Mil­len­ni­als put their stamp on par­ent­ing

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - GLOBE LIFE & ARTS - BRUCE FEILER

From so­cial me­dia to split­ting chores, ‘paren­ni­als’ have been busy grow­ing up, set­tling down and rein­vent­ing par­ent­hood

W hen Anne Hal­sall, 34, brought her first son home from the hospi­tal in 2012, she ea­gerly fol­lowed the best ad­vice about breast­feed­ing. Her son, how­ever, kept los­ing weight – first a lit­tle, then a lot. “It was a dark time for me,” she said.

Af­ter get­ting con­flict­ing ad­vice from ex­perts, Hal­sall, a Chicago na­tive who was liv­ing in San Fran­cisco with her fi­ancée, then did what many frus­trated new moth­ers do th­ese days. She turned to Google.

“That’s when I re­al­ized I was a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen in the eyes of the in­ter­net,” she said. “I tried to down­load an app for breast­feed­ing, and they were all clearly made by men and they were all hor­ri­ble.”

So Hal­sall, an en­gi­neer, wrote her own, called Baby’s Day. “I was a frus­trated mom who built an app for moms,” she said. “You can’t get more mil­len­nial than that!”

The much-ma­ligned gen­er­a­tion of mil­len­ni­als, those born be­tween roughly 1980 and 2000, has been chided for be­ing self­ish, spoiled, un­com­mu­nica­tive, over-com­mu­nica­tive and ad­dicted to tro­phies, hookups and likes.

But while the rest of so­ci­ety has been busy hat­ing on mil­len­ni­als, the older ones have been busy grow­ing up, set­tling down and hav­ing chil­dren. More than 16 mil­lion mil­len­nial women are now moth­ers, ac­cord­ing to Pew, a num­ber that grows by more than one mil­lion every year.

Eighty-two per cent of chil­dren born each year are born to mil­len­nial moth­ers. That’s five out of every six ba­bies. And their par­ents – let’s call them “paren­ni­als” – are chal­leng­ing all sorts of com­monly held be­liefs about the Amer­i­can fam­ily.

Let’s ex­am­ine their in­no­va­tions one at a time.

#Hash­tagBaby

Paren­ni­als spent their for­ma­tive years steeped in per­sonal tech­nol­ogy. As a re­sult, they’re “high-in­for­ma­tion par­ents,” said Re­becca Par­lakian, the pro­gram di­rec­tor for Zero to Three, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has been study­ing new par­ents since 1977.

“The good news is that par­ents know more about child de­vel­op­ment than ever be­fore,” she said. “Google is the new grand­par­ent, the new neigh­bour, the new nanny.”

The bad news is that par­ents feel over­whelmed by the vol­ume of in­for­ma­tion, con­fused about the “right way” to do things and harshly judged by friends and rel­a­tives.

Kate Flynn, 32, lives in Brook­lyn, N.Y., with her 11-month-old daugh­ter, Isla, and her col­lege sweet­heart, Michael. Like many new par­ents, she felt un­pre­pared for the re­spon­si­bil­ity. “We feel like kids who aren’t old enough to have kids,” she said.

To com­pen­sate, she re­lies on tech­nol­ogy, from chat rooms to child-de­vel­op­ment apps such as Won­der Weeks and We­bMDBaby.

“I’ll be on the phone with my mom and say, ‘The app is telling me that she is start­ing her ninemonth sleep pro­gres­sion,’ ” Flynn said. “I just found out that Won­der Weeks only goes to when the child is 1. I don’t know if that’s lib­er­at­ing or scary.”

Many paren­ni­als, ac­cus­tomed to chron­i­cling every fab ap­pe­tizer and every failed job in­ter­view, give their chil­dren YouTube chan­nels from the first sono­gram and hash­tags when they’re born.

Sara Mauskopf, 32, a one­time em­ployee of Google from Philadel­phia who is now a part­ner with Hal­sall in Win­nie, a par­ent­ing startup, even named her daugh­ter with her so­cial-me­dia pro­file in mind.

“I knew I wanted to name her Brynn, but when con­sid­er­ing mid­dle names, there were a cou­ple of ‘A’ names we were think­ing about. We chose Brynn Avery be­cause I could get the Twit­ter han­dle @Bryn­nAvery,” Mauskopf said.

Oth­ers, such as Kas­san­dra Or­tiz, 26, a stay-at-home mother of two in Brook­lyn, are warier. Af­ter be­ing stalked on­line by a classmate who posted her photo along with comments about what he wanted to do to her, Or­tiz con­sid­ers her­self “overly pro­tec­tive” of her chil­dren.

“I like tak­ing pic­tures of my kids walk­ing away, so I avoid show­ing their faces,” Or­tiz said. “I have this fear that if I post a pic­ture on In­sta­gram, then my child will be­come a meme.”

So long, Mom and Dad; hello, co-par­ents

Brad Har­ring­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Bos­ton Col­lege Cen­ter for Work and Fam­ily, has found that a third of mil­len­nial fam­i­lies fol­low tra­di­tional gen­der roles and are com­fort­able with their de­ci­sion. An­other third of them say spouses should share chores equally and feel they achieve this goal, while the fi­nal third strive for this equal­ity but the fe­male part­ner, in real­ity, does more.

“For 30 years, we’ve been ask­ing, ‘Can women have it all?’ ” Har­ring­ton said. “Now, we’re ask­ing if men can have it all.”

Gabe Wells, 33, a loan of­fi­cer, was born in Iowa and moved to Port­land, Ore., with his wife, Caitlin, who was his girl­friend at the time. When she be­came preg­nant, the two went through a “rough patch,” he said, and went into coun­selling.

“The No. 1 thing I learned is that my lan­guage changed,” he said. “I don’t say ‘mother’ and ‘fa­ther’ any more. I say ‘co-par­ent.’ It sounds odd to peo­ple in the Mid­west, but it’s more re­flec­tive of what we’re try­ing to do.”

They re­al­ize 50-50 is “a pipe dream,” he said. “But If we can trade off go­ing 60-40, that’s great.”

Co-par­ent­ing does come with down­sides. Par­lakian of Zero to Three said she’s be­gun to de­tect a new theme in her an­nual sur­veys of par­ents. She calls it “gate-keep­ing,” when the less-in­volved par­ent tries to step up but the pri­mary par­ent slaps the part­ner down, say­ing “You did it the wrong way” or “Why did you put the baby in that?”

“Given the state­ment, ‘I would like to be more in­volved with rais­ing my child but my par­ent­ing part­ner in­ter­feres with my in­volve­ment,’ nearly half the dads agree,” Par­lakian said, “while only 16 per cent of moms do.”

From her ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning Win­nie, Hal­sall has con­cluded that “mil­len­nial dads are dif­fer­ent than their el­ders, in that they see it as a pos­i­tive mas­cu­line trait to be in­volved with their chil­dren,” she said.

Can Granny pay the rent?

New par­ents of all ages of­ten face money woes, but with paren­ni­als, th­ese chal­lenges can feel par­tic­u­larly acute be­cause they reached child­bear­ing age dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion, are sad­dled with col­lege debt and are per­haps job-hop­ping or part of the gig econ­omy.

As a re­sult, many paren­ni­als rely on their own baby-boomer par­ents for fi­nan­cial sup­port. Or­tiz has started a pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness on the side while her hus­band, who hopes to get into real es­tate, drives for Uber. To make ends meet, they get fi­nan­cial help with rent from her mother-in-law.

“Money has al­ways been an is­sue, but we do our best and hope God will pro­vide,” Or­tiz said. “I don’t know if it’s a mil­len­nial thing, but we spend so much money eat­ing out. We’d be bet­ter off if we didn’t.”

Jess Laird, 31, grew up in the East Vil­lage neigh­bour­hood of Man­hat­tan, N.Y., with par­ents who were “broke ac­tors,” she said, so she’s used to money strug­gles. She was work­ing full-time when she had her first child at 29, but wanted to spend more time with her daugh­ter. Since then, she has worked at a startup that went out of busi­ness and now free­lances re­motely. She is still pay­ing off her un­der­grad­u­ate loans, and her hus­band, Mor­gan, is do­ing the same with his law-school debt.

With so much fi­nan­cial pres­sure, they rely on her mother for child care.

“Other moms I talk to who are 35 or 40 seem to be more set­tled fi­nan­cially,” she said. “It feels weird when I say, ‘My mom is tak­ing care of my kid.’ I even use the word ‘mother’ be­cause it sounds more adult.”

Los­ing their re­li­gion

Gen­der roles are not the only thing be­ing chal­lenged by paren­ni­als; other so­cial norms are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing upheaval as well. Pew has found that al­most four in 10 Amer­i­cans mar­ried since 2010 have a spouse who is from a dif­fer­ent re­li­gious group, dou­ble the num­ber from 1960. Nine in 10 mil­len­ni­als ap­prove of in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage or cross-cul­tural mar­riage.

The dis­dain of Andrew Moore, 33, and his wife, Rachel, 31, for re­li­gion has caused fric­tion with his fam­ily, who were mis­sion­ar­ies. “My mom just doesn’t talk about it,” said Andrew Moore, a phys­i­cal sci­en­tist who is the fa­ther of Har­ri­son, 2. “My fa­ther asked me, not long af­ter I told him I was non-re­li­gious, whether I would raise my chil­dren Chris­tian. I was, like, ‘No, man, I don’t be­lieve it.’ ”

The one thing they’re teach­ing him, he said, is “some peo­ple get value from re­li­gion, and he might, too, as long as he re­al­izes that what’s good for him might not be great for an­other.”

This sense of flu­id­ity, of im­pro­vi­sa­tion, of “mak­ing it work” in the words of one cou­ple, or “get­ting by” in the words of an­other, ap­pears to be an early, uni­fy­ing theme of mil­len­nial par­ents.

Maybe it’s their un­cer­tain eco­nomic sta­tus, their sense of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, or sim­ply the times they grew up in, but many paren­ni­als seem less rigid than their el­ders.

“I thought we were sup­posed to do things a cer­tain way,” said Flynn of Brook­lyn, who had mul­ti­ple jobs and mul­ti­ple apart­ments when she was in her 20s. “Have the ca­reer, the house, the green grass and then the kid. But that didn’t hap­pen. My life has a dif­fer­ent plan.

“Hav­ing a kid when things are un­sta­ble like this,” she said, “feels like a startup. We kind of know where we are go­ing with this, but we don’t know how it’s go­ing to turn out.”

JOYCE HESSELBERTH/THE NEW YORK TIMES

The much-ex­am­ined gen­er­a­tion of mil­len­ni­als, those born be­tween roughly 1980 and 2000, has been chided for be­ing self­ish, un­com­mu­nica­tive and over­com­mu­nica­tive. But they are now hav­ing chil­dren of their own and are par­ent­ing very dif­fer­ently from their fore­bears.

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