While Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like to imagine those of us born between 1980 and 2000 are a bunch of hapless, entitled, overindulged, narcissistic babies (which is pretty rich considering they raised us), one description they probably don’t associate with “Millennial” is “parent.” But in fact, Millennials make up 90% of new mothers. So watch out, elders: We’re moms now and we’ve got ideas! Lots and lots of ideas about how we’re going to shake things up!
“Millennial” it seems has, in many instances, become less descriptive and more pejorative: “Oh, those damn Millennials, what with their iPhones, and Twitter, and Kardashians, and always slacking off and thinking the world owes them something.” Of course, when it comes down to it, swapping out a few details one could just as easily find similar complaints for not only Boomers and Gen Xers, but every preceding generation, so I don’t take it personally. But in spite of all the negative media spin and the rants of your obnoxious aunt at Thanksgiving who just learned the term “Gen Y” the week before and incorporates it in every complaining conversations she can muster, Millennials really aren’t so bad. Generally speaking, they’re really not so different from their parents and grandparents, and the differences that do exist aren’t necessarily a bad thing! This is especially true when it comes to raising our kids, which we're doing in markedly different ways than any other generation before us (yes, I know, it's very Millennial of me to think we're so exceptional).
Here are ways Millennial moms are breaking tradition and establishing new paradigms.
We Are Exposed To Far More Ideas And Alternatives About Parenting Than Our Mothers And Grandmothers
“Parenting” as a verb didn’t even come along until 1959, so needless to say Baby Boomers, for whom it was a nascent term, really weren’t putting as much thought into their parenting philosophies and styles as we do today. Back then it was basically, “Look, here’s what you do: Just do whatever your mom and dad did.” If you were a rebel, you read Dr. Spock (not to be confused with Mr. Spock, who I’m guessing would make a terrible parent), who was basically the only alternative to the status quo back in the day.
Then Gen X rolled around onto the parenting scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s, all angsty and determined not to be like their parents, and they wrote a few more books and talked a bit more about different ways to parent. But Millennials, what with our fancy Interwebz, have a world of ideas literally in our pockets and are exposed to more ideas and philosophies than previous generations probably could have imagined. Moreover, if we feel out of place in our physical communities, we have access to international communities of like-minded parents who share our thoughts and feelings and with whom we can swap tips and tricks of the trade. It’s mostly pretty awesome, though maybe sometimes confusing with lots of contradictory info out there.
We Parent With The Help Of Technology
Even for an older Millennial like myself (early-’80s babies represent!), we were suckled at the teat of technology. Computer ownership increased dramatically in the '90s, from 15 to 35 percent between 1990 and 1997. Today, more than 83 percent of households have a computer and more 63 percent have a “handheld” computer (aka, smart phone or similar device). Obviously this changes countless aspects of our lives, from how we receive and disseminate information to how we shop to how we parent. Lots of Millennials’ kids are growing up using technology, like this adorable baby who went viral for thinking a magazine is an iPad. (Silly, silly baby. That’s not how magazines work, you precious little fool!) And even if you’re a parent who limits (or completely restricts) your child’s access to screens, chances are you yourself use technology to read parenting books (on your Kindle), connect to babywearing message boards, or find recipes for DIY baby food.
Our Car Seats Aren’t Death Traps
This is my brother and I circa 1987. Please note the fact that, at 4 years old, I am not secured in so much as a booster seat let alone the recommended five-point harness of today (and which is the law in my home state). My brother’s car seat, hard plastic with no cushioning and loose straps that isn’t even secured to the actual car with a seat belt would give car seat crusaders a heart attack. Not only have vast improvements been made since Millennial moms were kids but we are largely aware of them, at least more so than with previous generations. Knowledge is power, y’all.
We Are Taught “Back Is Best”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) began recommending babies be placed on their backs to sleep in 1992. By 2000, the Back to Sleep campaign decreased SIDS deaths by 50 percent. My mother fretfully assures me that she was told just the opposite by all her doctors when she had me and my siblings (between 1982 and 1991), so it just goes to show how much we continue to learn. I’m curious to see what doctors insist I do that will wind up being catastrophically dangerous by the time my kids are adults.
We Are More Likely To Breastfeed Or Want To
Breastfeeding rates declined sharply between the 1930s and ‘70s before reaching a mere 24% in 1971. My grandmother was a rare lady: In 1961, she made a concerted effort to breastfeed her first child. It didn’t go so well. At an appointment, she offhandedly mentioned to her doctor that there had been a car crash in front of the house recently and it kind of shook her up. “Oh, no wonder breastfeeding isn’t working for you. The shock of the accident certainly made your milk turn sour! You should start him on formula right away.” A 20th century medical doctor actually said this. Nowadays, with concerted public health campaigns, breastfeeding is once again on the rise. Now if only we could put policies in place to help mothers who wish to nurse their babies that would be just dandy.
We’re Pickier Eaters
Debates about GMOs, organic eating, and increased rates of obesity, allergies, and autism have many Millennial parents very concerned about the foods we feed our kids. Fast-food chains are seeing decreased sales among Millennials, and brands that emphasize healthier eating, such as Chipotle and Whole Foods, are on the rise. We prefer smaller brands that prioritize health, transparency, and other ethical values. (Though, I’ll admit: While I try to make sure my kids eat a variety of healthy foods that are good for their bodies, sometimes sugar-laden cupcakes are good for their souls. It’s about balance, like when I balance a cupcake in one hand and a bag of potato chips in another.)
We Have Lots of Philosophies And Causes That Influence How We Parent
Despite the grousing of the previous generations, Millennials are socially and politically engaged in new and sustainable ways, perhaps even more so than their famous Baby Boomer Hippie predecessors. Our moral convictions affect much of what we do as parents, from the food we feed our children, to where we buy their clothes (and what kind of clothes we buy) to the stories we read them before they go to bed at night. We’re awake, aware, and angling for change, and we’re getting our kids on board with that, too.
Images: Jessica Blankenship; Giphy(3); Pixabay(2); Jamie Kenney; Allison Gore/Romper