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Balancing Act: We officially sucked all the fun out of ‘OK, Boomer.’ This is why we can’t have nice things

That didn't take long.

"OK, Boomer" went from a fun, harmless-even-though-it-stings-a-bit phrase to an overthought, hyper analyzed, "declaration of intergenerational war" (Maureen Dowd's words, not mine) in a week flat.

The saying started out as a clever, if biting, retort delivered by Generation Z in response to the lame directives/opinions/hand wringings of pretty much anyone over 30.

Then the New York Times wrote about it. And NBC News covered it. And Deseret News got defensive about it. ("Generation Z is embracing this new phrase called 'OK, Boomer.' But baby boomers have something to say about that phrase. They don't like it!")

And just like that, the air started leaking out of "OK, Boomer" like a day-old helium balloon.

"Boomers hate it, gen x will mock it, millennials will enthusiastically use it to the point of exhausting it without actually inventing it," New York-based writer Rachel Syme tweeted, "and gen z has already moved on and thinks we are all nobs."

We killed "OK, Boomer."

Killing stuff is supposed to be a millennial thing, but I actually think my generation – the one actively raising kids right now – is pretty adept at it too. In our quest to stay connected and close to our kids, we sometimes forget that they need and deserve space to live their childhoods without us taking every one of their triumphs and travails and quips so personally.

I probably unwittingly contributed to "OK, Boomer's" early demise. I wrote about how I came face-to-face with the saying when my kids and their friends were home during the Chicago Public Schools teacher strike. I thought the phrase was pretty clever – a sign that kids are simultaneously bemused by us and eager to reject our old ways of thinking, confident they'll create a better, healthier, more equitable world than we have. And I believe they will.

But I think something a little bigger is at play here as well.

I think a lot of us, well-intentioned though we may be, fail to keep our own egos in check when we're observing and participating in our kids' childhoods.

Their grades become a measure of our parenting, rather than a measure of how well they grasped the academic material in front of them.

Their colleges become the grand finale of our 18 years of work – the ultimate return on investment – rather than a place for them to build on their 18 years of life so far – and a place from which to launch into the rest of their decades.

Their sports? Oh, man. Their sports. I have watched grown-ups take a child's game and turn it into a high-stakes pressure cooker more times than I care to count. Grown-ups yelling at 15-year-old umpires. Grown-ups yelling at their kids' opponents, who also happen to be kids, of course. Grown-ups yelling at other grown-ups about who was out, what was foul, whether that kid was off-sides, whether that judge is biased. So very much yelling.

I have watched my son come home from various games and turn to the cold comfort of his Xbox, where he can control the wins and losses on Madden NFL 20 and no one's screaming at his teammates from the sidelines or the bleachers. I have watched, on some days, a video game become more fun than a real game played with real humans.

Are these the same forces that killed "OK, Boomer"? It all sounds a little overwrought, I realize.

But I do think it's worth asking ourselves, in any situation, but particularly in parenting: Is this really about me?

Haven't younger generations always been skeptical of older generations? Isn't "OK, Boomer" just the latest version of the '60s mantra, "Don't trust anyone over 30?" Couldn't we have shrugged this one off?

It's too late for "OK, Boomer," which has officially jumped the shark.

The other stuff though – the bigger stuff, the stuff that takes up more time and space in our kids' hearts and schedules and futures – I think that stuff is worth pausing and thinking hard about.

It's their childhood. We had ours. We can and should be there for as much of it as we possibly can. That's a gift and an honor. But we should also resist the urge to hold up their childhood as some kind of mirror to check our own reflections or boost our own egos.

I'm speaking to myself as much as anyone. It's tricky to find that sweet spot just before becoming overinvested, especially when you love these people more than life itself.

Maybe "OK, Boomer" can be our canary in the coal mine. Maybe "OK, Boomer" can remind us, when all else fails, to be a little better at laughing stuff off.

Join the Heidi Stevens Balancing Act Facebook group, where she continues the conversation around her columns and hosts occasional live chats.

(Contact Heidi Stevens at hstevens@tribune.com, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.)

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