I learn a great deal from the women in their 60s and 70s who have bravely crossed the stigma line of their time and sought me out for counseling. A common theme that has pushed them over that line is their pain and confusion around the way their millennial children live and parent—and the subsequent conflict their different styles create. It’s not just the grandparents who come in struggling. I meet with plenty of 20- and 30- something millennial parents, (aka parennials) who don’t feel respected or understood by their parents (or in laws!) for how they want to live and raise their family in today’s times.
I must say I feel grateful that many millennials do have positive and close relationships with their parents, finding them to be a source of great support, friendship and pleasure. That being said, far too many struggle and it’s super painful for both sides. Many variables can cause strain between parents and their children, but the extent to which parennials are doing things differently has created quite a shake up in many American families. As one of my grandmother clients was recently informed, “It’s a new world, Mom.”
Liz Vaccariello, Editor in Chief of Parents magazine recently coined the term parennials as she tries to prepare our world for … “this huge tsunami of parents, mostly women, who are moving into the parenting space. There are 17 million millennial moms in the US and it's continuing to grow by about a million a year.” Whether it’s Business Insider, The New York Times or Parents Magazine, articles can be found left and right compiling the myriad of ways parennials are different from other young parents that came before.
PARENNIALS FEEL EMPOWERED TO DO THEIR OWN THING
A key defining trait of parennials that I believe impacts family ties most is the way they tend to exercise greater parenting autonomy that generations before. Today’s young adults turn to apps, google, youtube — not just family and friends — for parenting advice and they are relatively confident in their parenting skills. The reflex of turning to the internet has made the grandparents’ generation of today less of a resource of hands on advice than ever before. As a Gen X new mother myself in the 90s, I remember many phone calls to my mom over the simplest things that felt completely overwhelming. Our daughter’s first bath holds the imprint of my mother to my left as clearly as my daughter’s fragile skin. Today’s young parents have certainty in a youtube like I had certainty in my mom. This is the change right here.
Furthermore, adults in their 20s and 30s show less concern about making choices that go against their family traditions. In part due to the vast access to unlimited information, parennials assert their strong views, voice their desires and set boundaries accordingly. Aside from judgments of good or bad, the parents as authority mentality has weakened. Recently, a cousin of mine in her early 60s, whose daughter and son in law just had a baby pulled me aside. I asked, “How’s it going with the new baby?”
She smiled and sighed, “Well, it’s different in today’s time. We were presented with a grandparenting plan, listing ways we could help and quite frankly, ways we need to stay out. None of this, ‘I’ll drop by with a casserole and some diapers as my instinct would guide’. There’s a protocol and some of it leaves us with a little less involvement than I expected.”
Now let’s emphasize ways to bridge the gap on both sides of the millennial sandwich.
“There is nothing more difficult than to be a stepson of the time; there is no heavier fate than to live in a time that is not your own.” ~ Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad (1950; in English 1988)
(As he often does, my father recently shared this poignant quote from one of the many timeless books at his desk. At 91, this relevant excerpt took his breath away, as it did mine.)
1. BECOME CURIOUS - Keep from becoming a stepchild to the times
I feel that the most important step to preventing unnecessary distance between you and your adult children is to take it upon yourself to learn more about the times, and your children. Stretch yourself to be open. Read some of the articles to which I refer above. More importantly, ask your children probing, open ended questions about their life and views, values and opinions—on a range of personal, family and global topics. Staying current creates greater unity and keeps our minds open rather than fixed.
After sharing with one of the women I meet with how today’s young parents take a more forthright stand regarding parenting, she was so relieved to hear that what she was experiencing wasn’t personal. This knowledge seemed to create an immediate cognitive shift helping to alleviate a great deal of her sadness, anger and insecurity.
2. LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS
Intentions are great, but expectations lurk very closely behind. We should fear our expectations because they rob us of joy and the ability to create a safe haven for the people around us. So many of the estrangements stem from the younger generation feeling judged, controlled and not seen for the good they are doing— as parents, especially. All kids, no matter how old we grow, still desire our parents’ approval and to be adored in their eyes. Parents must always remain sensitive to this. Basic human dignity is essential and we should teach our children to treat us (and others) accordingly. But our children are not here to make us happy by the way they live their lives. They need to follow their own path and we benefit greatly to embrace their life process.
3. FOCUS ON OVERWHELMING APPRECIATION
Taking expectations to the next level, we are easily blind to our own feelings of entitlement. Entitlement mindset can be identified whenever we catch ourselves fixating on something not going the way we dreamed, would like or expected—especially when coupled with an inclination to fix or change the situation. Once we catch this, the most effective step is to pull out a piece of paper and write down with great detail as many blessings and pleasures you have received, and currently have— as a parent and in every way imaginable.
4. SEEK COUNSELING
To receive support and greater self awareness, to process your own feelings and learn how to better communicate with yourself and your adult children, counseling can be a powerful way to knit the pieces (back) together. Counseling can help you create a life you are happy with separate from your family and children, especially if one’s center-point has always been the children.
FOR YOUNG PARENTS
1. BECOME CURIOUS AND STAY HUMBLE
While I personally am happy to see this next generation establishing how they want to be talked to, how they want to parent and live, it’s also important at times to tone it down a bit and remember that there is much to be learned from other people and their experiences. There’s great research that shows how deeply confident we feel by knowing our families’ stories, the trials and triumphs, the lessons and values. We can all decide what we want to carry forward and what to discard, but again knowledge is power. I’m someone who believes that connecting to our roots and appreciating our lineage creates a strong foundation in one’s life, emotionally and spiritually.
TRY ASKING OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS, LIKE...
“What was it like when you were raising kids?” “How about for your parents and grandparents?” “What did you have in mind with having grandchildren?” “What is your ideal dream?” Hear them out. This doesn’t mean you must give your parents all their wishes, but feeling heard allows the emotional barrier to move aside leaving room for common ground.
2. AWAKEN APPRECIATION
As recommended for your parents, I suggest exploring where entitlement has creeped in and appreciation for life pleasures and blessings lost. Entitlement and appreciation have a direct inverse relationship. Please read #3 above to help PRACTICE RADICAL APPRECIATION.
3.SET BOUNDARIES WITH SENSITIVITY AND RESPECT
It takes effort we don’t always feel we have the energy for as young parents, but it’s worth investing in learning best practices for presenting your wants and boundaries with sensitivity to the feelings of others. (Great for marriage and kids too!) I like methodologies from Non Violent Communication or Clean Talk. You can also see a counselor for assistance and read my blog Tricky Conversations with Sensitive People. Many find creative ways to be more inclusive e.g., It doesn’t work for us to have dinner Sunday, but we would love to bring the baby over next week.
4. TRY REACHING OUT TO YOUR PARENTS FOR ADVICE
If you don’t already, I suggest resisting the urge, every now and again, to find answers online and try asking your parents. They will appreciate the contact, the feeling of being relevant and also you might gain more than you expect. Even if you need distance for other reasons from your parents, asking advice can tone down tensions.