Thursday, December 03, 2015

Parental Behavior

Megan McArdle's What Really Scares Helicopter Parents is interesting in itself, and feel free to comment on that. But a trend in parents' use of time jumped out at me.  If helicopter-prone parents are spending more time with their children, and working more hours, then what are they no longer doing?

I suggest it is time with other adults, in groups. Dave Barry writes about the parties his parents threw in his childhood - indoor parties, outdoor parties, dress-up, dress-down, themed and unthemed - and how that has not been so great a part of his life. I recognised immediately what he was talking about.  My parents often went to largish get-togethers at other people's houses, or held them at their own. It might be the bridge club or curling club or golf club members getting together purely socially, with no curling stone in sight.  There were company events. There were enough annual events that they added up.  And as every reader of Bowling Alone knows, there were the groups themselves and their own meetings. Barry remembers that children were not invited to many of them, nor was this thought odd.  Children were expected to take some job such as bringing in chafing dishes from the kitchen or setting up tables, or get lost.

Tracy and I have done some of getting together with adults, but the children were often in tow.  We went to some church parties for the adults when we were a young couple in the 70's.. We initially went to some work parties, but discontinued that. As the children grew up, they stopped coming to what is still called Bible Study, which has met weekly for almost 4 decades, though the Bibles were left behind years ago. But that is a group of four couples.  Its annual Jesse Tree and July 4th celebrations were the center of the social year from 1983-2005, but no more. I think our children do even less entertaining than that. Sons 2 and 3 seem to go to large get-togethers put on by others. Whether that will persist when they are married with children remains to be seen.

I think the 25-55 cohort has even less getting together as adults than we did.

There is also the amount of time men (and now women) put into following sports and news as well. No one watched football all Saturday or Sunday, or equivalently followed it on radio or internet. There was A Game on each weekend day, which expanded to two some time in the 1980's. Baseball was followed on a radio playing at the workbench or in the kitchen, in the background while you did something else. That gradually changed as well, but it was simply a different world then. A fanatic follower of sports read three pages of the daily newspaper intently and got a weekly magazine. He watched as many games as were on TV - less than five total, all sports, and he went to an occasional local event, especially if he had a son or friend involved.  News was much the same. After you'd read the paper and watched the 6 O'Clock News, there wasn't much else.  The 11 O'Clock News was pretty much the same, so that was an alternative, not an addition.

Much of radio was music only, without commentary.  Public radio was classical or light jazz. Background music. You did other things.

McArdle's points about the types of jobs and the implications of that also grabbed me. Businesses that could be passed on, where we now have only routes through bureaucracies which must be navigated. That is not an either-or, certainly.  Men went off on trains, and then in cars, to work in the cities in businesses they did not own quite far back.  But there was certainly more of the family business model then, and it affected how parents treated their children. But even if you have a family business these days, it is probably closing down when you retire.  Children learned skills they liked better, they didn't need your shop, and they have careers up and running that they aren't going to change when you decide to cut back on your hours.

I wonder about the old model, and if it was even possible for me to go that route, even with perfect hindsight.  What business could I have built that even one of my sons might like to continue?  I can't think of any off the top of my head.


RichardJohnson said...

I wonder about the old model, and if it was even possible for me to go that route, even with perfect hindsight. What business could I have built that even one of my sons might like to continue? I can't think of any off the top of my head.

Of my 6 surviving cousins- one was killed in an auto accident before he turned 30- most are entrepreneurs: artist, ad agency, pawnshop, medical software, farm [though this cousin worked for a big corporation before he retired. He inherited the farm, which represented investments my uncle made while working other jobs.]. My aunt started the ad agency; my cousin bought it from my aunt when she retired after spending time as an apprentice. One cousin started the pawnshop- this can be passed on to children, though there are some controversies here regarding disposition. The artist entrepreneur business cannot be passed on, for obvious reasons. The farm can be passed on. Medical software- the one child is not interested in the field.

For you, perhaps you could have worked as a psychiatric worker consultant, though passing that on to your children would have involved your children getting on in the same field. Restaurants are one business where one finds a lot of family involvement.Very few ma and pa restaurants are passed on to the children, as the children do not want to work 100 hours a week as their parents did.

OTOH, one can follow in the profession of a parent without inheriting a business. A second cousin works as a biophysicist professor - with MS in Chemistry. His father was a chemist, as is his daughter: three generations of chemists. This doesn't involve passing on a family business, but it speaks to generational continuity. Nature versus nurture, I leave to another discussion.

Thos. said...

If I had become a surveyor (which, in hindsight, I should have done), I could conceivably pass that business on to one of my children - some of whom are actually temperamentally suited to that profession.
But there's not many other options that I can think of, and even the ones that might work are little better than a roll of the dice.

The other complication in our day and age is that our extended lifespans interfere with the ability to hand off a business to an heir at the right time of life for both parties. The heir - in order for taking over the business to be attractive - needs to be able to do that at a point that this represents a reasonable growth step (in terms of professional development, compensation and the debt burden he's taking on. The parent needs to be able to either retain the business until late in life, or cash out enough of the asset that he can retire comfortably.

For most small sole proprietorships, the likelihood that both circumstances are going to occur simultaneously is vanishingly small. As a result, most children who have skills and experience that give them meaningful options for employment are going to be faced with the reality that there are better deals than taking over Mom and Pop's business.

Christopher B said...

I agree with you about the change in time allocation. Children's activities seem to take up much more parent time than when I was growing up. The number of leisure activities (growing up on a farm, there were a considerable number of work activities that involved either one or both parents) that we shared with our parents were generally limited to special family excursions. My parents regularly attended Farm Bureau, church, and political meetings that were adults only (and child care not provided in those days), and adults at children's events (church programs, Scouts, 4-H) were limited to the appointed leaders.

I think she has the right idea about the shift in inheritance though I do wonder if she has the details right. I'm also skeptical that passing on a small business was that common in the past. Like Unknown I wonder if it's more a case of longer life spans for parents making it likely that they will either consume their savings after retirement before death, or that their children will age into retirement (something I see happening around me) before they pass on. The other thing to keep in mind is that the concept of a retirement, especially a lengthy one, is relatively recent.

Laura said...

I think that the "helicopter parent" trend is a delayed result of the widespread introduction of birth control. Obviously, BC lowers the total number of children people have-- helicopter parenting is demanding-but-possible for the average 1-2 kid families typical today, but totally preposterous for the 5-6 kid families typical of 1960. But more subtly, BC turned having kids from something that just happened to married people from time to time, to something that could (then should, then MUST) be planned and justified. And if a kid is a project that MUST be planned and justified at the beginning, then the same mind-set will eventually become how the parents treat the kid from then on out.

It took a full generation for the implications to fully propagate through society-- kids raised in the 1970s (like me) still had parents who were one of many, raised by parents who simply couldn't micromanage them that much. But even then, the trend was starting: for example, my sister and I got to play soccer (one practice after school, one game per weekend, tournaments on long weekends). That would have been impossible for my mother, as one of seven kids; "soccer moms" didn't-- couldn't-- exist in the 1950s. Now, there's a positive arms race for getting your kids to sports, music, enrichment, tutoring, etc., a whole infrastructure of stuff to support this kind of mindset.

RichardJohnson said...

The other complication in our day and age is that our extended lifespans interfere with the ability to hand off a business to an heir at the right time of life for both parties.

Good point. The cousin with the pawnshop ran into that problem where a middle-aged son working in the pawnshop thought it was time for the parents to pass the business on. The parents did not agree. Not just yet- especially since the son's attention to work details was not up to par. The result is that there is a non-family member now working in the pawnshop, and there are not as many people at holiday meals as before. And cousin and spouse are working full time in their 70s.

OTOH, my aunt with the ad agency wanted to retire at 65, which turned out just fine for her son. He had 5+ years of apprenticeship, and was ready to fly on his own.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I'm enjoying the comments to this more than my own post.

Retriever said...

We actually could have worked in and inherited the family business (a multinational fish farm one) but my dad was a tyrant and we didn't like the way the industry was going (i.e.: contracts w oil companies to feed fish petroleum by products, antibiotics in tanks,etc. also you can't operate in the Third World without bribing corrupt local officials who want their Benz and/or hurting local poor people. We kids were bleeding heart liberals as my Dad was, who wanted to benefit starving Third World people by sharing the technology, while making a modest profit. Which is not what has happened with aquaculture.

In addition, historically most family businesses involved a lot of personal misery with kids being bossed around, waiting for the old man to die so they could be in charge at last. One shouldn't romanticize the exploitation of unpaid family labor. Or the demoralization of people perpetually kept in their family roles, cast as the dumb one, the unreliable one, etc

More later