Editor’s Note: The following post was originally a comment about the Soviet childhood left on the Who Is Generation X page. I thought it offered a revealing and fascinating glimpse into life for Soviet and Russian youth and children who came of age during the 1970s to 1990s. Many thanks and godspeed to the author. Also, I feel compelled to share that in the past, I have talked with historians who do not believe Russians who grew up during the Gen-X years fit the Nomad generational archetype as defined by Neil Howe and the late William Strauss. This post, however, underscores some striking similarities between Soviet and American youth who came of age together during the Cold War, albeit worlds and ideologies apart.
Hello Everyone/ Jennifer,
I’m X-Gener born in 77 and recently got interested in all this Boomers/Gen-X/Millenials topic, probably reflecting on my past, as myself and my friends are all in early-mid 40ties and we often discuss among the “how to get a mortgage” the topics of relationship with parents (aka Boomers) and young people at workplace (aka Millenials).
Soviet Latchkey Kids
What surprised me was the founding that the term “latchkey generation” is widely applicable to me and my friends! But I’m from USSR, immigrated to Europe short after leaving the college and my friends are in similar positions from different countries of Europe! The Soviet childhood and Boomer parents seems to be not much different from US childhood and parents these days, from what I read! Personally, I consider myself lucky to have grandparents waiting me in the house after school, but I still wore a key on the latch on my neck and so all my school friends (majority of them were not lucky to have grandparents waiting them at home).
“X-Gen” Soviet Childhood
Now myself and my friends are reflecting on our childhoods, we find a lot of similarities. Let me see if you or other readers will find similarities with their X-gen childhood:
You would be totally responsible to go to school in the morning and being at home by X o’clock to answer the “control phone call”. If any problem occurred in between ( you got stopped/beaten by bad guys asking money from you, you missed the bus to school, you forgot you homework etc etc) – it would be *your* problem and all “help” you could possible get from your parents would be either some generic advice (“you need to stand up and defend yourself”) or some kick in the a** (“next time you forget your homework, Im going to …”). But no actual help. No parents would consider to go walk me to school, take care of bullies, or move me to school closer to the house.
Later, when you turned 12-13 you would suppose to cook dinner for the whole family and clean the house. If you had younger brothers/sisters you would have to take full care of them too. Until parents will come back (usually 7-8 p.m.). There was no Internet to ask and majority of houses had a gas cookers.
You would have to go to after-school activities all by yourself. Your parents would not care if you like it or not, if they decided that you need to take piano lessons three times a week at another end of your town, you had to go there and take them. And be bloody successful, otherwise.. My wife in her 10 had to go to violin classes in the dark and snow (imagine Siberia winter?) to another end of the city, but in fact what she wanted was art classes or dance. Nobody asked as what we wanted to do. If we wanted to do something we either had to do it secretly (for example, my friend was sneaking to karate classes secretly in hope someday to take care of the bullies, after his piano lessons, for the money he was saving from lunches.. typical..)
If there is any competition on anything – you had to participate and win. Otherwise…
Dreams of a Bicycle, An Ice Cream
We was restricted on everything. You want ice-cream? Did you deserved it? Show me your school diary first? Do you know that you only can have ice creams on Saturdays? (and the ice cream cost was equivalent of 20 cent today…can you explain it?) The biggest dream of a teenager was to have a bicycle. Then later on – Walkman. Later on – TV video game. But majority of us worked its own money to buy Walkman and TV video game. In terms of the bicycle and other toys – it was easier to build your own toy and/or bicycle from old junk than beg your parents to buy it. My school friend, who became HW engineer later, built his own ZX Spectrum, when he was 13-14! .. It was easier, because the answer to anything was “we have no money” or “you cant have that”. No explanation.
“Street Defined Everything”
We was on the street majority of the time. Street defined everything. Only real achievements matter. You could not bu**it everyone by saying that you are boxing champion, dance master or great singer. Show it. Prove it. Can’t play Scorpions hit on the guitar? Sorry, no women for you bro 😉 But if you do so, you deserve respect. If you just blahblah – no one will ever talk or play or mingle with you again (or you even can be beaten). There was a term for this “to be able to prove your words” (should be English equivalent to this?). Think that resulted very little number of bul***ters, liars and “trumpeters” in our generation. Ever. If I say I do it – I do it. I won’t write 1000 words blog post about it or tell everyone how great I am. I just do it. Same goes for my friends and people of my generation.
To summarize on the X-gen childhood – I must admit that our parents, Boomers, was *the worst* parents you would ever imagine. Yes, I can “prove for my words” (see above). Our parents gave very little direction to us. After all these years (as I have two children myself) I can acknowledge that. Our parents were selfish, thinking only about there ambition, didn’t wanted us and didn’t loved us. F**ng narcissists, hoping to fulfill their dreams by using us. And now, they pretend do not understand why we hate them as we grow older in the 40ties. In the cheap Soviet society (I cant answer for US, sorry guys), they would not have to pay for any single thing that we have to pay for now as X-geners. Childcare – free, medicine – free, schools – free. All the afterschool classes – costs very little (10-20 euro/month modern equivalent) ! All that they have to do in their life is go to work, pretend they work and go back home. Many of them even got houses “for free” from government. And still, yet, they would rather die that spend another 20cent on ice cream if it would be not on Saturday or force their children into something they hated, just to boost their ego. All the free time and money they had they spent on themselves. As example, my friends parents moved from three-bed into one-bed house (but in a better location) and she had to sleep in the kitchen from 13yo till she finished school. There was no room for her. She recently found out that her parents had, in fact, huge savings on bank account after selling that 3 bed bed house.
Still Middle Management: Tired and Exhausted
Now as X-gener, I had to work hard all those years I can remember, pay for every little and not little thing (childcare, school, after-school classes, medicine), still many of us in mid 40ties do not own a house or have a job in senior management (thanks to Boomers). Honestly, I feel quite tired and exhausted from that life race, as me my friends, and my wife had actually very little time dedicated to ourselves in our lifes. Priority of taking care of others and self-sacrifice is the main thing of our generation. On one hand we had to take care of Boomers as they old now (and you have to take care of old people, aren’t you?) and then Millenials as they are still bunch of narcissistic infantils. Will this ever be over?
Gen X: Cheated and Robbed
I feel that our generation has been cheated and robbed. In fact, I find very little commonalities with my parents and Millenials. Its like all our purpose is to be a servants on their party. Strangely enough, I found a lot in common with G.I. generation, aka my grandparents. To whom I speak, tell me about good connection with grandpa/grandma too. They were always there to listen and help if they could. At least for my case. They also had a robbed childhood because of war and had a time and patience to tell and teach us anything.
To summarize – I’m very happy to find out that I’m not alone in my reflections. Yes, we, X-geners, may be little in numbers, but we can stand for ourselves. As the Boomers fading out every day, think we have a great chance and opportunity to fix the mess that they left. Who else if not us? We got used to clean up messes, aren’t we? 🙂 And, most important, to make sure that our children will never be “latchkey” generation.