A Fresh Look at Millennial Parents, Part 1

What they are feeling and needing in their parenting

Posted Dec 07, 2016

A survey was recently conducted by Zero to Three to find out what millennial parents are feeling and needing as they try to ‘do their best’ to raise their young children well. With this generation, which ranges in age from about 18 to 34, the traditional internet or phone surveys didn’t seem adequate, given how social networking dominates so much of their communication. So ZTT went with the flow and interviewed varied and representative groups of parents who knew each other from their own social networks. The sampling of these important groups (4/5ths of the four million annual births in the USA) highlighted issues unique to millennial parents.

Mothers and fathers are keenly aware that the world has changed since they were children. Money is tight for most of them, mothers are having their first child around 26 (as opposed to 21 in 1970) and the percentage of children in single parent households is now 34% (as opposed to 18% in 1980). Also, fathers are particularly eager (and worried about being able) to be closer to their children than they were to their fathers and, in general, are being supported in that goal by their partners. Here are some other findings.

  • Though all parents understand the impact that a child’s early experiences has over a lifetime, they are not all comforted by that awareness. Some find it motivating to do their best all the time, while others find it frightening because no one can do their best all the time. The majority of millennials found it a mixture of both.
  • They all know perfect parenting is a myth and have found that discussing that with friends was powerfully reassuring, more so than just hearing it or reading about it on the internet. Permission (from oneself or partner) to ‘reboot’ or ‘redo’ when you are mishandling something with your child was a popular topic, given the consensus on the value of trial and error/’learning loop’ parenting experiences.
  • Though it doesn’t come easily to all parents, millennials put strong emphasis on tuning into each of their children’s unique identities by putting forth unconditional love. But such love should not prevent them from working to shape their children’s behavior to help them fit the family and community.

As for where this generation turns for support and help, they are more dependent on their friends and peers than on their own parents, and they love the internet but don’t trust it much. In my next blog, I’ll summarize the rest of the findings and what can be done about them.

Dr. Kyle Pruett is a Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Educational Advisory Board member for The Goddard School, an early childhood education franchise and leading preschool teaching learning through play (The Goddard School).