-absorbed on career and personal interests, so their latch-key kids wanted more attention from parents.

When these Xers grew up and had families, they vowed to focus more on their children, and they often live their lives exhausted from work and all the many activities and events they participate in with their kids.

As a result, their children wish their parents would relax and enjoy life a little more.

It isn’t hard to imagine such children vowing to not smother their own kids and to instead have a deeply self-fulfilled life, resulting in another generation that feels a bit ignored.

Such are the cycles of history.

But how can we find more relaxation and rest along with less intensity and stress in our daily lives?

I asked Ammon this question, and he said: “Well, um, you could try harder…”  Then he laughed.

“But wouldn’t trying harder tend to make us less able to relax?” I countered.

“Well, I guess we’ll never know unless you take the risk.”

This was basically a long oration for Ammon, who likes to limit his commentary to one-word answers or better still grunts, so I asked the same questions to his little sister Abigail (age 7):

Dad: “If you could have one wish granted about your parents, what would it be?”

Abi: “For them to stay together forever.”

Dad: “Are you concerned that we won’t?”

Abi: “Yes.”

Dad: “Really? That surprises me. Why does that worry you?’

Abi: “Um, because I know so many parents of my friends who get divorced.”

That’s an interesting insight into this generation. After I assured Abi that we’re staying together forever, I asked the question to nine-year-old Meri.

Dad: “If you could have one wish granted about your parents, what would it be?”

MerI: “That we would have another baby.”

Okay, I didn’t want to go anywhere near that answer. So I asked sixteen-year-old Eliza: “If you could have one wish granted about your parents, what would it be?”

Eliza: “I would just want you guys to relax more and enjoy more things in life. You deserve to have a lot more fun.”

Well, now we know.

Our kids think we’re too intense, too tired, too focused on doing work things (both in career and at home) instead of having more fun.

Come to think of it, I thought that about my own parents at ages 13 and 16.

But Galinsky’s survey is a real wake-up call for today’s parents.

When Doing Less is Worth More

Many modern kids see their parents as too tired and stressed from their daily lives, and a large part of their concern is that parents are doing too many things for their children—constantly involved in consuming activities and events away from home.

The question arises, is this really that much better than what the latch-key children experienced?

Most of today’s parents will immediately balk at this thought, but give it a second look.

The latch-key generation wanted parents who were more attentive to them, so the Xers plan, strategize, enroll, meet, call, email, text, discuss and plan—all to keep their kids involved in multiple activities.

But it turns out that while the kids appreciate the attention, it isn’t exactly what they’re looking for.

They thrive when there are fewer external activities and a lot more relaxed, direct interaction in the home—less with other people and more with family members.

Family reading in the evenings, time spent playing catch at the park, sitting around the table for a card game, working together on chores, laughing together while a parent tells stories and washes dishes with a couple of kids, playing croquet on the lawn, or sledding down a small hill in the new snow—these things usually (surprisingly) create more lasting memories and better bonding than the more planned events.

We once took our kids to SeaWorld on a special homeschool day, and years later they still all rave about their memories from the trip—but the memory they talk about is swimming at the heated hotel pool.

Nobody ever mentions the theme park, though it took hours of planning and months of careful saving.

In contrast, the pool was a free amenity that took exactly no planning at all.

Simplicity, not Complexity

So, message to today’s parents: Is it time to relax and just get real, to slow down and stop over-planning everything?

Are we sometimes looking past the real opportunities for family bonding and learning because we are too motivated by the big, the exciting, the institutional, something that requires big planning and significant expense?

Gen X may give the kids more attention, but are we spending too much of our family focus on the wrong things?

A drive to the local library, or a short discussion of a fun book, or even a spontaneous family barbecue in the evening—these are frequently the best settings for real family connection and effective learning.

Is it time for Gen X to stop thinking in terms of achievement, of impressing others, of checking off boxes in our plans, and instead to simply bond in the ways families have bonded throughout history?

Is it the small and simple things that most tie the bonds of family, after all?

If I were granted one wish about this generation of parents, myself included, it would be that we relax and engage the profound power of small, simple and consistent interactions in the home—both for parenting and educating.

Next time you find yourself caught up in planning a big event for the kids, stop, laugh at yourself, put away your plans, and go find a child.

Put him on your lap and read him a story or teach him how to make a whistle out of a stick, or ask her to go on a walk with you and just talk about whatever comes up.

Today’s kids want their parents to relax, and it’s about time we let their wisdom take the lead.

(Note: When my daughter Emma read this article, she summarized its message as: “When parents are more relaxed, they are more inspiring.” So true)

For more ideas on creating a great love of learning environment, see “Core and Love of Learning Seminar Highlights”.