Role play: Boomer parent/boomer’s child

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Kayla J. Collins, 26, is a reporter for Current Publishing. She graduated from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine in 2011 with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. She lives in Biddeford with her boyfriend, Daniel Lewis, and their cat, Daisy.

Faith Gillman, 58, is a writer for Current Publishing. She holds a degree in economics from the University of Southern Maine and has been in the newspaper world for longer than she cares to remember. She lives in Kennebunk with George Gillman, her husband of 40 years, and their 4-pound dog Dolly.

The two women had a chance to have a conversation about their family relationships, Collins as an adult child, and Gillman as a boomer parent with adult children, and how that connection is changing as each age. Here’s what they discovered:

Faith: So Kayla, tell me a little bit about your family. What’s your role in the family dynamic?

Kayla: My mom, Judy, is 53, and father, David, is 61. They divorced when I was about 4 years old and for much of my childhood I only visited my father on weekends or during school vacations. I have a half-sister on my mother’s side and a half-sister on my father’s side who are both in their early 30s. I didn’t even meet Jen, my sister on my dad’s side, until I was in the ninth grade when my father mustered up the courage to tell me about her and her adopted family. Apparently my father wanted to wait until I was old enough to tell me about her. My relationship with Jen isn’t as strong as the one with my other sister, Alicia, who I grew up with, but we keep in touch.

I acquired a stepfather and stepbrother in 2009 when my mother got remarried. My relationship with my stepfather, Mark, who is 65, and stepbrother, Chris, in his 30s, is better than I ever imagined it would be, though I don’t see either of them nearly enough. My stepfather has been extremely supportive and caring from the get-go.

I don’t believe I have a specific role in my family other than trying to always be the best daughter and sister I can possibly be by constantly offering support and letting family members know how much I love them.

Kayla: How many children do you have, Faith? What is your favorite thing about being a mother?

Faith: I have two daughters, both in their 30s. And then there are the grandkids. I have a 12-year-old granddaughter and a grandson who will be 4 in December. My favorite thing? There is so much I enjoy about being a mom, but one of the best things is that it forces me to come out of myself and be connected and present with my daughters and their children in a way that really has meaning.

Faith: What has changed in your relationship with your parents now that you’re out on your own?

Kayla: Actually, I have been thinking a lot about that lately. I’m in my late 20s and have been “on my own” for about five years, though my parents still offer their advice and financial support from time to time. Without going into detail, my relationship with my birth father is not as strong as it once was but we do chat on the phone, send cards, and visit a couple times a year. When I was younger, I was daddy’s little girl. Despite growing apart, my love for my father has not changed. If anything, I have grown to appreciate what he has done for me through the years, even if it is just sending me a letter letting me know that he loves me and thinks of me often. He also often tells me how proud of me he is.

My relationship with my mother has grown stronger since I’ve lived on my own. As children, we often don’t appreciate what our parents do for us. It’s only when we are expected to do things on our own that we learn the importance of having parents and appreciate their guidance. I know I do.

Kayla: How has your relationship with your children changed as they’ve become older? Do your children treat you more like a friend rather than a parent?

Faith: I no longer have any control over what they do, although I’m not entirely sure I ever did. It is hard not to have daily input. I miss seeing them every day. But in many ways our relationship is better because we’re getting to know each other as adults. The girls see more of the person I am outside of being their mother and I am no longer so wrapped up with them that I forget who I am. And I view them through a different lens now. But I still have moments when I want to rush in to fix, or protect or say “No!” As with any relationship, it’s a work in progress.

We do slip into friend mode quite often. We have fun and share a lot of laughs. It makes me happy to know that if my daughters weren’t my daughters I would want to be friends with them. But there are times when they still need or want me to be the mom and I turn right back into the parental unit. I’m happy when they ask for advice, although I try really hard to only offer when they ask – and even then to do it sparingly. I think the best and most appropriate role I serve now for my girls is as a sounding board.

Faith: Is it hard for you to think about your parents aging?

Kayla: Yes, it’s a bit scary, only because I don’t want to think about them ever dying. My parents have aged fairly well. My mother, especially, looks like she could be my older sister. That may be an exaggeration, but she definitely looks younger than she is. I am proud of her for being so health-conscious. I believe I was 12 years old when she quit smoking, and since then she has maintained a healthy lifestyle. She keeps a gigantic garden and most of the meals she prepares contain vegetables she’s grown herself. My stepfather is also in great physical shape. He and my mother are both very active. She and my stepfather have spent the last couple of years renovating their house, doing a lot of the work on their own. They stay fit by swimming and walking together. My father has been a cigarette smoker since he was 12, so he looks older than he is. He claims his doctor told him he has very clean lungs for a longtime smoker, that makes me happy.

Despite my parents’ ability to stay safe and healthy, I am somewhat afraid of them aging. I don’t like the thought of them not being able to do things for themselves like they do now. I still have quite a few years before I really need to worry, though.

Kayla: Is it hard to think about your children getting older?

Faith: Yes – it means I’m getting older. I mean, how is it possible that my oldest will be 38 this year? I’m only 35 myself. But joking aside, it is hard because I know our relationship will most likely change again as they reach milestones in their lives and I deal with aging. While I plan on being ferociously independent until I’m at least 110, the odds are at some point I may need their help. I will do everything in my power to keep it from becoming a role reversal if that happens, but there’s always this little bit of fear in the back of my mind.

Faith: What’s the best thing about your relationship with your parents now?

Kayla: The fact they trust me to make the right decisions and don’t judge me, even if they may not agree with something. I also like that my parents give me just enough distance to be my own person and take control of my own life. Despite some challenges through the years, especially with my parents going through a divorce when I was so young, my life has turned out OK. I appreciate the fact that my mother and father have remained civil, and that I was able to do so many fun things, like fishing and camping, with him when I was a kid. I also like that my parents are always accommodating whenever I visit them and never fail to make me feel loved. They are the most thoughtful people I know.

Kayla: What is the best thing about your relationship with your kids?

Faith: That we love each other fiercely and that we actually like each other, most of the time. Our relationship can be messy, it can be angry and it can hurt like hell, but at the end of day there’s always love. And when push comes to shove we’re in it together.

Faith: Did you think your parents were cool growing up? How do you view the “boomer” generation in general?

Kayla: I didn’t necessarily view my parents as “cool” growing up, though I did admire them for providing me with such a memorable childhood. I’ve always looked up to my mother. She encouraged me to put in my best effort in school and ensured that I had the opportunity to play several sports and participate in extracurricular activities. I believe it has made me a more well-rounded person. I’ve learned valuable life lessons from my parents and other adults their age. In general, I view the baby boomer generation as a group of individuals that I can look up to, particularly when it comes to needing financial help or career guidance.

Kayla: What advice do you have for millennials when it comes to making it on their own?

Faith: Find out what makes you happy. It may take a lifetime but keep looking and when you find it, do it. Don’t ever let anyone put you down for who you are, and always, always remember to care for yourself and have fun. My favorite quote of all time is not deep or philosophical. It’s from Tom Baker in “Doctor Who” and it sums it up for me: “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t act a little childish sometimes.”

Kayla Collins and her father David, pose for a photo circa 2001, while exploring the historic Fort William Henry in Bristol. Courtesy photoKayla Collins and her father David spent summers camping together when she was a kid. Courtesy photoKayla Collins, middle, poses with her older sisters, Jen, left, and Alicia following her graduation at Saint Joseph’s College. Photo by Judy WoodShannara Gillman, right, is happy to help feed her baby sister, Stasha while mom Faith looks on.Photo by George GillmanThe Gillman girls, from left, Stasha (Gillman) MacDougall, Faith Gillman and Shannara Gillman, snuggle up with Shannara’s daughter, Seraphina Gillman, at a family get-together.Photo by Vicki MacDougall

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