Is Parenting Harder Today?

A few weeks ago we were at my kid’s favorite playground and I noticed something about all of the other parents there — they were all playing with their kids.

All of the other millennial parents were chasing around their kids, making sure they didn’t fall and hurt themselves or just generally keeping them entertained.

This seems like a new-ish development.

I’m not saying parents of the past didn’t play with their kids but there is a reason the term ‘helicopter parent’ is relatively new.

The New York Times had a piece this week that looked at the change in parenting and discussed the ways in which it’s harder now:

I’m not sure I agree that parenting is harder today. Sure, the cost of housing, education and childcare are higher but every new generation of parents probably thinks they have it harder than the previous generation.

Parenting will always be hard in some ways.

There are certainly more dual-income households today than there were in the past. Just look at the growth in the labor force for women over the past 7 decades or so:

This certainly makes it harder to juggle work, household duties, hobbies, exercise, kids and a social life for parents.1

The Times cites a Pew Research study called Parenting in America Today. Let’s dig into the numbers from this survey.

Eight out of 10 parents with kids 18 or under find it enjoyable (most of the time) to be a parent but two-thirds of them say it’s harder than they thought it would be. More than one-quarter of them say it’s a lot harder than expected.

People who already have kids love to tell new parents how much their life is going to change. I heard your life as you know it is now over from multiple parents when they found out we were having our first child.

I didn’t mind that part of it.

I had my fun when I was young. I didn’t mind the routine and structure that having a baby forces you into. Plus, one of the best parts about becoming a parent is you can stop wasting so much time and energy worrying about yourself and transfer all of that to your child.

I found that part of it a relief. Kids help get rid of a lot of the noise in your head (insert dad joke: because they produce all of the noise now).

No one prepared me for how much joy and laughter kids would provide on a daily basis, even when it’s hard at times.

The new generation of parents does spend more money and time on their kids than previous generations of parents. Almost half of all parents in the Pew study describe themselves as being too overprotective.

More than 40% of parents say it’s a tiring job. Nearly one-third think it’s stressful all or most of the time.

One of the reasons so many parents seem stressed out these days could be because they are raising their children differently than they were raised. Nearly half of all parents in this study said they are trying to raise their children differently than how they were raised.

My over-generalization on parenting of today versus parenting of the past is millennial parents assume they have more control over the outcome of their children’s lives while parents of the past understood there are certain things that are out of your control.

Nature vs. nurture is a bizarre concept to think about as a parent. You would like to think you can control what happens to your kids but sometimes people are simply born a certain way and there’s not much you can do to change their behavior.

Biologist Robert Sapolsky has written about this extensively in his research:

Genes have plenty to do with behavior. Even more appropriately, all behavioral traits are affected to some degree by genetic variability. They have to be, given that they specify the structure of all the proteins pertinent to every neurotransmitter, hormone, receptor, etc. that there is. And they have plenty to do with individual differences in behavior, given the large percentage of genes that are polymorphic, coming in different flavors. But their effects are supremely context dependent. Ask not what a gene does. Ask what it does in a particular environment and when expressed in a particular network of other genes.

My general take on this is I think it’s much easier for parents to screw their kids up than to turn them into Nobel Prize winners. But putting them in a loving environment, offering encouragement and helping them along the way does improve their odds of success.

The definition of success for parents today is interesting.

When asked what they want for their children, most parents prioritize financial independence and career satisfaction.

Obviously, I want my kids to succeed in life but I’m not going to make that assessment based on how much money they make. I just hope they’re happy, kind to other people and do their best.

Everything else is gravy.

Michael and I talked about the joys and challenges of parenting and much more on this week’s Animal Spirits video:

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Further Reading:
Raising the Best Kids You Can

Now here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

1The New York Times found working mothers of today spend as much time with their children as stay-at-home moms in the 1970s.