As “boomers” we were used to getting lots of attention up to a point. Then the other generations were born and to advertisers, they seemed to be a lot more interesting. What has divided “us” from “them” in my view, is technology. I was fortunate to have had a father who was a high tech aeronautical engineer. He introduced me to computers in the 60s. In a speech class I gave a talk on computers in about 1969. The class was very bored and they giggled at my ridiculous topic. I felt humiliated. My father used to take me to his office which was involved in missile defense. Downstairs in the basement were several large frame computers kept cold because of necessity. He showed me how the information went in and was processed and then released printed data. My father was always scribbling bizarre formulas on yellow pads. He loved his work and would sit in his chair and scribble his formulas long into the night.
His generation went to school and graduate school in order to excel in their fields. I felt there was a promise made that if we just put our time in after college we would eventually climb the ladder to promotions. This was not actually the case. When we came out of college, many women with college degrees still had to be secretaries or administrative assistants. Things have changed. Expectations of graduates have changed. It wasn’t long before my supervisors were much younger than me and had very little experience in the field of mental health. Something seems to have gone amiss in our group. Somehow it feels like we were born just at the wrong time. It was the wrong time for getting attention because we were such a large group. There was a population explosion and we were part of that. There was a women’s movement that literally turned our lives and our thinking upside down. I remember in the 1970s, having been raised one way, to marry and have children, how suddenly everything seemed to have changed. After taking some women’s studies courses in college I felt very confused and angry. The awareness of how unequal marriage really was and how unfair the job market was, was pretty infuriating. I wasn’t even sure why I was in college except for the fact that I grew up in an affluent Jewish community that expected academic excellence. I was getting different messages at home from my “old school” parents. My father didn’t believe in a college education for a daughter and often said “you will get married and your brother will have to make a living”. That’s not the same messages my peers were getting but that’s how it was in my house.
In my work and my career as a licensed mental health professional I have encountered so many people in person and through phone counseling programs across the US who are in our age group. Many women are disillusioned. They find themselves in their 50s, divorced, without support, barely making ends meet and not sure at all how they will ever retire. Some, like me, have a disabled child. My son is autistic and has become 100% my responsibility. Others had kids with drug problems or mental illness or both. Since 2008 there have been many home foreclosures and people in these later stages of life who are starting over. There seems to be more agism in the workplace. I experienced that myself in a corporate setting. Proving that you’ve been mistreated because of your age is not an easy task.
It feels at times that we are the forgotten generation. There is a lot of attention put on the elderly or the young. Many men and women are having children in their 40s and 50s and so by the age of 60 they still have young children. I find that many women, especially, that I have worked with are unable to keep up with the technical demands of today’s world. These are observations that I’ve made and it seems important to bring out these issues. Our generation doesn’t always ask for or expect help. We muddle through. We manage but we suffer silently. We’ve put our kids’ needs at the forefront of our lives, more than, perhaps, many of our parents ever did. We are more in tune with the needs of our children than they were. We are more educated and aware of their needs because our own weren’t always met.
The point of this blog is not to complain and bring people down but to point out how resilient and intelligent our group really is. We are undervalued in today’s world and our talents are often overlooked by younger superiors at work. I noticed that I have become more and more silent in group situations as I observe people of varying ages so full of confidence and certainty about their abilities even though I’ve had years more experience. Sometimes it feels as though experience has no value at all.
How can we age gracefully? How can we start making our needs known as a group? What sets us apart from other generations? What makes us unique and special? How can we regain our voice? We were so vocal in the 60s and 70s and we were the center of it all. Now I sense some disillusionment and disappointment over a world gone mad in many respects. Many marriages haven’t lasted but our parent’s generation stayed together “no matter what”. Many women are single in their 50s and 60s and wondering what retirement will be for them. How can we make the rest of our lives rich and satisfying? I am struggling with that question myself.