Picture this: It’s 1997. You get tired of watching ‘Hey Arnold’ so you pick up your landline and call your best friend who lives down the street. You make a plan to meet at their house with your bikes. Maybe you’ll see some other friends at the park. You grab some snacks on your way to the garage. You yell upstairs to your parents that you’re going out with friends to ride bikes and they reply, “Be home for dinner!” Life is good.
Fast forward to 2023. Your child is glued to a screen and you remind them that their screen time for the day will be over in five minutes. You set a timer because an Instagram account that you follow said this helps with transitions. You bought the timer specially on Amazon because the reviews claimed that this time was a ‘lifesaver’ and ‘changed their parenting for the better.’ You are always striving to be better.
The timer goes off and you’ve had just enough time to prepare a perfectly balanced, organic snack with no gluten or seed oils (per a Facebook mum group recommendation). You gently remind your child that screen time is over while praising them for putting the iPad away. You read an article that reinforcing positive behaviour is crucial to your child’s self confidence. The food is displayed in appealing shapes because a course you bought (for $59.99) said this would help encourage your child to enjoy more vegetables.
You’ve scheduled a playdate three weeks in advance. The other parent calls to cancel because they have cold symptoms and in 2023 after we’ve lived through a pandemic; cold symptoms are now something to be wary about. You decide to take your child for a bike ride. Thankfully, you spent hundreds of dollars on a bike camp last summer so they could learn how to do it! You put on their helmet (highest safety rating on Amazon, obvi). Then they’re off! Just kidding. You walk three feet behind them reminding them to look both ways at every crosswalk. When they get hungry you’re prepared with another healthy snack packed in a BPA-free bento box (duh).
Whew! I’m exhausted just writing this. Yet, this is the reality of life everyday as a parent in 2023. For our parents, in so many ways parenting us was a lot simpler than parenting our children today.
Is parenting in 2023 really that much better for us as parents or for our kids? I’m honestly not sure. Nearly 80% of millennial mums said it’s important to be “the perfect mum,” compared with about 70% of mums in Generation X. That’s a lot of pressure and I’m certainly feeling it as a millennial mum myself. I’ll take another large organic oat milk latte please (plain coffee? I’ll leave that to the boomers).
Previous generations definitely approached parenting differently than millennials. Of course it’s natural that each generation shifts their perspective, evolves, and parents to a certain degree in reaction to the way they were parented. The thing is, our generation has experienced so many things that previous generations didn’t have to deal with and this has definitely shaped our parenting experience – for better or for worse remains to be seen.
Millennial parents and technology
The internet has created a situation where parents have access to more information than ever before (and dare I say, more than they need). Nearly 90% of millennials are social-media users, compared with 76% of Gen X-ers and 59% of baby boomers. While the ability to get expert advice for free is undoubtedly a huge perk, there’s also seventeen armchair “experts” for every professional. And all of them have an Instagram account.
There’s more conflicting advice than anyone can manage. There are whole corners of the internet and social media dedicated to unwavering and almost fanatical beliefs about how you should feed your baby (and toddler, and preschooler…), whether you should sleep train (or sleep training will ruin your child forever). Should you practice attachment parenting? Gentle parenting? Time ins or time outs? Public school or homeschool or unschool? No wonder millennial parents are overwhelmed. Decision fatigue is a real thing and it’s no wonder millennials invented the term.
Not to mention, half the accounts I follow tell me I should be churning my own butter while gardening, and crafting felt puppets while of course, maintaining a healthy marriage, posting beautiful pictures of my family, taking time for myself for self care, and working out on one of the many apps advertised to me on one of the several social media platforms I use. Oh, and of course meditating for at least an hour daily!
In a survey by TIME magazine, 58% of millennial parents found the information available to them somewhat, very or extremely overwhelming while 46% of X-ers and 43% of boomers said the same.
The impact of technology on parents has been significant. And what about our kids? Our generation has had the pleasure of being the first to deal with mobile phones existing basically as an additional appendage, social media, and a pandemic that kept our kids indoors for years. My five year old is already asking me when she will get a phone. My answer: No clue. Because mobiles were for grownups when I was her age. This is uncharted territory. I’ll probably read upwards of 25 articles on the topic to figure it out. Maybe take an ecourse?
Not to mention the thought of my precious, innocent children being on social media makes me squirm. I’ve seen the studies about social media and mental health and the data is grim. Back to the bike scenario above – as someone who has grown up in a world where everyone is constantly accessible via phone; it feels uncomfortable to imagine sending my child out into the world unreachable. But does that mean I give my five year old who is literally just mastering reading sight words a phone? What about EMFs? This all makes me feel a whole lot of WTF. Previous generations just didn’t have to deal with all of this. And honestly? I’m a little envious.
Millennial parents and parenting philosophies
Janet Lansbury, Dr. Becky, Psychedmommy, ourmamavillage, biglittlefeelings – who do you follow? Previous generations typically had one predominant parenting “expert” with a book or two to reference. In the 1960s, it was Dr. Spock. Parenting in the 1970s? Penelope Leach was your gal. Heidi Murkoff of the “What to Expect” infamy entered the chat in the 1980s. The nineties saw a major rise in baby books with Dr. Sears, Harvey Karp, and others vying for ideological hegemony.
Today? The parenting space is saturated with experts. Millennial parents live the reality of the rise of thousands of experts combined with mums who are striving for perfection. Previous generations approached parenting from a behavioural perspective. From the roots of “seen but not heard” grew more authoritative parenting tactics. I don’t know about you but I was grounded more than once. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t that effective. Today’s parenting philosophies are grounded in neuroscience and doing our own work as parents: healing childhood wounds, breaking generational patterns, doing the work as they say. And trust me, it is a lot of work.
This is supposed to lead us toward approaching parenting with more confidence, compassion, and tools. More regulated parents equals more regulated children. Personally, I’m all about this approach. Bringing empathy, secure attachment, tools for self regulation, and welcoming big emotions feels much more grounded in neuroscience and how children actually develop. But it’s not easy. Previous generations were more authoritarian. Parents had the final word. Period. Millennials approach parenting more democratically. Let me tell you, trying to campaign and get consensus from a three year old about when we can eat a cookie requires a whole new skill set.
Doing all this personal growth work while trying to show up as a parent with patience and empathy is a full time job in itself. Previous generations definitely did not spend time wondering if they ruined their child’s attachment by yelling at them, or whether they should have offered choices when their child was melting down about wearing pants.
This pressure to show up perfectly is exhausting.
While previous generations’ parenting styles can be distilled into a few sentences, parenting as a millennial is an essay. The complexities, new and constantly evolving information, and access to that information have changed the game. My hope is that our children’s generation will see a return to rooting into their own intuition and relying less on the noise. I guess that will all depend on how well we teach them to do this. Maybe I can find an Instagram account to guide me through a free five day challenge? Let’s be honest, I’ll buy the course, too.