SO WHAT'S AHEAD? What's ahead in the '80s, for the baby boom generation, the generation that gave us the free speech movement, free sex, free dope, free Vietnam, the generation that liberated homosexuals, women and finally men?
By the time we got through with the '60s and '70s, no single important sector of American life was left unfreed by the baby boom generation. We opened marriage and lived together and bore children out of wedlock. We brought students' rights into the public schools and took discipline out. We mainstreamed marijuana, acid, vulgar music and pornography. Some mothers ran away from home. So di a lot of fathers.
The whole thing got contagious. Our parents joined in. Nixon freed Vietnam. Jerry Ford freed Nixon. Betty Ford freed Susan. Millions of our middle-aged fathers freed themselves from our middle-aged mothers. What was once scandalous behavior became commonplace. Dad was doing his own thing.
But if we divorced in record numbers, so did we remarry in record numbers. We had fewer children and more careers. Ours was the first generation in which women were not only free to work but almost expected to combine motherhood and a job. We had superwoman and guilt.
Some of us are beginning now to wonder what we have wrought. We rejected chastity and now our teen-age daughters are getting pregnant. In college, we protested against laws that made possession of pot a crime and now we find our children smoking it. A 28-year-old stepson comes home with the news that five members of his high school class are dead now from drug overdoeses. We a finding that all those frightening statistics about teen-age alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, fatal car wrecks and epidemic pregnancies aren't just happening to other people's kids. They are happening to ours, and we don't know what to do about it. Prohibition didn't cure alcoholism, and banning head shops won't stop drug abuse, but what do you do when your kids tell you how free the dope is in the high schools?
Without realizing it, we freed our children from the same standards we rebelled against, and they are growing up in the hazy fallout of our social experiments.
As the '70s came around, we rejected homemaking and plunged into careers. Women who went to work knew they were spending a lot less time with their children than mothers who did not. Parents came up with the theory that it wasn't the quantity of time we spent with our children that counted but the quality. People who challenged this were attacked as anti-feminists.
We focused on day-care for children as the single greatest worry of working mothers and everyone assumed we meant day-care for little kids. For a few years we did. But what of the teen-agers who come home now from junior high school and high school to empty houses all around the neighborhood? Listen to the working mother of two teen-age daughters: "I'm a single parent. I have to work. I can't be here every afternoon. There's no way I can know everything that goes on."
We're in something of a fix. How should we teach our children about the sanctity of marriage when we're in the process of divorcing a second or third spouse? How do we tell them drugs are dangerous and they should stay away from them when they can get pot in our dresser drawers? How do we expect them to excel in the public schools when we come home from work too tired to help them study?
The baby boom generation seems to have survived its social experiments and we've had a lot of fun but something is happening to our children and attention must be paid. The warning signals -- illiteracy, teen-age suicides, burnouts, people who are unemployable -- are all around us, sending us signals that while we may have created a better world for ourselves, it is not a safer one for our children.
This is not the stuff of marches, of protests. We are adults now. This time we are the parents. We can't take over the high school administration building in an effort to get dope out of the restrooms and learning back into the classrooms. We have to be cautious, mature, thoughtful, resourceful and persuasive. We who challenged and discarded the standards and life styles of our parents now have the far trickier task of fashioning new standards for our children, searching for mutually acceptable guidelines between the freedoms we enjoy as adults and the freedoms they want for themselves as children. And somehow, both the fathers and mothers are going to have to realize that it takes more than a little quality time to raise children: It takes large quantities of high-quality time.
Whether we do it through more part-time work for fathers and mothers, through more flexitime, through parental leave of absence, through the 30-hour week, parental cooperatives and other forms of sharing child-raising responsibilities, we now need to free more of our times to raise our children.
In the '80s, the baby boom generation is finally going to have to grow up.