Millennial mothers are the most confident parents in America.
A new, extensive survey on trends in parenting and family life released this month by Pew Research Center found that of mothers and fathers from three different generations, Millennial moms gave themselves the highest marks. The confidence spread between Millennial and Gen X moms was nearly 10 points; the spread closes in on 20 points between Millennials and Boomers. Even within the Millennial cohort, mothers are 14 percentage points more likely than fathers to say they are “doing a very good job as a parent.” A full 57 percent of mothers ages 18 to 34 say so about themselves.
This seems surprising amid all the angsty Lean In, have-it-all conversations that seem to dominate the lives of young mothers today. And it’s not just work-life topics that entangle us. From the moment we announce a pregnancy, my cohort of parents is inundated with a confusing and contradictory mound of books, websites, and opinions about how to perform parenthood’s most basic tasks, accompanied by scary statistics about what will happen to our children if we mess up.
Even diapering is now a topic of heated debate. The revival of cloth diapers in some corners and the marketing of organic or “non-toxic” diapers popularized by celebrities like Jessica Alba have made the mere act of keeping bottoms clean a contentious issue. Nothing is simple for young moms, whether it’s decisions about returning to work after birth or about whether and when to sleep train.
And yet we are the most self-assured of all parents. So what gives?
Child age likely counts for something, as the Pew study also found that parents with young children report experiencing the most fulfillment (and as the youngest parents, Millennials have the youngest kids, on average). Gender matters, too, as women on the whole rate themselves more highly as parents across the board.
Further, millennial mothers are raising children in a time of unprecedented opportunity for women. We are the most educated generation of women in history, which often unlocks a comfortable lifestyle and encourages later childbearing, which translates into higher earnings. And while we may be poorer on paper than our Gen X or Boomer maternal peers, we are still raising young children at a time when things like technology have made our lives easier and more comfortable.
We have the opportunities and education of Gen X mothers and then some, minus a lot of the mommy wars and stigma about motherhood that peaked in their generation. Millennial moms are more at ease in the stay-at-home role, or more likely to have found a hybrid of stay-at-home and part-time work we enjoy. Millennial mothers are more comfortable in their skin than the generations that came immediately before them, in many respects.
This may also be due, in part, to the Internet, which certainly offers its fair share of mommy war ammo, but also offers a lot of practical information that simply was not accessible to prior generations of women, as well as forums and websites that offer moms much-needed affirmation and encouragement. Millennial moms also happen to be the demographic most likely to seek out parenting information on the Internet, according to the Pew survey.
As Slate writer Elissa Strauss wrote, the “digital-mom universe is not the cesspool of judgment it is often made out to be.” To the contrary, she writes, there are a lot of online tools and websites that are “doing more to make women confident of the mothers they are, rather than demoralized by the mothers they are not.”
One new digital venture started by two young moms basically sums it up. Motherly describes itself as a “digital community helping mothers thrive.” The site offers highly personalized information and support based on your stage of pregnancy or motherhood from industry experts, minus the whiny tone and scary comment sections found on older mom sites. What most distinguishes the venture is its very positive tone. “Motherhood looks fab on you,” reads a tagline in a Google search that pulls up the site. “Motherly is holding onto your core identity and being true to yourself as you evolve with motherhood,” reads the site’s only formal quote.
That mantra may very well embody the mindset of millennial moms. We view motherhood as a part of our ongoing evolution as women, not as a hindrance or a detraction from our goals. Motherhood can co-exist alongside other personal and professional aspirations, which push and pull at different stages in our lives. Perhaps it is the inner calm that stems from such a mindset that makes us the most self-assured moms today.
There are a number of ways to try to explain it, but it’s a positive thing that young women aren’t giving up on motherhood or feeling like failures at it. In a culture that devalues the distinct and irreplaceable contribution of a mother, our self-confidence in the role is an accomplishment for my generation in and of itself.