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Millennial Parents

Mary McIlrath, Senior Vice President

In an homage to modern dads, on Father’s Day this past June, Chicago columnist Heidi Stevens called out the softer, more caring adults that are portrayed in the media today. In this, she compared them to the fondly remembered, but not as nice portrayal of adult relationships of 80s and 90s movies. That got us thinking: how is “real” parenting different now?

Certainly, demographics have shifted across a generation. Pew Research data shows that dads are increasingly stay-at-home caregivers, and less likely to be the sole source of household income.  Of preschool dads in our sample, 5% are stay-at-home dads. Even when dads work outside the home, they’re responsible for more traditional child caregiving tasks than ever before. Our YouthBeat data shows that more than half of our preschool dads report being involved either “somewhat” or “very much” in the daily activities of their children’s lives; in everything from shopping for children’s clothes to communicating with a school/daycare to planning children’s birthday parties.*

Most of these preschool parents are Millennials. In our YouthBeat data, half of Millennial moms and dads with children in 1st-4th grades said they feel that their parenting style is different from their own parents’ approach to raising children.** Though, interestingly, while 75% of Millennial parents feel that it’s much harder to be a parent today than it was in the past, this is less than those who felt that way four years ago (83%)***. So is parenting, then, getting a little easier?

Not so fast.  We’re seeing a few other things come into play that could explain this shift:

  1. Millennial parents’ kids are more connected to them than ever. Parents of all ages routinely say that they give their child their first cell phone so that the child can be reachable. This gives parents peace of mind in a child’s well-being, for the low, low price of a family cell phone plan.
  2. Millennials approach their parenting with a sense of humor. Just follow #parentingfail, or watch Jimmy Fallon to see how parents today poke fun at the ridiculousness of daily family life. And they’ve given advertisers permission to laugh along with them. For a cute take on how this occurs, check out the Halos spot where the girl whose parents ran out found her little brother duct taped to the wall.
  3. Technology offers parenting aids that simply weren’t available even four years ago. There is Amazon Prime Now, Uber Eats, and Netflix Kids, just to name a few. While some Millennial parents are worried about the dangers of technology and connection for their kids, the tradeoff is that they offer convenience that can offset those drawbacks.

So who’s raising our country’s kids today? It’s a very different mix than it was a generation ago. It’s more male; it’s more connected, and it sees challenges, but it has a sense of humor about the most important job in the world.

In this environment, smart brands are the ones who offer not just another product or app—but a way to bring families together for quality time, save some of the scarce resource of time that parents have to hang out with their kids, or give everyone a good belly laugh together.

*Source: YouthBeat, Jr., Spring 2016
**Source: YouthBeat, Total Year 2015
***Source: YouthBeat, Total Year 2011