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New Challenges and Changes Facing Millennial Generation Parents

By Shaindy Urman

About a month ago, I sat in a tall, straight-back chair at a long, regal dining room table, surrounded by my family and piles of flattened, round, unleavened bread, singing songs, drinking wine, and celebrating freedom. Candles were lit, the table was set, and we all reflected upon our history as a nation – from generation to generation. In the corner of the room, balloons floated up to the ceiling, and at the table, a little girl sang “Happy Birthday” right in her mother’s ear.
If this sounds suspiciously like the seder on Pesach night – it’s because it is. But this year, the first night of Pesach was also meaningful for me on another level: it was my 29th birthday, that auspicious day where one enters one’s very last year of one’s twenties. Clearly a very big deal.

Who We Are
I, along with my generation, am a millennial. Although the precise years have not exactly been determined, millennials are considered to be Generation Y, individuals who were born roughly between 1980 and Y2K, the very last generation of the 20th century. The word millennial gets thrown around a lot these days: by the media, politicians, and major corporations, all of whom seek to corner and market to the all-important and oft-discussed millennials.
Millennials, it seems, tend to get a bad rep. Several years ago, a TIME Magazine cover featured an image of a girl taking a selfie on her iPhone, and was titled, “The Me Me Me Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” The media likes to tell us how millennials are too self-absorbed, too liberal, too entitled, too optimistic, too tolerant, too lazy, or too narcissistic. We helicopter parent and we don’t get off our phones; we are hopelessly delusional and are much too self-centered. We are the topics of headlines and studies, the subjects of speeches and marketing schemes. We are the object of adoration and disgust, of “what’s wrong with this generation?” and grudging respect.

Yes, we millennials are many things. But – and I hope this doesn’t sound like a selfish millennial thing to say – we are also a lot of good things. We are tolerant and we are optimistic. We care about the world and the people around us, and we strive to make our Earth a better place. Say what you will about millennials (it’s all been said already anyway) – fact is that we are also getting very many things right.

The New Family Unit
Though millennials are traditionally viewed as young and free and spoken about as if they are children, millennials are now having children of their own. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that millennials in America now number 75.4 million, and have overtaken Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. Of those 75.4 million, about 10.8 million have children, and the numbers are rapidly increasing.
It’s interesting to observe how this new generation, with all its advantages, disadvantages, differences, and distractions, is raising a new generation in a new world. Parenting today is not what it used to be in generations past; some say that millennial parents are too forgiving, too validating, and too friendly towards their children. Certainly, millennials do things very differently than our grandparents did. But even before all that, we need to recognize that millennials are different, and families, too, are different today in their very composition. Whereas generations ago, children traditionally lived with a mother, a father, and several siblings, today we have families of various compositions.
Take, for example, single-parent households. Most would agree that there is still some stigma attached to a woman or a man raising a child/ren alone, but the reality is that this is becoming more and more accepted. Whereas generations ago, divorce was not even an option no matter how bad the marriage was, today the number of single parents has more than tripled in America since 1960, according to The Pew Center. Single parents today – whether by choice or by circumstance – are empowered, independent, and have overcome tremendous hardships. It is a sign of strength, not shame, to leave a destructive marriage or to successfully raise children alone when there is no spouse to raise them with, and society is slowly learning to see that.

New Challenges and Changes
Today more than ever, parents carry so many more titles than simply “Mom” or “Dad.” The many roles a modern parent plays are as varied as the types of quinoa a millennial keeps in their kitchen, beginning with “parent” and ending with: employer/ employee/ student/ volunteer/ advocate/ caregiver/ spouse/ son/ daughter/ sibling/ friend/ community member. The never-ending cycle of: morning rush, drop off kids at school, get to work, then childcare and household responsibilities in the evening – plus any work the parent is required to bring home – can be incredibly stressful. Somehow, there never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish it all.
In some cases, parents are still attending or have gone back to college, even with young children at home, which creates its own unique set of challenges in terms of time management, financial stress, distribution of household responsibilities, and childcare arrangements. Once completing additional schooling and drowning in student debt, many graduates encounter the extreme difficulty of finding employment in their respective field. “If you look at the numbers starting in 2009, we’ve been in the longest sustained period of unemployment since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting their data following World War II,” says David Pasch, a spokesman for Generation Opportunity and a 26-year-old millennial. “This misconception that we don’t want jobs or that we’re lazy and entitled is nonsense.”

Anthony Carnevale, a director and research professor for Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, says that the millennial generation makes up about 40 percent of the unemployed in the United States. This unfortunate reality is particularly hard to swallow when the recent graduate is a parent who had sacrificed and worked so hard to provide a better life for his/her children.
In addition to job insecurity and the high cost of living in general, housing, in particular, has become impossibly costly. According to a U.S. News & World Report, U.S. home prices climbed at more than double the rate of incomes in January of this year. Renting costs, as well, have increased significantly, and many households today consist of two working parents who put in long hours, yet still struggle to keep up with the bills. Many a millennial parent is forced to get creative and figure out ways to cut costs, and one surprising way millennials are saving money is by moving back in with their parents. A 2015 Pew Research Center study shows that the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds living with their parents is higher today than it has been in decades, roughly around 30%. Of that percentage, a significant amount includes parents, who find themselves moving back home with their parents along with their spouse and children.

A Socially Networked Generation
One of the biggest changes this generation has faced is the reliance on and rampant use of technology. It’s been said that millennial parents are constantly on their phones, and that perhaps their parenting suffers as a result of their constant distraction. In fact, millennial parents are using technology to improve their parenting by researching and asking questions, getting things done quickly, and using the power of social media to interact and bond with other parents in a way that has never existed before.

Whether it’s skimming mommy blogs or accessing recipes, getting in touch quickly with class parents or ordering an overnight delivery of school supplies with the push of a button, technology has made it easier and faster to accomplish what we need to. As with all modern inventions, our phones can be used to help or to harm, but the benefits of having the world so readily accessible at our fingertips can be tremendously helpful when we are already juggling so much.

A New Kind of Parenting
In years past, the manner of disciplining children at home and in school was completely up to the parents and educators, regardless of how this impacted the children. Somehow, it was fully acceptable for an adult to use physical and harmful means to discipline a child, as long as the adult believed it was the right thing to do. Some still believe that this form of discipline benefits the child, despite studies that show the long-term psychological and emotional harm this type of behavior can cause. Many, however, understand that there are other ways to discipline children, none of which involve excessive corporal punishment.
Millennial parents are more psychologically aware than ever before, and it is not uncommon for parents to attend lectures, parenting classes, family therapy, or individual therapy, to learn parenting skills and how to better cope with everyday stresses. As in every generation, some millennial parents want to parent their children exactly as their parents did, while others intend on doing the exact opposite. Either way, there is a new awareness and understanding of the fragility of a child and his needs for validation, understanding, and having his basic needs met.

Old Enough yet Young Enough
It’s true what they say about millennials. We are confident in our abilities and are open-minded; we are hopeful towards the future and accepting of others’ differences. We care about what we eat and the air that we breathe, and we try to be good and help others around us. We also worry about our children – a lot, and we do everything in our power to ensure that they do well. We don’t solve their problems for them, but rather, we provide our children with the tools they will need to succeed in life.

As parents who are old enough to raise children yet still young enough to be labeled “millennials,” we face many challenges that our own parents have never had to contend with. In a world that is constantly changing and rapidly evolving, we are doing our best to raise our children and help them to be confident, healthy, successful individuals. At the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?

Shaindy Urman is a millennial parent and freelance writer who has contributed to parenting websites Kveller and Romper, and whose work has appeared in Tablet and The Forward. Shaindy is also an Intake Coordinator at OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, and can be reached via email at shaindy_urman@ohelfamily.org.

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