I belong to that weird sub-generation that doesn’t really have a good name. I was born in 1981, so I’m not GenX, but I graduated from high school in 1999, so I’m not a millennial either. My kids are GenZ, although my 18-year-old son has just informed me that his younger brother, who is almost 13, is part of what he says is called “Gen Alpha.”
To say I struggled with motherhood would be a gross understatement. My depression and anxiety disorders were severely undertreated even before my daughter, now 19, was conceived. I was getting treatment, but no matter what medication I took or who I saw for talk therapy, my mental health stayed stubbornly in a position where I generally felt mildly suicidal. I wasn’t so far gone that I made plans to kill myself, but on a bad day, if given the chance to accidently cross the street in front of a runaway truck, I would have taken it. There’s no single reason that I was unable to find the right solution to help me become 100% OK but suffice it to say that I was extremely depressed and anxious during the time when my children were babies and toddlers.
Back then I was very, very concerned about parenting my children in just the right way. I didn’t necessarily believe that there was a single right way, but on a day-to-day basis I worried that my kids would have mental health problems too, or they would be rebellious teenagers, drinking or smoking or being promiscuous. I worried that they would also develop depression, as I had as a teen, or struggle with overeating like I do, or just plain make bad choices. I spent a lot of mental energy worrying about their future, believing that if I messed up as a mom I would burden them with mental-emotional scars and fears that would manifest themselves in their adult lives.
But children, of course, are also people, and as such are completely unique. There was no reason for me to expect that my children’s internal struggles would mirror my own, because they aren’t carbon copies of me. As their mother, I’m a big influence in their lives, but I’m most definitely not the only influence. They are influenced by the world around them, by other adults and peers, by their environment outside of home, and by the broader, encompassing forces of time and change.
But because there are so many voices and ideologies and pathways available to their generation, I am incredibly thankful for the time and effort my husband and I, and many others along the way, have invested in my kids. And that’s not to say we did everything right. More to the point is the fact that we screwed up often, sometimes spectacularly. And although certainly God gifted our family with abundant blessings, we have walked through more than our share of hardships together. Really, what I’m trying to say is this:
My kids are just so damn cool.
And I think I’m not alone in this idea that GenZ is, from my perspective, extremely pragmatic, while also possessing a desire for stability and a solid code of ethics. Individuals may disagree with others on ethical issues, but they’re also capable of understanding the person behind the belief and the intention he has when making certain decisions. GenZ, I think, has standards and ethics they honor, and while they may vary a bit from person to person, they act according to their moral code, and respect others who may see things differently without necessarily becoming offended by the discrepancies. And I love that.
Another factor that I see in my GenZ kids is an appreciation for their faith background and a desire to investigate and develop their own faith and their personal relationships with Jesus. They’re not just going to church to make mom and dad happy; in fact, they’re not always going regularly at all, and while we do make it a rule that they must go regularly, we don’t get too worked up when they miss a week or two. In our home faith is a continuous flow of self-examination. What does the scripture teach me about this? What do my trusted leaders and faithful friends think? What is the Holy Spirit telling me? The danger, I’m finding, in gradually stepping back and watching my kids develop a personal, living relationship with Christ is that they are still vulnerable, but they need the freedom to wrestle with God in their own battles. They have seen God work in our family’s life, in my life and in my husband’s life, and in friend’s lives. But can they identify a time when they’ve leaned into the Holy Spirit out of necessity? Have they prayed earnestly for something – an opportunity, a relationship, a resolution – and recognized and accepted God’s response? Have they prayed for something they had no control over and seen God give them what they need by his grace alone? Have they prayed for something to work out, and it didn’t? Can they recognize and honor God’s yes, God’s no, and God’s silence?
GenZ, I think, is probably still too young to be entirely confident in their answers to those questions, as perhaps they should be. But I’m looking forward to seeing them come of age, tackling the adult stuff. My prayer is that they will be more resilient and less resentful than me and my 40-something counterparts. That they will roll with the punches instead of kicking against the goads, that they will reserve the goad-kicking for only the most vital matters. And that’s where we come in.
Looking at my children, I see in them, and perhaps in their generation as a whole, a desire to have faith in something stronger than themselves, stronger than pop culture, politicians, money, or possessions. I see in them a real desire not just for faith in life beyond this world, but for a close connection with it while they’re here. They are looking for Jesus in the here and now, to make a connection with their Creator and receive the reassurance that this messed up, upside down, evil world isn’t just watching like a celestial voyeur. My kids, I think, want to do life with honesty and integrity, but to do that they need a foundation to build from.
It is our job, as parents, teachers, advisors, and advocates who are already slogging our way through it all, to nurture their need for faith and security, to strengthen their confidence in their own abilities and decision-making, and to bolster their search for a real, working relationship with God. When they were young, we read to our kids from the Bible. When they were a little older we started family traditions around Biblical festivals and personal celebrations, when they were in middle and high school we sought out believers other than ourselves to come alongside them as advisors, and we advised them ourselves, being careful to leave almost all of the final decisions to them. And now we are bringing them into faith communities and watching them build their own lives on their own faith in Christ.
It is quite possibly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Period.
We, the 80s and 90s kids, need to do this work in GenZ. We need to invest our time, efforts, and prayers to raise up new believers and young believers to be ready to speak the truth of the gospel in love while also calling out the sins and temptations that the enemy uses to dismantle our firm foundations. The fruit of revival is on the tree, but it needs our care, nourishment, and protection to mature. When we 30-, 40-, and 50-something year-olds pray for, care for, teach, and mentor today’s teens and young adults, we are laying up treasures that will ensure that the body of Christ will not only continue, but also grow and thrive.
The Lord bless you and keep you,