Bridging the generation gap

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The holidays are here and, let’s be honest, a lot of family time together can feel like a mixed blessing. Parents look forward to relaxing and spending quality time with their children, but usually the kids aren’t as excited about the prospect.

Teenagers, especially, can’t think of anything worse – they just want to party with their mates or spend time chatting to them online. Their parents seem to be living in the dark ages – which for them is any time before the smartphone – and have no clue about what makes them tick. Carol (36) runs her own catering business from home in north Johannesburg so she gets to hang out with her kids quite a bit. A mom of five, she says she loves spending time with her offspring but admits her teenage kids sometimes put her to the test. “Teenagers have this tendency to feel entitled,” she explains.

 “They feel they don’t have to do anything because they’re grown up – or so they think. When I call my 17 year old to come and do some chores – like washing the dishes or taking out the rubbish – firstly, she doesn’t respond and pretends she didn’t hear me call. I say pretend because I know my voice is loud enough. “Then, when she finally decides to come, it’s at a very slow pace. And when she understands why I’ve called her, I get that look – it’s like she’s trying to decide whether she really needs to do these chores or not.” So what’s Carol’s daughter’s take on this situation?

 “I always have to do everything in the house,” Nosipho says. “Mom always calls me just because I’m the oldest and that’s not fair. I’m hardly ever the one who makes a mess yet I have to clean up after my siblings. “I also have other things to do and this is why I don’t always like being at home. Everything at home is so technical and routine – it’s always chores, chores, chores. I want to have fun with my friends instead of being in a place where you’re a robot.” The teenager also feels she’s not always respected. “My mom never knocks before she comes in my room – she just storms in. I don’t have any privacy. I can’t wait to go to university so that I can live my own life and only see my family during the holidays.” Carol’s response is that Nosipho wouldn’t be treated like a robot if she took care of her responsibilities. “Yes I’m a disciplinarian, and I admit I can be a bit too strict, but life isn’t about fun and games all the time. Parents have to prepare their kids to be adults who can stand on their own two feet one day. But I guess we can also have more fun from time to time.”

 It's not just teenagers who feel hemmed in by mom and dad. Friction between adult children and their parents is also a common problem. Thandi (28), who’s originally from KwaZulu-Natal but now works in Johannesburg, can relate to Nosipho’s need for space. She left home at 18. “I feel the distance between me and my parents is what makes our relationship stronger now,” she says. “It’s not because I don’t love them, it’s because I’m evolving as a young person. My parents and I get along well but our views differ tremendously and that’s where the problems arise, especially when they insist that things are done their way. “They impose their decisions on me and don’t allow me to grow by making my own choices. My parents don’t want to accept that I’m an adult. I have a job and my own house but they still want to set the rules.” Thandi’s father, Innocent (62), doesn’t deny this but feels he can justify his behaviour. “As a parent and the man of this house, I have the right and responsibility to raise my children in the way I see fit. My plan is not to harm my children but to give them a good life. We never had the opportunities and technology there is today and I feel they take it for granted. I feel I need to remind them of their privileges – that’s why I’m strict. “As parents we want big things for our children – things we were never exposed to. But in order to be successful, you need a strong foundation and teachings that will help keep you in check, otherwise success will slip through your fingers.


Most parents want what’s best for their children but the kids don’t always see it that way, says relationship counsellor and mother of two, Eunice Magongoe. “Adults parent from what they know and how they were raised,” she says. “Carol, for example, wants to instil good values that are probably based on her own upbringing, but Nosipho sees her mother as overbearing – she just wants her space and freedom. In this situation, it might help if Carol shared stories about her own upbringing with Nosipho so that she can understand where her mom is coming from.”