First, second, and third generation offbeat families

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Sacred GrovesYears ago, I developed this theory about first and second generation weirdos, loosely based on the concept of first and second generation immigrant families. (Generally speaking, first generation immigrants are the ones who leave their homeland for the new country, while their children are sometimes the second generation.)

But in my mind, there’s another second generation: the children of offbeat families. Our parents ventured from a different kind of other place: rejecting their mainstream American homeland for nontraditional lifestyles.

Some of us offbeat second-genners are now having our own children, spawning a third generation…

Many first generation offbeat types emerge from the cultural confines of the American suburbs, and can be more vocal about their otherness. They’ve broken out the repressive culture in which they were raised, and as any paradigm-breaker can tell you, it’s a loud and difficult process. Whether you’re new to a country or lifestyle, there are some bumps on the road. But like most immigrants, the transition and hard work is done for the good of future generations.

Like many second generations, the children of offbeat parents take their folks’ hard-earned perspectives for granted, and feel less of a need to parade their ideologies as visually or vocally. Oh, of course I’ve always had a choice between leg hair or no leg hair. Oh, of course whole grains are better for you. Oh, of course women and men are equal. Jeez, Mom. THEN what?

Realistically, second generations are by their very nature somewhat thankless and privileged. We didn’t know how hard it was in the “old country” (in my case, mainstream midcentury America), where women were expected to grow up, tease their hair, pop out babies and fetch hubby’s slippers. We never experienced the horrors of being forced into polyester clothes or traditional careers. We’ve grown up with the worldview that the environment is important, natural foods are better, women are equal, and men can cry. Yawn. What’s next?

Also, like many second generation immigrants, we can be impatient toward our first generation peers. I’ve been known to roll my eyes just a little when friends who used to drive SUVs suddenly experience a spiritual awakening and start espousing the power of spirulina. I say silly things, “Yeah, yeah, yeah — you sound like my Dad. But your kids will be awesome!”


And of course the pendulum swings: as a second generation teenager, all I wanted was to get as far away as possible from my parents’ ideologies and log cabin. I was a conservative teen who didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs (“Ew, pot? Pot is for old people!”). My first real boyfriend drove a pick-up, wore a baseball cap, and lived in a house with white carpets and a hot tub. He was conservative, suburban, and unbelievably fascinating. While my bedroom was a refurbished school bus parked outside the log house my parents built, my boyfriend slept under vertical blinds with a sliding glass door and a patio outside. Sooo cool!

I had several years of these rebellious mainstream studies. During college, I bought a car on credit (an absolute crime when your father’s job involves promoting public transit), moved to California, and got a job at a law firm. (I would eventually learn that one of the lawyers I worked for defended corporations against environmental groups. That may have been the pendulum swinging its farthest.)

After a few years, however, my upbringing got the better of me. The ’90s saw me trade in my conservative boyfriend for a vegan raised by lesbian college professors. I quit my job at the law firm and became a writer. With a few exceptions including agnosticism, leg waxing, and urban living, my pendulum has swung back to my parent’s side of the clock case.

My adulthood has been spent realizing that I actually agree with many of my parents’ ideals. This is in stark contrast to many of my first generation friends who realize in adulthood just how much they disagree with many of their parents’ ideas.

Naturally, when discussing a second generation, it’s impossible not to think of the inevitable third generation. My childhood was full of mocking my parents and adoring my grandparents. My paternal grandmother would let me watch all the TV I wanted — which stood out in stark contrast to my parents, who oh-so tyrannically tried to limit me to only an hour a day. (My parents won out on that front: I don’t even own a television, now.)

My maternal grandmother would sneak over bags of candy which I hid under my bed and rationed to myself like a junkie. While my mother made me yogurt from scratch in the kitchen, I would be up in my bedroom tweaking out on refined sugar courtesy of my Grandma/Drug Courier.

Eventually, either as I grew up or as my parents’ ideals saturated my young, impressionable mind and took it over like a fungus, my grandparents lost some of their appeal. When my grandmother referred to her neighbors as “those loud coloreds downstairs,” I knew for sure: I was quite like my parents, but I also definitely wasn’t like my grandparents either.

As for the third offbeat generation, who can tell now which way they will turn. Will our kid rebel by going wickedly conservative, or wildly radical? I can totally see this conversation playing out in 15 years or so: “Mama, Grandma told me cool stories about her wiccan rituals. Why don’t WE ever do pagan rituals? I hate you! I’m staying with Grandma for the weekend.”

And to that I’ll probably say, “Fine, you go burn incense with Grandma. Just don’t try sneaking any of that fucking spirulina back into the city with you!”

Which offbeat generation are you?

Comments on First, second, and third generation offbeat families

  1. Second-generation offbeat here with a short story. I got pregnant on my wedding night, and thus, didn't know I was pregnant until after the honeymoon. My husband and I had all ready decided to get matching tats during the honeymoon; imagine my distress when I found out I'd gone under the vibrating needle with a tiny passenger in tow. When I said all of this to my brother, he looked me right in the eye and said, "Dude. Because you did that, she's totally going to come out all Republican." 🙂

    • Hahaha. We had dinner with good friends the other night, who have a 7 month old. We were discussing gay marriage (a big issue right now here in Maine) and our friend said very seriously, "I don't care what he turns out like, as long as he's not a Republican."

      • I had a conversation with my mom about rebelling, and she said when I was a kid she always used to say to her friends "I'm ok with whatever she wants to do — as long as she doesn't move to New York and become a model." Considering how homely I was with my buckteeth and bowl cut, methinks she was flattering herself … 😉

        But I had a conversation with some gay friends recently where I was like "Maybe my son will be gay! That would be awesome, but knowing my luck he'll be a football player or something." My friends looked at me and said, "Expand your mind, bitch: he could be a gay football player." I was like OOOH YES PLEASE!

        • Oh yes, part of the reason I don't want to have kids is bc athletic ability runs rampant in my genes and I'd be horrified if my kid turned out to be a football player! I don't care what the hell that made up kid turns out to be… just not a jock!!!! 😉

  2. Love this, Ariel. I am one of those "first generation weirdos" who was fairly convinced I had invented patchwork pants and religious rebellion in my mid-teens. ;o) If my second generation offbeat kids turn out anything like you, I'll be cool with that! (Like Ashby's friend, I'm just crossing my fingers that I don't somehow churn out any social conservatives.)

    This piece reminded me of a book I read in college, Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture, a collection of essays edited by Chelsea Cain. I'm assuming you've read it, Ariel, since it's *totally* right up your alley. Though it's been a few years since I've paged through it, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in hearing about the experiences of second-gen hippie kids.

    • YES! Love that book, although it made me realize just how stable and settled my hippie parents were. I grew up in the same house for my entire childhood, and while we did a lot of hiking and camping travels, my parents definitely weren't the wandering gypsy type hippies or the living on a commune type hippies … and from some of the stories in Wild Child, I think I have to thank them for that.

  3. First generation off-beat here. Honestly, I wouldn't even mind if my kids turn out to be ultra-conservative, as long as they learn tolerance from me at the very least. I'm torn between the insane curiosity that comes with wondering what their worldviews will be as adults between my influence and the influence of their grandparents, and wishing they'd never grow up! ;P

  4. First generation here… my parents are the epitome of suburban, semi-conservative America, and I was raised on TV and Pepsi. I grew up a few miles from Disneyworld, if that tells you anything. I am thankful my grandparents came from really different backgrounds– maternal grandparents from a holler in West Virginia and paternal grandparents from Portugal/Brasil. They weren't weirdos in the typical sense, but the combination at family gathering led to crash courses in cultural mediation, mutual respect and understanding, and curiosity about all the different ways life and culture could be expressed.

    I really hope that we're able to raise our son to be open-minded. I would hope that he not only has strong values, but is able to understand where others are coming from when they don't agree with him, and still see their humanity.

  5. Great article, Ariel! Very thought provoking. I'm somewhere in between 1st generation & second…

    My mom smokes pot with us, makes incense burners out of drier lint, & always has about 5 dogs in the house. My dad has an earring, is a vegetarian, takes herbal supplements up the wazzoo, & tells about all the acid he dropped back in the old days. But he has a corporate job, and my mom stayed at home to raise us. So, I'm not sure where I stand. I do know that my parents will be proud of me whatever I do, which is a nice feeling, but it makes it hard to rebel!

    On the note of book recommendations… has anyone read "Weird Like Us: My American Bohemia"? It's a great book about discovering offbeat culture & really narrates the "first generation" experience well.

  6. "Just don’t try sneaking any of that fucking spirulina back into the city with you!” -HA

    I am second generation: raised by a liberal social worker (now sex therapist), and a pot-smoking, ex-Mensa, engineer (who works for an oil drilling company now, woah!).

    I hear what you say with the: "Oh, of course whole grains are better for you. Oh, of course women and men are equal." I always feel a little odd when stuff like that comes up. While friends of mine try to "cut out carbs" I'm thinking, what brown rice is good for you, but throw out that minute rice that you boil in a plastic bag. My mind is blown when my girlfriends kvetch about having to shave their legs, just skip it man! I feel like I need to be careful not to get preachy or awkward in most of those situations.

  7. No Kidding! I must be a 3rd generation offbeat mama, carrying the 4th at the moment! My grandparents were farm-dwelling Canadian prairie socialists, my parents are union/environmental/lefty activists (e.g. mom took me to Clayoquot Sound as a 12 year old to be arrested at the logging protests in 1993). I've been a little planet-defender since I started school and now I have a degree in environmental studies (much to my folks' delight!). But they were never, ever dogmatic or rebellious for the sake of being different; they just know the difference between a world where people take care of each other and the planet, and a world where self-interest and short-sightedness cause social and environmental harm. I never had anything like an ideological rebellion, but rather I channeled all that angst the normal way, sneaking out, bootlegging beer, etc etc. As I hope the little jumping bean inside me will do in his/her good time!

    The interesting thing about being 'offbeat' on the West Coast of Canada is that it isn't offbeat at all. The first generation must have been radically successful out here! But I am troubled by how much effort people put into changing and maintaining their appearance, their diet, their personal 'habitus', without getting involved in local politics and activities. It affects so much more, but so few people can be bothered! Maybe we're ready to take on a more practical approach to being off the beaten path by speaking our minds outside our homes and close social circles. It will certainly be an adventure bringing up the next generation in the fertile social world we have before us.

  8. No Kidding! I must be a 3rd generation offbeat mama, carrying the 4th at the moment. My grandparents were farm-dwelling Canadian prairie socialists, my parents are union/environmental/lefty activists (e.g. mom took me to Clayoquot Sound as a 12 year old to be arrested at the logging protests in 1993). I've been a little planet-defender since I started school and now I have a degree in environmental studies (much to my folks' delight!). And the 4th generation? Who knows! I'll write back in 20 years.

  9. I'm a second gener, and i tottally get the whole "but but what do you mean men and women aren't equal?" I have a really hard time with my boyfriend's parent because their old school conservative views are just so alien and I'm the one who was raised relgious! I'm a bit wary of jumping in and doing the whole breeding thing as a result. *sigh*

    Saying that though i think it is a little bit diffrent coming from a british persppective, my nana might have been old school but she had a degree and taught even after 4 children.

  10. I never considered myself and my parents all THAT offbeat but after reading, "Oh, of course I've always had a choice between leg hair or no leg hair. Oh, of course whole grains are better for you. Oh, of course women and men are equal." and nodding along with every one I realized that perhaps I am second generation afterall. Then again, while my grandparents weren't crazy mold-breakers they certainly did have some progressive ideas for their time, maybe I'm actually generation 2.5. 🙂

    • I think we all nodded along to “Oh, of course I’ve always had a choice between leg hair or no leg hair. Oh, of course whole grains are better for you. Oh, of course women and men are equal.”

      I’m a solid second gener, and even though my mom’s 1st generation offbeat rebellion looks SO different from most of us here (as to be almost unrecognizable) I guess some things are universal in the offbeat world… Like gender equality and whole grains.

      • I absolutely know what you meant when you said your mother’s rebellion was “unrecognizable”… At first I thought of myself as second gen, but after I thought about it, my grandparents were pretty out there (sold the lucrative family insurance business to be minimalist fundamentalist missionaries and travel the world–they still don’t see doctors, swear by chiropractic, and only trust homeopathic/herbal medicine.) My mother has always been the introverted hobbyist–science fiction novels and quilting… I definitely carried those on, pretty much everything but her atheism (I’m an aspiring wiccan). It’s funny to think that there’s anything that links these three generations that are so different, but I hope my boys carry on the tradition!

  11. Im first generation for sure. my mom cant leave the house without a full face of makeup, and I cant be bothered to shave my pitts. My folks eat MacD's and guzzle soda,I ate my placenta.

  12. I guess you could say that I'm a first but maybe a mid to second-generation revolutioner considering my father is a Rush Limbaugh loving Republican who taught me that I could be anyone I wanted to be: liberal or repub. We have differing political ideals but he taught me the art of having an open mind and listening to anyone, regardless of who they were, as long as they had an educated and well thought out opinion. He still sighs about my use of cloth diapers and when I remind him to not assume "who" my children will choose to love. But for a Rish Limbaugh, George Bush loving southern man he was the best feminist role model I could have had. He taught me the art of self worth, living simply and taking pride in what you and you alone can accomplish.

  13. I am a second generationer who has unwillingly become a first generationer.

    I was raised by a feminist, left-wing, pro-choice, fist in the air mom and a sensitive gentle giant of a dad who has traveled the world extensively and would always talk about his pot-smoking, acid dropping past. They refused to baptise me. Both of them are child psychologists.

    As soon as I moved out at age 19, however, my mom went back to the catholic church and left behind a lot of her leftist ideals. She is pro-life, anti-women priests, and completely devoted to her god. My dad doesn't share these beliefs but adores my mom and goes along for the ride (again, a gentle giant).

    I am SO GRATEFUL that my mom didn't make her uber-catholic transition when I was still living with them. I think it would have caused some hard-to-repair damage in our relationship, considering that she raised me with values so very opposite of what she now espouses. Sometimes I still can't believe that she believes the things she does. She voted yes on 8 (the california gay marriage bill) for god's sake…this coming from the same woman who told me more than once "It's ok if you're gay!" when I was 12.

  14. Another second gen offbeat as is my partner. However he went on to become a corporate lawyer while I want to be a midwife. So while he may have grown up to be more 'main stream,' I like to think that part of what makes us work is that he comes from a family where it's cool to be a kooky.

    And yes I had moments at school where I realized my upbringing was different from a lot of other kids. It was my Dad who accompanied me on school trips and dropped me off in a ten tonne truck wearing jeans and a t-shirt. A stark comparison to the perfectly turned-out women in their BMWs at my private school.

  15. Second generation – my mom was the wandering gypsy (literally, she's Cherokee and Irish gypsy) and by the time I was growing up she had somewhat settled in Alaska. So I grew up hiking and camping the mountains, riding horses, raising dogs and rabbits and a pig, was homeschooled, never watched tv, and made a lot of my own clothes. Now I have progressed to living in an apartment in the city, am addicted to a couple cable shows, but I still create a lot of my own things and have a definite sense of independence and non-conformity when it comes to mainstream (especially "pop") culture. I couldn't for the life of me tell you who is popular on the radio or what books are on the top sellers list. We don't ever shop at WalMart and rarely eat out. Most of the music I listen to are friends bands and I pretty much read sci-fi or non-fiction. My kids are happier rockin out at an all ages punk show (see the Kids in Cans post) than they are watching Barney, something I'm extremely happy about!

  16. I am definitely a first generation off-beat. When my hub and I first got together in college, he would often comment after spending time with my family that he wondered how I'd turned out like I did living in the house I grew up in! Right now my 14 yo daughter is rebelling in a most hideous way and wants to try out for cheerleading!!!!

    • There is nothing wrong with cheerleading. I'm a no-tv, local/organic food eating, social justice oriented person…and I was a cheerleader, a competitive, all-star one at that. It's superficial, the uniforms are silly and sexist, but the sport! If your daughter is second generation, she's probably not going to fit in exactly with the rest of her squad anyway, I didn't. But I ADORE stunting and stunting and competing.

      If there is a circus school in your area, try her with that, maybe all she wants is to tumble and stunt…or maybe she wants to drive her mom crazy lol. Really though, if she knows who she is, she can enjoy cheerleading but not become a "cheerleader"! i did!

  17. I'd say that I'm second gen, but then I think about my great grandma who (in the 1930s) supported herself and her two kids by working as a chiropractor, divorced her husband, and spent most of her dotage spouting such memorable sayings as 'the whiter the bread the sooner your dead' and forcing my young father to drink the vegetable cooking water 'because that's where the vitamins are'. Her son is fairly conservative, but my dad, sister, and I feel like black sheep in a black herd, as it were. Here's hoping the eventual kiddies will follow suit!

  18. I would have never considered my parents offbeat until I met my husbands parents (who are also 1st gen immigrants, as is he). They are definitely not as awesomely offbeat as your parents Ariel, but they were definitely hippies growing up, very NDP and, very equal rights on all fronts.

    So I guess I'm second gen offbeat, both my sisters have swung the opposite direction as I, but I see them creeping back in their own fashion.

  19. I'm definitely second generation, possibly third (my maternal grandparents were pretty offbeat for their time; they were artists and they had black friends, even in the 50s and 60s, and my paternal grandparents raised their kids atheist). I was raised by a stay-at-home-dad, and inherited my pro-choice, pro-gay rights, anti-gun political views from my parents. I'm definitely way more offbeat than any of my ancestors, but I'm still not the world's biggest hippie.

    • Yeah, that's an interesting thing though: even though I was raised by hippies, I don't identify has a hippie at all. I've got most of the values ingrained, but the trappings of "hippie" just aren't a part of my identity. I think that's what's interesting about someone raised in a movement … you get the ideals, but sometimes reject many of the visual/vocal cues that brand someone who's CHOSEN a movement.

  20. It's hard to define what generation I would be, because my family is in some ways very mainstream and in other ways not so much. My maternal grandmother fought for her right to attend university, which was pretty unusual for her time. (She was born in 1911.) She also earned more money than my grandfather when she went back to work after having children. Yet my parents are conservative Catholics. I think it's funny how we sometimes come at an issue from the opposite direction but end up with the same opinion. Dad's militant about turning off lights to save money on the electric bills, and I'm the same way because hey, let's save the environment! He has a huge vegetable garden, so with that and the deer hunting they raise a fair bit of their own food. When my siblings were young they raised goats, pigs, and chickens, so we had our own milk and eggs and pork. Among my siblings, four of us are pretty offbeat, and just one brother is mainstream.

  21. Definitely 2nd generation. I just had a post on my Livejournal about how do you rebel through dressing when your parents have long hair, tattoos and chain wallets. Me, I was pretty mild, I snuck around to hang out with friends my father didn't like. My sister's was getting engaged early, and espousing all her husbands conservative nonsense. She's mellowed out since then.

  22. second gen, with a (becoming) first gen husband. the seeds were there…i've been helping them grow! it's been interesting, for sure. i have to say, it was the most fun the first time i had dinner at his parents' house, about 7 years ago…i was helping set the table, and i asked my now BIL what we were having for dinner. "steak and potatoes." completely deadpan…apparently this is a typical dinner. a little shocking for me…baked potatoes are a rare treat, as is steak, in my family's house. we ate a lot of vegetarian dishes with beans and brown rice, poultry, and fish. always always always with a nice green veggie. so i asked, "what's the veggie?" and BIL looked at me like i was an idiot, and said, "potatoes…"

    i knew then that it was going to be a long road with DH, but it's been worth it (no matter what my sister says!). not just in his eating habits either, lol.

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