According to Pew Research, when comparing across generations at the same stage of their lives, millennials are less likely to live with a family of their own, get married, settle down, and have children. The knee-jerk reaction among older generations is to label millennials as selfish; they would rather spend time and money on themselves than embrace the challenge of having a family. Yet, as with so many negative characterizations of this generation, calling millennials selfish misses the point entirely.
Each generation responds and evolves to face its realities. Parenting in the 21st century is arguably a greater challenge than it’s ever been before. Low birth and marriage rates reflect that millennials take such endeavors seriously. The question now facing so many young parents is how to balance their responsibilities with the desire to enjoy life and pursue their careers. Here are some insights that could prove helpful.
Reaching into the past for answers
In his timely book, The World Until Yesterday, author Jared Diamond discusses how studying traditional societies can offer solutions for a modern world, including the challenge of raising a child. The nuclear family is a recent concept; in the developed world, parents struggle to juggle their childcare duties with everything else that’s on a responsible adult’s plate. Traditional societies have been able to rely on the extended family to share the burden, allowing parents to take time off from the role of primary caregiver.
Still, most Americans today would argue that the benefits of modern society far outweigh the negatives. Modern medicine has significantly reduced infant mortality; your child’s go-to pediatric dentist will help them establish a lifetime of good oral hygiene. Going back in time is certainly not a solution. But reconciling with the past can provide alternatives. In a world that’s struggling to recover from a global pandemic, childcare is increasingly expensive. Instead of building ties through social media, you could bring in members of your extended family for a spell; even a temporary arrangement can provide parents with immense relief and free time. Childcare co-ops are another alternative that’s becoming more popular. The underlying principle is the same: outside of the nuclear family, friends and relatives can help you manage the load.
Navigating an ever-changing world
Turning to the past may offer useful insights for today’s parents, but this approach has its limitations. We all like to think that the lessons of the past will help us deal with our reality. However, the world we live in is different from the one our parents or grandparents knew. It may be markedly different even from the one in which you grew up. Logically, it follows that the children of millennials will also have very different experiences from those of their parents.
Today’s parents need to turn their focus and attention to the present situation. The modern world presents us with unique challenges. Managing the influence of social media and devices in our lives is one of the biggest issues any new parent will face. Children will have to deal with status pressure and potentially negative body image. An education system that often lags behind is turning out graduates who are ill-equipped to land competitive jobs.
None of these problems were at the forefront of our concerns when raising children in decades past. And as the world continues to change, they may recede or change while other issues emerge. Listen to your children and the world around you; be aware of their spoken—and unstated—concerns.
Follow principles, not particulars
Growing up in the developed world, many young parents don’t have any direct experience with raising children. This is why people turn to other sources—books, older friends, the internet—for advice. Yet the information we receive can be conflicting. Do modern parents over-coddle their children, or is tough love harmful? When we sacrifice time with our families to earn more, are we teaching them the value of hard work or depriving them of the opportunity to bond with their parents?
Rather than focusing on the particulars of a single parenting approach, today’s parents can do a better job by adhering to a sound set of principles. Along with the increased awareness of children and their environment, parents need to help develop a child’s emotional control and redirect their behavior. Paying attention, building confidence, and fostering positive interactions will prevent children from turning to various, unpredictable negative influences. How you execute the details must be tailored to your child’s personality and needs, but it always comes down to being willing and able to step up and lead at every opportunity.