Gen Why: How Millennials Will Parent

I had heard things about the Millennial generation for a while before I realized I was part of it.  I listen to a lot of NPR, and I feel like there’s always a radio guest fretting about the Millennials’ loss of human connection in the face of digital-deluge, or the Millennials’ neglect of things like… I don’t know, reading, for example. When the term Millennials was becoming more prevalent, I just had a picture of nightmarish tweens with smart phones.

Now, in 2013, tweens aren’t Millennials anymore. The exact cutoff depends on the source, but in general Millennials (A.K.A. Gen Y) are born between 1980 – 2000, so that includes early teens to people in their early thirties.

me at 3 years old

me at 2 years old, circa 1986

Looking at generations became interesting to me right away when I began this project with my mom. Reading her young voice, at nearly my age, has been startling at times. There are passages when it is hard for me to fully relate to the moment of time she was in. This project introduced me to a new understanding of my mom and myself — outside of our relationship as mother and daughter, outside of the 30-year age gap that separates our life-cycles… This project helped me see us as two women who have been shaped by cultural moments: a Baby-Boomer and a Millennial. Our priorities, anxieties, habits, and identities have been grouped, analyzed, and named based on events, cohorts, and shifts in zeitgeist…

my mom at 3 years old

my mom at 2 years old, circa 1956

I have asked what it will be like to raise a second generation of unschoolers. But there is another equally interesting question that I want to pose: how will the Millennials be different as parents?

When I read descriptions of the six living generations, who one’s parents are is clearly formative in defining what imprints a new generation. Older Millennials are the children of Baby Boomers, with younger ones being the children of Gen X. But there’s always interesting grey zones, too. My husband, for example, is the youngest of four — his three older sisters are all Gen X through and through, and his father is part of the Silent Generation. So Josh connects to aspects of the Gen X description, but also leans heavily towards the Millennial description, despite the age of his parents and siblings. It leads me to suspect there’s really something to this whole generation by birthdate thing…

Most of what is written about Millennials so far is not about them as parents (partly because of the continued trend toward older parenting — which we’ve addressed! — Millennials are waiting longer to have kids than any previous generation).  But Millennials are becoming parents, and I have some thoughts about what values and priorities my generation will bring to parenting…

I’m going out on a limb here, but here are my predictions:

  • Everything will be personalized — I see my generation, more so than any before us, wanting and expecting our kids to be treated as individuals, as unique. And expecting things that are tailored and personalized to meet their needs. Millennials expect this for ourselves, and we’ll expect it for our kids.
  • BUT collaboration will be powerful — Everything you read about Millennials says they like to work in teams… I guess that can be credited to the crowd-source, open-source, free information digital moment we came of age in. And I think the true power and potential of collaboration is still beginning to bloom. I think the children of Millennials will be taught to value collaboration. And I think our kids are going to be treated as collaborators in the families that we raise.
  • Do it yourself — And not just the DIY & local trend, with home-grown and canned tomatoes (although, I think we’ll also continue to exemplify those values to our kids).  I’ve read a lot of places that my generation wants handholding and accolades. Maybe we do! Handholding can be nice sometimes. But, from the people I know, my generation also has had to hustle, putting together parts of this and that to make a whole. As the economy has changed, it’s forced creativity, flexibility, and independence to be the ruling values of the day. The old saying “if you want it done right, do it yourself” might be something we tell our kids.
  • BUT network & connect — There may seem to be contradictions here: we value customization but also collaboration, we value DIY, but know it’s better not to go it totally alone.  To me, these contractions make perfect sense for my generation, and belong together to strike a balance. Millennials have graduated college into a tough job market — really tough. We are the most college-educated generation, but 25- to 35-year-old Americans are the least employed in any of the developed nations, and this is a brand new trend (move over, Europe). Millennials have learned the hard way: you can play by all the rules and still not get a golden ticket into adulthood… So the other important ingredient we’ll emphasize to our kids (besides independence) is network building. It’s important who you know, and how you connect. It’s where opportunities come from.
  • Success will mean quality time AND stability — I buy into the idea that Millennials don’t live to work, and that we expect work to hold real personal meaning. But Millennials have lived through some serious instability (9/11, wars in the Middle East, economic collapse, high student debt, low employment, polarized political dysfunction). I see my generation valuing stability for our kids, but in the face of challenges, I also see us prioritizing quality time.
  • Being good parents is important to us — From everyone I know, Millennials see parenting as a great responsibility, a role of great importance. I think my generation has high expectations for ourselves, and I see us waiting longer on marriage and parenthood partly with an intention to get it right. I think that Millennials really want to get it right, and that we kind of think we can.