Millennial moms and dads are consciously striving to parent differently than Boomers, study finds

A new Pew Research study reveals surprising generational divides in parenting

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published January 26, 2023 3:00PM (EST)

Happy family with two kids (Getty Images/kate_sept2004)
Happy family with two kids (Getty Images/kate_sept2004)

It is only human nature for the younger generation of parents to strive to parent differently than their own parents. Parenting is a journey that inherently calls us to compare and contrast observations from our own childhood. But as more millennials are having kids, they're making more of an emphasis on parenting very differently than their parents — who typically Baby Boomers — parented them.

On Thursday, Pew Research published a new study on parental attitudes that had some eyebrow-raising revelations about how different the two connected generations are. In it, they surveyed over 3,700 parents of children under the age of 18; while the ages of all of the survey's participants weren't disclosed, many of them were in their late 20s, 30s and 40s—many children of Boomers.

"Both groups of parents talked about the importance of having family dinners, supporting their children in their extracurricular activities, and generally spending time with them on a regular basis."

In the survey, nearly as many American parents, 43 percent, said they are raising their children similarly to how they were raised. Yet 44 percent said they were trying to take a different approach than their parents.

How exactly are the two generations going about it differently? When asked in an open-ended question to describe the specific ways in which those who are raising their kids differently than their own did, a common theme emerged: being an "involved parent."

"Among those who say they're taking a different approach to parenting, some said they want to be more present in their kids' day-to-day lives than their parents were," Pew Research explained. "Both groups of parents talked about the importance of having family dinners, supporting their children in their extracurricular activities, and generally spending time with them on a regular basis."

Parents who want to raise their children differently from their parents also said they wanted to have better communication with their children, not yell at them, and listen more.

"I am trying to be more attentive to my children than my father was," one 35-year-old dad said in the survey. "Raising with more direct interaction and more forward-thinking and understanding nature." A 33-year-old mother said: "I want my children to know that a parent is supposed to be there for them 100% of the time, not just when it's convenient." A 39-year-old mother said it was important for her child to have an emotional connection with her, and that their child has "more room to express feelings."

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Nearly one in 10 parents surveyed said they would not use corporal punishment when disciplining their children.

As Dr. Harvey Karp (a Baby Boomer himself), pediatrician and Founder & CEO of Happiest Baby, told Salon last year, the focus on emotions among millennial parents is one big difference he's noticed between how the two generations parent.

"Forty years ago, more parents were still being verbally tough with their kids, saying 'Don't be a baby,' 'You shouldn't be scared,' and denying their feelings," Karp said. "And that's something we've learned not to do."

In highlighting the generational divide, parental shaming came up in the survey four-in-ten or more parents said they feel judged by their own parents and their spouse or partner's parents at least sometimes."Parents are more likely to say they feel judged by family members than by their friends, other parents in their community or people they interact with online," Pew Research stated.

Notably, only one-fifth of the parents surveyed in the study said it was important to them that their children get married and have a family of their own one day. Perhaps it's because about four-in-ten parents surveyed said being a parent is tiring; 29 percent of parents said they are stressed and tired most of the time.

Aside from the emphasis on generational differences, when asked what parents' greatest fears are for their children today, four in ten parents surveyed said that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression one day, followed by 35 percent who were concerned about their children being bullied.

Mothers surveyed were more likely to be preoccupied by these fears than fathers. Nearly half of mothers said they were extremely or very worried their children could struggle with anxiety or depression at some point, compared with 32 percent of fathers. Mothers are also more likely than fathers to say they are worried about their children being bullied, being kidnapped or abducted, or getting shot, piling on the evidence on how it's one of the toughest times to be a mom in America.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Baby Boomers Children Corporal Punishment Generations Millennials Parenting Study