Turning Our Hearts Toward One Another

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By John Seel, Ph.D.

Life can put one’s emotions into a pressure cooker. Nothing does this more than family challenges. My tight-knit family is dealing with the combination of a funeral and wedding within a month of each other. All of the wounds, past tensions, and unresolved relationships, as well as the joys, love, and shared memories, find their way to the front burner. Our millennial children are right in the middle of this. It is not easy terrain to navigate.

In general, millennials are not alienated from their parents. There is much less generational conflict between boomers and millennials than between previous generations—as both feel a mutual responsibility to care for one another. This is a beautiful thing, another point to celebrate, though it is often overlooked in the negative press about millennials.

In some ways, the economic realities of millennials make this affinity a necessity. The Pew Research Center data shows that about 36% of women and 48% of men ages 18-34 lived with their families in 1940. For the first time since 1940, these numbers have crept higher today. There are certainly economic benefits gained by living with one’s parents, especially with the stranglehold of college debt and the high cost of real estate. But this also means that an increasing number of millennial children will be dealing in the coming years with their parents’ failing health. This reality can be a relational explosive device.

Some of our most enduring wounds happen in and because of our family relationships.

Some of our most enduring wounds happen in and because of our family relationships. We are heavily shaped, for better or worse, by the dynamics of these relationships. While we have a deep need to honor our parents, sometimes this means having to pity them for their failures and blind spots. To honor our parents means to be thankful for their existence and to respect their role as our life-givers. But because we are so dependent upon our parents and for so long, it means that they are also one of the greatest sources of our deep-seated emotional wounds. Forgiveness is often required. One of the great benefits of spiritual pilgrimage is when the hearts of the fathers turn to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

While there is less open antagonism between generations, there remains a great deal of incomprehension. Boomer parents are often baffled by the priorities and life choices of their children. One of the goals of my forthcoming book, The New Copernicans (Thomas Nelson, January, 2018) is to help parents get a better grasp of their millennial children. There is logic and consistency in millennial life choices, but it is only appreciated when examined through their unique conceptual frame. Working on getting a better understanding of each other’s frames about relationships and reality—each other’s ways of seeing and understanding the world—will go a long way toward preparing family systems for the inevitability of failing health and the necessity of mutual care.

A growing mutual dependency is inevitable. What we need is a deeper dependency without a growing antagonism. It is indeed time to turn our hearts toward one another.

John Seel is a consultant, writer, cultural analyst, and cultural renewal entrepreneur. He is the founder of John Seel Consulting LLC, a social impact consulting firm working with people and projects that foster human flourishing and the common good. The former director of cultural engagement at the John Templeton Foundation, he is a national expert on millennials and the New Copernicans. He has an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland (College Park). He and his wife, Kathryn, live in Lafayette Hill, PA. He directs the New Copernican Empowerment Dialogues at The Sider Center at Eastern University. This post originally appeared on his blog, New Copernican Conversations.

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