Move over, baby boomers! It’s officially the millennials’ (those currently aged 18 to 34) turn to raise the yet-to-be-named, future generation of children. This makes one wonder … are millennial parents all that different from the parents of yesteryears?
For Dr Kathleen Gerson – a 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 yes. This is partly because today’s young families are navigating some big societal shifts that previous generations did not have to. “Many children now grow up in houses with two working parents or with one parent,” Gerson says. “Mothers are more likely to be working now too.”
So how do these changing realities shape millennials’ approach to parenting? Compiled from KinderCare, here is a list of six trends that are shaping millenial life today.
1. Parents spend more time with their children
According to Gerson, one of the biggest misconceptions about parenting today is that the parents are less devoted than they used to be. “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 they did in the 1950s.”
2. Positive parenting is valued
Around mid-20th century, there was a strong shift from the notion that strict discipline and physical force were acceptable ways to regulate children’s behavior. 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,” reveals Gerson. “Are we rewarding children too often when they haven’t achieved great things?” According to Gerson, the jury’s still undecided.
3. Togetherness is also valued
Many families still value meals as a time for everyone to be together, but the traditional family dinner is becoming increasingly hard 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 new bonding time.
4. Safety first
Today most families, regardless of their income or education level, want to keep children as safe as possible. “No one complains, for example, about buckling their children in car seats. For today’s families, this is just what good parenting requires,” says Gerson.
5. Everything is scheduled, even free time
It’s not news that our lives have become more scheduled than they were a generation ago and this is a direct reflection of what has happened in parents’ work lives. “Work weeks have expanded and this has trickled down into the lives of children,” states Gerson. Free time increasingly is something parents now have to carve out. For many middle-class families, it involves scheduling activities such as play dates.
6. Parents understand early childhood years are critical and fleeting
“Today’s parents continue to make sacrifices for their children, despite the belief that parental sacrifice is in decline,” Gerson notes. 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.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 31st, 2016.
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