Leadership

Millennials may be history’s most competent parents. Here’s why.

Joel Graham, Julia Braverman-Graham and their daughter on NBC's "Parenthood"
NBC | Getty Images
Joel Graham, Julia Braverman-Graham and their daughter on NBC's "Parenthood"

In 2017, millennials make up 90 parents of all new parents. This generational shift is something we're tracking very closely at Winnie — as a tech company, we're more concerned with the future than with the past, and it's clear that millennials are one powerful force shaping the future of parenting.

We recently surveyed over 500 parents, both on and off the Winnie platform, in an effort to better understand how parenthood is changing the way millennials think about themselves and the world around them.

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They embrace parenthood as a new identity

As the first generation to come of age in the world of social media, there's no doubt that millennials are extremely identity conscious. Online representations of self must be carefully designed and maintained; a well-cultivated social media account has taken the place of the well-manicured lawn in signaling wealth, status, and general got-it-togetherness to peers.

Millennial parents are more likely to say that parenthood is a major part of their identity than previous generations. And in classic millennial fashion, they have made parenting a little bit their own with an impressive array of sub-identities that reflect not just their status as child-rearing adults, but also their personal, political and social ideologies. Make way for the crunchy moms, free-range parents, babywearing dads, single moms by choice, positive parents — just to name a few.

Self-centered millennials become selfless parents

In our survey, we asked millennials in their own words how they felt their life changed when they became parents. Over 1 in 4 noted a drastic shift in focus from self to family.

  • The focus of every decision was on my boys.
  • I stopped being selfish.
  • I've become a lot less selfish.
  • Life was no longer about myself.
  • It was no longer all about me.

These are just a few examples, but it is striking how similar the language and word choices are. For millennials, it isn't just a change in lifestyle — less money, less sleep, more stress—it's a change in how they are centered. The stereotypically self-absorbed millennial has disappeared, making room for both new life and a new take on adulthood.

They aren't planning their lives around traditional milestones

Millennials have always rewritten traditional routes to adulthood, and they're no different in their approach to parenthood. When asked to choose which they value more highly, being a good parent or having a lasting marriage, 61 percent of respondents chose being a good parent.

When asked whether they value home ownership or traveling and having family experiences, experiences won out with 56 percent of our cohort. One respondent even noted, amusingly: "We're not goddamn hoarders. We prefer experiences to belongings."

They choose to be parents, and love the job

Baby boomers are known for being the first generation with ready access to birth control, resulting in one very meaningful shift in parenting: most children born to this generation were planned, and families generally had enough resources to nurture and support them.

Millennial moms and dads don't just want to be parents; they are ready to be parents.

This trend continues into the millennial generation but with another interesting twist: fertility treatments are improving and reaching the mainstream, allowing young adults to defer parenthood longer than they might have before.

Millennial moms & dads don't just want to be parents; they are ready to be parents. As they wait longer to get married or have children, they have more time to experiment with their adult selves. They are more established and further into their careers. The end result is astounding and pronounced. When asked if they enjoy being parents, a whopping 99 percent of the respondents in our survey said yes.

Millennial dads are present and proud

In our survey, 40 percent of dads either were a stay-at-home parent currently, or had done it at some point in the past. Of those who don't stay home, the vast majority  —  65 percent of them  —  said that they could see themselves doing the job someday.

Employers who want to attract millennial talent must catch up and provide the same parental benefits to men that they provide to women.

Socioeconomically, this shift is perhaps the most substantial listed here. Employers who want to attract millennial talent must catch up and provide the same parental benefits to men that they provide to women. Brands that market exclusively to moms will look increasingly outdated and regressive. Even support systems traditionally only available to women — such as mother's groups—must adapt to better support the parents of the future.

They overwhelmingly put their children first

Generationally, millennials are perhaps best known for their legendary individualism and fixation on self. They are more image-conscious and interested in health and fitness than previous generations. Employers struggle to manage them, at times bemoaning their entitled attitudes and desire for "participation trophies."

91 percent of respondents value "raising successful children" more highly than "living up to my full potential."

None of these traits showed in the data from our survey. We asked millennial parents to rank statements that mapped to one of the following categories: values children, values relationship, or values individual growth. Overwhelmingly, their responses indexed very highly for "values children", somewhere in the middle for "values relationship", and dead last for "values individual growth".

The data point that most throughly de-bunks the "special snowflake" millennial stereotype? 91 percent of respondents value "raising successful children" more highly than "living up to my full potential."

They are better informed than any generation of parents before them

This is the single biggest difference between millennial parents and those of other generations: the Internet. Fully 71 percent of millennial moms and dads turn to the Internet or social media for help with their parenting. According to Google Trends, interest in breastfeeding has doubled in the last 10 years. Interest in sleep training has tripled.

This is a generation of parents armed with unprecedented amounts of information about childrearing. And perhaps more importantly, a generation of parents who are eager to use that information to do a better job. Many of our respondents called this out when asked what they felt made their generation different.

  • The internet gives us a more educated perspective on parenting.
  • We have a larger breadth of knowledge to work from. Dr. Spock was their new research and we have the Internet and so much more early childhood education research to base our decisions on.
  • We are much more knowledgeable about health and what children need to thrive in life.
  • Ability to access knowledge and not rely on old wives tales, myths, outdated guidelines, etc.
  • Tech plays a huge part from getting advice to ordering diapers. I love it.

Generation Alpha and beyond

The oldest members of Generation Alpha, the children of millennials, are just now entering Kindergarten. If it's true that millennial parents are poised to be the most successful in history, what can we expect from their children?

Here are a few things we can predict for Generation Alpha:

Based on the above traits, we may not only be looking at a generation of great caregivers, but a generation of great kids. It's a good reason to be positive, especially when facing the big social issues of the next few decades — issues like globalization, climate change, an aging population, and dwindling natural resources. That's a lot to worry about, but perhaps it's safe to hope that today's informed, enthusiastic millennial caregivers are in a good position to nurture the great minds of tomorrow.

Anne K. Halsall is the co-founder and CPO of Winnie, a technology network for local parents.

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This article originally appeared on Medium.