How Millennial Parents Are Raising Their Children Differently

African American father and son
Roberto Westbrook/Getty Images 

Each generation of parents develops its signature parenting style. While no description can cover every parent, of course, past stereotypes of parenting styles include:

  • 1950s: Adult-centric family structure, where children were part of the family, but not the focus of the family. Adults and children lived parallel lives, with parents interacting with children for discipline and life lessons. Children were sent off to play on their own.
  • 1960s: A continuation of the 1950s, with a move towards more permissiveness and creativity. As the world began to grow more open-minded, so did parents.
  • 1970s-1980s: As divorce became more common and women entered the workforce, children began to take on more responsibility for their well-being and day-to-day needs. Latchkey kids became more commonplace, and the traditional mom, with milk and cookies waiting after school, became less so.
  • 1990s- 2000s: Helicoptering, over-scheduling, fears about safety – parents became more and more involved in their children's lives, from morning until bedtime than ever before.

What are parents of this decade doing differently from those in previous years? 

Millennials Are Waiting Longer to Start Families

For many reasons, including financial constraints, career decisions, wanderlust and more, young adults are waiting longer to have children than any generation before them.

Access to more reliable birth control, along with conscious choices of when to start a family have helped to raise the age of first-time mothers. In 2015, the average age a woman had her first baby was 28, according to the CDC. Compare that to 1990, when the average age of a first-time mother was 25, and it's clear that the age when parenting begins is climbing up.

Parents Share A Lot On Social Media

Social media is part of everyone's lives, but perhaps none so much as parents of young children. From the first sonogram to high school graduation, most parents in the 2010's are not shy - or conflicted - about sharing their children's lives online. Eighty-one percent of Millennial parents have shared images of their children on social media, compared to 47% of Baby Boomers parents. Parenting blogs, which started in the early 2000s, are now everywhere, covering topics ranging from co-sleeping to family travel. Parents use social media as a way of communicating with family members, where earlier generations of parents would make phone calls and mail photos to far-away relatives. 

Family Structure Is Open to Interpretation

Single parents and LGBTQ parents are changing the notion of what a traditional family looks like in the new millennium. 

For example:

Married couples comprise 68% of parents in the 21st century, compared to 93% in the 1950's.

According to Census.gov, between 2 million and 3.7 million children under age 18 have an LGBTQ parent, and approximately 200,000 of them are being raised by a same-sex couple. Many of these children are being raised by a single LGBTQ parent or by a different-sex couple where one parent is bisexual.

 

More women are choosing to be single parents each year.  Once typical of only poor and minority women, this trend doesn't seem to be slowing down, as the stigma of being a single mother has been replaced by the choice by women to have children on their own. 

Unique Names Are the Norm

Baby Boomers tended to name their children so they would fit in with other kids, resulting in classrooms filled with Karens, Lisas, Michaels, and Stevens. Unique names were not typical until very recently. Millennials, who as a rule like to do things their own way, are finding unusual, special and varied names for their babies, leading to grandparents who have learned to keep their opinions to themselves and classroom teachers who may have to guess at a child's gender before the first day of class.

 

Parenting Advice

Millennials have an enormous amount of resources to draw on for parenting tips, thanks to the internet, social media and the instant contact of texting. Unlike their parents, who relied on experts like Dr. Spock and T. Berry Brazelton for advice beyond their own moms and dads, Millennials can - and do - seek out experts in every field of parenting, gathering information from both virtual and real contacts. There is no end to the amount of advice available, but savvy Millennials are able to weed out what works for their children and what doesn't, and in turn can offer advice to new parents when the time comes. With extensive communities including Facebook groups, Instagram hashtags and more, Millennials have many ways to learn about the best way to raise their children.

More Family Time

It may not make sense, given that 46% of Millennial parents in the 2010's are both in the workforce, vs. 31% in 1970, but Millennials spend more time than any previous generation with their children. Fathers, in particular, are spending a lot more time - 59 minutes a day -  with their children than fathers spent with their children in the 1960's, when they averaged only 16 minutes a day of time spent parenting. 

The commitment to a structured schedule that many Millennials have for their children's activities means that parents are often with their kids, from Mommy and Me classes for toddlers to after-school sports team practices where moms and dads volunteer as coaches. Many activities become not just about the children but about the parents, as well. While family dinner around the dining room table is not as common as it once was, parents are spending lots of time with their kids in other ways. There is homework to be managed, carpools to drive, and many other ways parents sneak in time together with their families. 

With more people working from home, parents are much more readily available for last minute chores, commitments, and school activities. Millennials parents are far more child-focused than parents in past decades, and that's how they like it.