Millennial Moms & Dads: 6 Ways They're Raising Kids Differently

Photo by © Dina Giangregorio/Stocksy

Move over, baby boomers.

It’s official: Millennials (those currently aged 18 to 34) now number 75.4 million people—more than any other generation, including the baby boomers. And right now, those millennials are raising the yet-to-be-named future generation of Americans.

Which got us thinking: Are millennial parents all that different from the parents of yesteryear?

According to Dr. Kathleen Gerson, sociology professor at New York University and author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, the answer is, well, yes. This is partly because today’s young families are navigating some big societal shifts that previous generations did not experience. “Many children now grow up in houses with two working parents or with one parent,” Gerson says. “Mothers are more likely to be working,”

So how do these changing realities shape millennials’ approach to parenting? Gerson offered her take on a few trends that are shaping life for the millennial family today.

1. Millennial Parents Are Busier—But They Spend More Time with Their Children.

According to Gerson, one of the biggest misconceptions about parenting today is that parents are less devoted than parents were decades ago. “The research shows this is not the case,” says Gerson. Even though many families now have two working parents, “the fact is that parents today are spending more time with their children than parents did in the 1950s.”

2. Millennial Parents Value Positive Parenting over Authoritarian Discipline.

“Around the mid-20th century, there was a strong shift from the notion that strict discipline and physical force were acceptable and even good ways to set limits on behavior,” says Gerson. Today’s parents are more likely to reinforce positive behaviors than punish negative ones. But is that a good thing? “We’re in the middle of a debate about whether we’ve gone too far in the other direction,” says Gerson. “Are we rewarding children too often when they haven’t achieved great things?” According to Gerson, the jury’s still out.

3. Millennial Parents Value Togetherness (Though Not Always at Mealtime).

Many families still value meals as a time for everyone to be together, but the traditional 6:00 family dinner is becoming increasingly harder to pull off: Often both parents are working, with little control over their schedules. “Wage workers might receive their schedules just hours before they have to work, and professionals might find out in the morning that they are expected to stay late—all these uncertainties make it difficult to schedule shared evening meals.” And yet, today’s parents still value spending quality time as a family—they’ve just found a different time to do so. “For many families, the weekends have become the time for being together,” Gerson says.

4. Millennial Parents Are (Super) Safe.

“Today most families, regardless of their income or education level, want to keep their children as safe as possible,” Gerson says. “No one complains, for example, about buckling their children in car seats. For today’s families, this is just what good parenting requires.”

5. Many Millennial Parents Tend to Schedule Everything—Even Free Time.

It’s not news that children’s lives have become more scheduled than they were a generation ago—and this is a direct reflection of what’s happened in parents’ work lives. “Work weeks have expanded…and this has trickled down into the lives of children,” Gerson says. “Free time increasingly is something you now have to carve out. For many middle class families, it involves scheduling activities such as ‘play dates.’”

6. Millennial Parents Understand That These Early Years Are Critical—and Fleeting.

“Today’s parents continue to make sacrifices for their children, despite the belief that parental sacrifice is in decline,” says Gerson. “Even amid new economic uncertainties, most parents are doing their best to give their children whatever they need to grow up and find a stable future in an increasingly unpredictable world.”

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