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. Ariel,
    I love both of your websites, and was so excited when you featured your Mom, and she answered questions about being a Midwife. I went to her Sacred Groves website and fell in love as well! What a beautiful, wonderful family you have. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you and your Mom and I linked to all of your websites on my blog today.
    Thanks for being such and inspiration, and thank your Mom too!


  2. Utterly fascinating topic Ariel. Thank you! Second generation here; or even third, since my grandparents were radical leftys; not so offbeat in terms of social / spiritual / dietary… stuff but certainly politically and culturally. What's comforting to me as a new parent is the fact that much of what I resented as a child in my hippie household (brown rice, no television, etc.) is normal, comforting, and just plain feels correct to me now. So, I hope the same will work out for our child. On the other hand, I love classical music, 19th century novels, and a certain kind of formality; all very strange to my parents. Luckily, my husband is more into popular culture; so our child can choose which way to rebel!

  3. It's hard to say if I'm first or second generation. I was raised by hippies (heck, my mom used to breast-feed me to sleep while playing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon), who generally believe that every person has a right to live their life as they see fit. However, I grew up in the suburbs, my parents sometimes made me feel like a moron for not trying to be a mainstream popular kid, and they even bought a TV when I was two so their toddler could watch Sesame Street. Now, I'm a wacky lady in a VERY traditionally female career who honestly cannot understand violence. When I have kids, what will they be? No clue, but I can tell you that the first one, off beat or on beat that teases the poor overwheight kid with glasses and acne will be told that they WILL invite that child over for an afternoon and spend time with them to see if the teasing was warrented.

  4. I don't think my family ever was normal. My great grandparents immigrated here in the early 1900s to NYC, so right when I think we were supposed to assimilate culturally the 60s and 70s happened. My parents espoused the hippy movement but were never extreme, I mean, they did their share of protests and getting in to trouble when they were younger, but they waited to have me in their mid-late thirties. They were over it by then and we just kind of normal with lots of hiking, camping, and a primary colored nursery. My mother was dismayed that I liked Barbie and pink as a little girl. But I also liked trampling through the swamp and playing with legos. So I'm kind of blah on popular culture, and am only mildly geeky. I wonder what my kids will be like, I never really espoused a culture or a subculture, so unless they feel like committing D felonies there's no real way to rebel, unless they want to be truly conventional which would be ok too.

  5. I read this the other day, and I'm still thinking about it, so I thought I'd post. I guess for me it's not how "offbeat" either my folks or I am, but the ways we all continue to adapt and change to try to make things better for our kids. My mom was the primary breadwinner in our family, so feminism was a "duh." They were accepting of virtually all of my choices, including my really boneheaded ones. My boyfriend lived in our house, and in my bedroom, when I was in high school. When I see how I parent, I think that in many ways I'm "more traditional" than my parents – I'm probably stricter about appropriate behavior, I don't work full time so that I have more time to spend with my kids, etc. But I don't in any way see that as a rejection of my parents, just a fine tuning. My son wants to wear a princess dress an a ponytail? Rock it. My daughter decides that when she grows up she wants to be a princess-pastry chef? Cool. (We do have a princess theme in our house lately). I totally expect that my daughter (and son) will try to do better than me in terms of the work/life/societal expectations tango. That's how it goes. But I hope that they embrace the big-picture "offbeat" things that we are passing down through our family.

  6. I'm in between? My parents were pot smoking hippies… in ideals. Both worked on Wall Street, and my mom gave up her ticket to Woodstock so she could work more hours. My Dad had short hair and took the pennies out of his loafers "in case he lost them."
    But my sister and I were raised with the ideals that people are created equal, race/gender doesn't make you inherently different personality does, Education is key to success, we will love you no matter what you do, etc.
    As a result I had crazy hair colors (almost had blue hair for my senior pictures) and have blue hair now. No established religion (agnostic) while my Father is practicing Jewish. My sister floats between Christianity and U.U. We both dye our hair, get piercings (much to the chagrin of my father. "Why do you need to put more holes in your body?") and I've got 6 tattoos. My sister just joined the Offbeat Mama Club by giving birth last week, and we've both had long talks about how our parents have influenced us.

  7. I've got no statistics or studies to back my theory, but here it is:

    Whether from the left or right, dogma is dogma, and there's a good chance your kids will reject your teachings and go for the other side if what you've raised them on is a set of dogmatic beliefs. It doesn't matter if your dogma is religion or veganism or politics or anything else, if it sounds like "subject x_____ is bad, subject y_____ is good, because I say so," kids may just choose the opposite.

    What does seem to make a difference is whether or not the kids were taught to think for themselves. Does the family discuss why they have their beliefs? Does the discussion allow for more than one opinion? Are they taught to weight all of the evidence before judging?

    I suspect that people who were taught think for themselves will be more likely to choose their parents ideals in adulthood, provided that the parent's ideals were based on such sound reasoning, and not dogma.

    • I think this is very true, haha. My mother refused to have my baptized as a baby because she firmly believed that religion should be my choice – and because she really hated going to church as a kid! Of course, dabbling in Wiccan in high school wasn’t exactly what she had in mind of ‘freedom of choice’, but she recovered. 😉

    • I was raised to think, and for me personally at least it has turned out as you theorized. Being free to make my own choices and openly, safely, discus or play devil’s advocate for any of my parent’s beliefs has resulted in my adult self completely embracing them.

      I think children (and people in general) naturally desire to rebel against anything that they’re not allowed to question. But if it’s explained non-dogmatically to them and they’re given options that urge to “REBEL!” often gives way to “Huh, these people are alright and their religion/politics/lifestyle actually kinda makes sense.”

  8. I love how empowering and affirming this site is! I have always been offbeat and come by it honestly as I am third generation and cannot wait to make a 4th. Thank you for the thoughts I don't feel so alone in the mediocrity of it all.

  9. I guess I am a 4th Generation offbeat lady. My great grandmother divorced her husband, and moved from Manhatten to a little island with my grandma where they camped on the beach all summer, then moved to Nebraska to get away from the city.

    My grandma has always been an independant, world traveling woman, even though she is now in her 80s, she still travels alone to some cool world destination every year.

    My mother burned her bras, and got kicked out of school for wearing pants, married a pot smoking cowboy (with a hippie heart), moved to a ranch and had 2 little girls (me and my sis) and raised them away from the influece of modern society. My sis and I played with BB guns, goats, dogs, and the occational grass hopper.

    My hubs and I plan to raise the next generation out in the country as well, and I don't care how "offbeat" they are as long as they are happy with who they are.

  10. It’s funny how things can turn out! My parents are pretty center-of-the-line moderates, or at least were when I was growing up. Fairly mainstream suburban household but we had (and were close to) gay next-door neighbors who threw the best parties for the grown-ups. I remember peaking through the fence boards to catch glimpses. Growing up, we didn’t belong to a specific church, though we did have a Christian bent, but we were encouraged to visit lots of different houses of religion (even a Buddhist temple once, which is a rare place to find out in the Bible belt.)

    What’s interesting is how myself and my brother have turned out. We couldn’t be more different, though we were raised in the same way. I swung left of center and my brother swung waaaay right. I sew my own clothes, volunteered for Obama and shop at our local organic co-op, and my brother wears Wranglers, is a member of the NRA and a card-carrying Republican.

  11. I just read this and all the comments. I realized that I may be a 5th generation offbeat offspring, or maybe we’re all a generation ahead of the times.

    My great great grandparents moved into the sierra nevada pre gold rush to “get away from the people”, their daughters refused suitors, lived in lumber camps and waited until they were in their late 30’s to have kids (and occasional husbands), my grandparents spent their time espousing ideas about equality, non-violence as the answer and equal rights (in the 30s and 40s), and my folks raised us completely off the grid on the family ranch.

    Interestingly enough the rebellions have been offbeat ways to rebel against off beat-ness but have maintained the same values (ex, my mother rebelled from living in a hand built cabin by erecting a Sioux tee pee). I can hardly wait to see how my future children rebel against our offbeat life:-)

  12. My great-grandparents came to this country as children/young people in the 1890s-1900s. All of my grandparents were born around 1920 and grew up as 2G kids in the Great Depression. They did their best to conform, but as Jews in the mid part of the 20th century there was no real way to be “on-beat”. My parents are baby boomers who embraced the women’s rights movement and the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s. Being the official outsiders means never truly fitting in as offbeat or on-beat. One can try to fit in, but because you lack the cultural touchstones of church, Christmas, etc of mainstream culture you don’t. That’s different from being part of the mainstream and rejecting it. If you never fit in to begin with and you move further away from it, it doesn’t really change anything because you’re still an outcast.

  13. I don’t know were I stand 1.5? My mom was a single mom for the majority of my childhood she raised me to believe that men and women are equal. She worked her way up from having literally nothing growing up to buying her home on her own her. She told me about not having to have a man and to choose one that will treat you with respect if you want one. She let me make my own choices regarding religion. She worried over my education in school. But she wanted me to be popular (coming from a good place she didn’t want me to feel left out or be picked on as she was in school), but she also thinks that gay/bi/les/trans… peoples are “FREAKS” and that people should stay with their own race when dateing because most of them black/latino/asian/non-whites are “lower class”. She is growing and has come to terms with some things as I try to help her “work on it” and she is very happy and proud of her twin half black grandaughters.

  14. My husband and I are both 2nd generation and i’ve got a 3rd generation 10 month old asleep on my lap. My middle name is White Fawn so i have to be 2nd gen LOL. My parents are still hippies through and through but my in-laws went a bit more yuppie as they got older in looks and what they own but still hold on to their hippie values. The interesting thing about rebellion is that it can effect children differently. My husband and i never really rebelled. We were weird and stayed weird. BUT my younger brother and my husbands 2 older brothers went way more “normal”

  15. I think this is a great question to bring up! I would say I am solidly a second generation kid on my mother’s side. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with a giant pool, sidewalks, perfect houses, and manicured lawns. Once she turned 18 she traveled the states, opened up her mind, and never looked back. On my fathers side I could be considered a third genner. My grandmother was privileged, had a maid, etc, but became a sheep farmer and still lives on that farm to this day. My childhood was filled with exploring the outdoors, learning to grow my own food, and hating everything my parents did or said from age 12-21. We lived out in the middle of no-where VT without electricity or running water/indoor plumbing. My parents (my dad mostly…) were way into living off the land and were very “anti-establishment”. I hated that we didn’t have a phone, lived in a shack and had an outhouse. I told myself my parents were crazy, and that I would never be as extreme. I definitely don’t plan on living like that again, but the deepest and most important messages my parents left me are still with me. I don’t need the newest, shiniest, and biggest THINGS out there. I appreciate everything that I do have, and focus on my family, relationships, the earth and live a life that is full of happiness, and freedom. I am grateful for opportunities that come my way, and for the people I spend my time with. I am very aware of my footprint on this earth, and will be aware for the rest of my life!

  16. Second Generation here. And I’ve spent the last 5-10 years trying to prep myself for the distinct possibility that no matter how awesome a parent I am my future children may in fact be “normal” and that if I raise multiple offspring the chances of one of them being “normal” increase exponentially.

    I’m hoping that by the time these hypothetical children are making they’re theoretical life decisions I’ll be a big enough person (and have listened to Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” enough times), to truly be happy for whatever makes THEM happy.

    “Oh don’t you worry, you’ll find yourself. Follow you’re heart, and nothing else… All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied.”

    As long as they live intentionally, and with honor, that’s all I ask.

    And I’m going to believe it if it kills me 😉


    haha, i am definitely a 2nd gen. and, i have rebelled away from my parents a ton, but for me that meant that i had a birth certificate issued, i now have a social security number, and i pay my taxes. my whole entire life i have just wanted to be normal… and now i get it. and there are others like me!

    and it is funny, i do carry with me some of the thoughts… mostly about food.

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