One of the very rare benefits of having kids, at least for me, is the exposure to a new generation of music. I have to admit I have gotten tired of the artists from my youth and young adulthood so hearing and learning this next generation of artists has been enjoyable. There is one particular artist I’ve taken a liking to. His stage name is “Marshmello” on account of his eponymously shaped stage mask. Marshmello creates Dance/Electronic Songs that are fun, happy, and most importantly to me, from a time management perspective, his stuff is ideal for working out to. I can put on Pandora, tune into the Marshmello radio channel, and listen to an entire genre of music that is both new to me, and meets the audio needs related to cardio and weight lifting, which is the last bit of time I have in my schedule allowing me to sample new music. There is one particular song that’s in rotation on the station by Twenty One Pilots, another artist, called Stressed Out. It was a mega-hit that I completely missed when it was released. That song and it’s lyrics, which describe the pressures on working adults, perhaps unsurprisingly, resonates with me. I would assume it does with a large percentage of any mid-career professionals who are in the thick of managing the collision points between work and life, or at least any who can enjoy a good EDM tune. There is one particular lyric that stands out, a line about the “good old days” which was the inspiration for this article.
The specific line is from the refrain in the song. It goes:
Wish we could turn back time
To the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep
But now we’re stressed out
As the singer belts out the refrain again and again. Every time he does I keep thinking, were there ever any “Good old days” for me and my generation? Are there any for this new generation? The answer surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly depending upon your perspective, is both yes and no.
Let’s look at the “No” first. For me the answer was no for several reasons. Part of it boiled down to the fact that I had a well-meaning, but somewhat challenged, mother. She was never formally diagnosed, but it was fairly obvious to me that she had a severe case of OCD that rose to the level where if she was diagnosed today I’m sure she would be put on strong meds. Ultimately her situation resulted in her inability to change and grow as a person. So as my father developed and matured over the years in Corporate America, my mother was stuck where she was emotionally. Ultimately they grew apart and got divorced. As I stayed with the entitlement oriented and mentally challenged mother, my childhood included dealing with the ramifications of a messy divorce, blended-families, and mom’s mental issues on a day-to-day basis. As I said she was well-meaning, but had limited ability to grow and relate to others. This limited her social scope and consequently my circle of friends. Even today; she has very few social connections and has never been able to find another life partner, even several decades later.
Speaking of today, the Millennials and even the older members of Gen Z all seem very adept about managing their relationships and work life balance. They definitely seem much more savvy than I was at their age. It would stand to reason that they would be able to have lives that are closer to “The Good Old Days” the Twenty One Pilots song aspires too. My first hand experience with several millennials makes me think not. I have a couple of very health conscious and fiscally successful friends from that generation. Looking at them you would think they are in the prime of life personally and professionally. I was shocked to learn that one of them has sky high blood pressure. Relationship issues, child rearing issues, extended family issues and work issues all contribute to their high stress levels. It’s not much different with my other friend from that generation. Also, it’s the same for every single person in their respective circles. Nobody seems to have it together, and they are all wistful of something more relaxed. In hindsight I guess I should have identified that the generation was struggling as the Twenty One Pilots song I referenced earlier is very popular with millenials. Songs don’t become megahits unless it’s about a sentiment that large groups of people identify with.
Let’s look at examples of “Yes”, where someone is experiencing “The Good Old Days” in real time. I don’t have to go far to see one. Every time I see my wife and my youngest daughter sitting and doing art, reading stories or cooking together I’m reminded of the song again. My six year old daughter is absolutely experiencing what she will one day look back on as the “The Good Old Days.” I’m happy for the child but I also feel like it’s very unfair to my wife. She’s hiding all the stresses of her work demands and her life from her child. As far as my daughter is concerned, the world is a paradise of creativity and fun with mommy and her friend next door. Many would say this is a wonderful thing, it’s altruistic on the part of my wife. I almost feel like we are doing a disservice. I wonder if it’s right to hide the stress of life? I get that she’s only young once, but I also get that my job is to prepare her for life. I think helping her understand that the world can be a very stressful place if your not careful is a hugely important lesson that will empower her for the long haul. My child doesn’t need to get into the nitty gritty of work and bills, but she should understand that life is hard, and most people, including her mom, only get small periods of respite. A little reality today may help her manage a whole lot of stress later.
I also see it when I look at some of the families who are extremely engaged with their local churches. This is where the value of the church community comes to play. Aside from community the church offers comfort, heges some risk, it provides faith in the future and belief in something greater than yourself. That last bit is critical as most of the time there is massive uncertainty in the lives of people. Most importantly the church provides a behavioral dogma that when followed, usually helps foster that “Good Old Days” feel in their lives. Unfortunately, the negative side of that dogma is that it can keep its members from really understanding or engaging with the greater world. This isn’t an article on the pro’s and con’s of the church. That can be a whole blog and podcast series unto itself. I did want to make a point that the behavioral dogma can seem to create that fairy tale permanent “Good Old Days” feel for intelligent and dedicated families who are heavily engaged with an effective church community.
All this reflection is still based on a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. I’m a bit more analytical and so I asked myself: What makes “the good old days?” If you look at the song I identified or really any other song with the same messaging or talk to most anyone who’s reminiscing about them there are consistent themes. I find that what people are identifying with is a time with limited demands and worries, as well as a good amount of fun. Typically the fun is related to interactions with others who are equally free. There is even a hint of optimism or anticipation for things to come. The worries of the “good old days” tend to be trivial. In theory this means we should be able to recreate the good old days anytime we want. Reality, or the modern reality, makes this somewhat impossible. Even with that less than optimistic conclusion I think, from a practical standpoint, it is possible to come close to something that approximates what we think of as “The Good Old Days.”
Demands come from commitments. There are the big and obvious ones that are difficult but not impossible to get out of with some effort. These are mostly financial. We’ve committed to our mortgage, we’ve committed to the car payment, or the credit cards and student loans. It seems somewhat easy to get out of these. Just sell everything and prioritize paying off what you can’t sell. In the grand scheme of things it’s pretty easy to sell the expensive home and move from a big house to something tiny like an old mobile home or RV. It’s very easy to sell the expensive car and get a beater to drive around in, even if you are upside down on the nice shiny car with the car payments. Student loans, especially the big ones, can be very intimidating, but again it can be done if that’s your biggest focus. This tactic doesn’t get you to a life of limited financial demands quickly but it does work over time. Ultimately limited financial demands means much more flexibility to find a job or a trade that is not just low in stress but is deeply enjoyable. These types of jobs are typically very low paid.
The biggest complication is if and when there is another human being attached to these commitments. A spouse typically doesn’t want to move out of their dream home even if it’ll allow you to get to your goal of a less demanding life. This last point is a good segway to other demands and commitments that aren’t nearly as easy to get out of.
Relationships are somewhat easy to get out of. You can break up with a significant other or get divorced when you are in a bad relationship. It’s emotionally messy and expensive but very easy in our modern era. Realistically most people don’t want to do this as they generally like their life partner and they are willing to put up with the shared demands of life. Fortunately, in a good relationship, at least one where it’s only the couple, typically both parties will eventually get to a point where they consider leaving the demands attached to the niceties of life to achieve the greater goal of having limited overall demands and worries. That is unless they have children. The biggest, nearly impossible commitment to get out of is children. You can’t return kids and pay the difference like you can a car or a house. Kids come with innumerable stresses which start at the moment of conception and in some cases, it never ends. When you have them, you have them for a minimum of two decades or so. Yes, there are some really scuzzy people who just walk away from their kids but statistically most parents don’t. Kids are a tremendous commitment that impacts every part of your life. Also, your significant other will invariably have opinions that are completely at odds with yours when it comes to what the kids need which logarithmically grows the stress and issues relating to them.
This is where things get really challenging. I’d love to say “The Good Old Days” can exist when you have kids in your life, but as I discussed earlier, the parents who provide the stress and worry free existence for their kids usually take the brunt of the bad parts of life so that kids experience “The Good Now Days.” The closest I have ever seen was the aforementioned church families who follow the prescribed family scripts doled out by church dogma. I, and all of my friends who struggle with this, do not have an answer that doesn’t make you a church zombie or cost extreme amounts of money. Unless you are independently wealthy already, trying to earn that money typically comes with the stresses that make “The Good Old Days” lifestyle impossible.
Several years ago I made a shift to create a life for myself that eliminates the issues sung about in the Stressed Out song and that approximates all the ideals for the “Good Old Days” lifestyle I’ve outlined here. I don’t have an answer for the issue of child rearing, the last thing I’m dealing with keeping my current life from being as ideal an existence as possible. I’ll keep searching. All this being said, there is one aspect of my current life that in twenty years I can look back and say these were “The Good Old Days.” I’m talking about discovering new music through my kids. This is something I haven’t enjoyed since my own youth. Now that I think about it, Maybe that was one of the few things I can look back on today as my good old days. There’s almost nothing better than having the time to discover great new music!