Born in 1986, I am a true millennial. And if you came earthside between 1982 and 2004, you are too. We’re a large group: In 2016, we passed that of the Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. Currently, most millennials are in their twenties and thirties, which means we’re in our typical childbearing years. In fact, about 80 percent of new mothers are millennials. And those millennial parents have a nicknamed subgroup of their own—parennials! Times have changed since the previous generation entered their parenting years. These days, we have answers at our fingertips. We can track sleep schedules via apps on our phone, and we often turn to social media for emotional support. I know: I’ve done it all over the last eight years. As a parennial, technology is so much of my everyday: something my own mother never had. When she was in my shoes, she called her mother most days for advice, researched things in books, and logged her children’s milestones in a darling baby book. But just 30 years after her experience, things are very different. Now, my phone and all the resources and relationships it holds have become my lifeline as a parent. It stands in for communication, research, and documenting. For example, when I was in early labor with my son, I timed my contractions through an app and was able to show my midwife the report when she arrived. I’m active on social media, where I chronicle my children’s art projects, funny sayings, and both big and small milestones. I use my phone to chart each of my children’s growths and remember what feels like countless appointments and obligations. I use it to keep all my notes, send emails, and even entertain my children with educational apps and movies. Without this technology, I’m not sure my mommy brain could keep up. My own mother survived parenting without a smart phone. I’ve just never known any different. Sometimes though, I wonder if my kids and I would be better off with a less tech-y life, like my mom’s. Technology aside, parennials are raising their children different than generations before, because we’re living in a new era that requires us to make new accommodations.
Let’s talk about Dr. Google.
Have you ever succumbed to the pitfall of Googling late at night? Perhaps your child has a high fever or an odd rash. Maybe you’re up late wondering if they know enough words for their age or if you’ve introduced the right food at the right time.
Millennials, having been raised in the age of technology, tend towards being used to immediate gratification.
Author Bruce Feiler, who coined the term parennial, wrote an article for the New York Times where he claimed that this generation is full of “high-information parents.” I couldn’t agree more. Information is everywhere for us around the clock. We don’t have to wait for a doctor to return our call. We don’t have to traipse to the library, and use the Dewey Decimal System to track down the right resource. There is no wondering or waiting. Donna Volipitta, a doctor of education who studies neurology, psychology, and education in relation to parenting, comments on the speed parennials have become accustomed to: “I believe that the difference in parenting [between generations], though exemplified by the change in information source, is more based on time frame.” “Millennials, having been raised in the age of technology, tend towards being used to immediate gratification. They want immediate solutions. If they don’t know an answer, they google it,” she explains. “If they need to get somewhere, they Uber. If they need food, they Grubhub. If they want a picture, they Snap it.” And, although we’re living in the age of fast answers, parenting itself is a slow and steady journey.
We get the answer right away, even if that answer isn’t always correct or the best.
The immediate, never-ending knowledge base that technology brings ushers in other things, too. Like anxiety. And worry. And misconceptions. Because, after all, Dr. Google doesn’t always properly diagnose, and the internet doesn’t always offer accurate advice. “Many parents, especially new parents, reach out for information because they are in a panic, moment of frustration, or just overall curious about something,” Maria Sanders, a licensed social worker and parent coach, says. “We get the answer right away, even if that answer isn’t always correct or the best.” Fast information is a Catch-22 for sure, because, on the flip side, the internet is also full of mountains of research, parenting insight, and truth that can lead moms and dads to become better parents. “I turn many times to the internet, reading parenting blogs for information and advice,” Carey, a millennial mom of four, shares. “I feel like parenting in this age of information is both a blessing and a curse, and it is sometimes challenging to remain in the present moment with my kids.”
When Social Media Comes Into Play
Like Carey said, quick access to information brings about a slew of challenges. And it’s not just Google. It’s the draw of social media. Posting, tweeting, pinning, and sharing photos gives us immediate access to friends, family, strangers…and all of their opinions, too. Talk about overwhelming! Then again, having people who care so quick at hand is a blessing too. “My go-to place for parenting advice is a group [online],” Samantha, a millennial mom of one, says. “They are a science-based group and are always on top of new studies and information. They have become almost like sisters to me.” Strangers have become like family, all because of technology. Now, that’s something only a parennial can claim as part of their parenting experience.
The Virtual Tribe
It is in these social media groups that community thrives. Through them, the village that raises the child is born. “There are groups for parents of toddlers, children with special needs, babywearing groups, nursing mama groups, as well as just general parenting groups,” Sanders says. “We don’t live in small villages, so parenting groups create a village mentality … we’ve all been there, so let’s lean on each other for advice and ideas!” So many of my dearest relationships thrive because of technology. The women I converse with offer daily offer support and camaraderie in my parenting journey. Motherhood would be isolating and scary without them. At the click of a button, I can vent, pose a concern, and quickly receive responses. In turn, I can respond to the other parents who are doing the same. Together, we’re juggling parenting in a new age, and it’s comforting to know we are not going at it alone.
What Parennials Are Missing
Past generations may have done things differently, but sometimes I wonder if they did it better. Slower? More intentionally? Like Carey, I fear I’m not always as present as I could be with my children. Having endless information available to my every thought, from emails pinging in to “friends” tagging me—it’s enough to make a mother go batty or grow addicted. I suspect that’s why we often hear about millennials taking a break from social media. They want to return to the ways of their parents and grandparents and just do life—without the need to search, respond, or post every detail. “We miss out on real human connection and a full dialogue,” Sanders says. Computers and phones can never replace real life advice and support. That’s something previous generations know, and something many perennials are seeking. “If I go to the internet, I can read a blurb about how to deal with my colicky baby, and then I can click onto something else,” Sanders says. “If my mom or aunt comes over, she can physically show me how to bathe the baby or cook that healthy meal for my toddler. We don’t get all that from Google!” When millennials eliminate their exposure to older mentors they, and by consequence, their children, miss out.
Is balance possible?
Sanders believes balance is most definitely possible.
At some point, all of us need support.
“Sometimes, it’s nice to have the anonymity of an online group or be able to crowdsource the answer to our question,” she shares. “But we have to balance that with real human connection, whether that is with a call to the doctor or the hug from a friend or family member.” “At some point, all of us need support. Having the courage to identify the need and ask for that support, [for] the sake of our children, is what can make a great parent.” And that’s the beauty of parenting now. We have the best of both worlds: online support and real life resources. Information overload can easily exhaust a new parent, though. So perhaps it’s time to create some boundaries. Rather than endlessly surfing for answers, find a circle of reliable sources and stop there; close the laptop, and set down the phone. With the space that provides, turn to parents and grandparents for their tips and tricks when a problem arises. Tried-and-true advice, plus a hug, sounds much better than 4,000 website links with possible help, doesn’t it? In the end, trust your gut, know who you can rely on (whether online or off), and commit to being your child’s best parent. Regardless of your generation, no one can mother or father your child as well as you can.