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Raised on Technology, ‘Parennials’ Must Find Balance With Their Own Kids

Alivia McAtee

Alivia McAtee

Staff Writer

12 min. read

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Millennials, they grow up so fast. The commonly maligned generation made up of those born between 1981-1996 is getting older: the oldest are now approaching 40. So they must be settling down, starting a family, and raising kids, right? Not exactly. According to a report from the Pew Research center, millennial women are waiting longer to become parents than their generational predecessors. Another report found 71% of parents under 50 didn’t expect to have more kids and 37% of non-parents also didn’t expect to have any kids. 

Millennials seem to be wary about becoming parennials (parent millennials), perhaps in part because parenting can seem harder these days. It’s expensive to have a kid. According to the USDA, middle-income, married-couple families can expect to spend about $233,610 to raise a kid through at 17, a 16% increase since 1960. That price tag, along with other generational factors, means more families than ever are dual-income. But despite earning more, families have less wealth, thanks in part to the massive amount of college debt many millennials carry into adulthood with them. Many parennials have to stretch themselves thin with little to show for it at the end of the day. 

All this can lead to parental guilt, said Melissa LaGraff, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee who focuses on child and family studies (LaGraff is also a parennial herself). “Parents feel like there’s a big difference in what they prefer to be doing at home and work and what they’re actually doing at home and work … this can be especially felt by women who traditionally and historically have had more responsibilities at home.”

Still, lots of millennials are still having kids. Over 1 million U.S. millennials became mothers in 2016, accounting for 86% of the births that year. But if parennials have to work harder and have less money, only to spend so much of it on a child, things can get tough. 

According to LaGraff, work-life balance is starting to sound like a pipe dream. “Most families are dual earners and so both parents have quite a bit of responsibility outside the home, working full-time jobs. So yeah, balance is hard.” 

But the parennials haven’t lost hope. “I think a lot of families want to feel like they’re able to have a strong family life and work life, so those are things people are striving for. It’s just figuring out how to do it and what works for your family,” LaGraff said. 

Tech: the Double-Edged Sword

Millennials have paved the way as early technology adopters and this will likely continue as they become parents, though they’re getting less optimistic about its societal impact as time passes. Though benefits of technological innovation are clear, the downsides are starting to become more notable as well. For example, technology has enabled telecommuting, which is particularly valuable for parennials, but it also means parents may never be fully unplugged from their work. 

Social media, too, can become bittersweet for parennials. According to a study from the University of Queensland in Australia, parents turn to social media sites like Facebook and parenting-specific sites for information seeking and advice. They also often find support on social media. However, a study from Brigham Young University found social networking sites were related to negative outcomes such as lower levels of perceived competence and increased conflict with one’s coparent. 

Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University, author of “Expecting Better and Cribsheet,” and a parennial, says one way to combat the self-doubt is to think through decisions carefully and keep the data in mind. “It is easy to second-guess yourself, and much easier when the original decision was made haphazardly. By spending more time thinking through these decisions early on, parents may be more confident – less subject to the second-guessing that is so common when we get advice from others.”

Technology can also be a great way to entertain your child. LaGraff understands this, but is wary: “Sometimes, if you’re tired, if you’ve had a long day, it’s just so easy to turn on PBS … but then that becomes a crutch and it’s hard to get out of that pattern.” 

Gloria DeGaetano, founder/CEO of Parent Coaching Institute and author of “Parenting Well in a Media Age,” has built a business around relieving families of that crutch. The PCI aims to teach parents how to break their reliance on technology, though DeGaetano realizes that “tech brings much complexity to parenting.” She recommends “following the American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines, which includes no screens before the age of 2. And of course, less is better at any age.”

But undoubtedly, there are some technologies that are trying to make parenting simpler, especially for millennial families that are stretched for time and money. 

Here to Help, If You Want It

If there’s one thing we learned from talking to experts, it’s that no two families are the same and therefore there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Oster said it’s “very important to think about what you want your parenting life to be like, and what will make this easier for you.” Some parents will love having tech, while others may just get stressed out about it. “For the baby, whether they have a smart diaper isn’t going to matter for them one way or the other; the main question should be what works for you,” Oster said. 

If you choose to use tech as part of your parenting style, here are some products and services we found or came recommended by our experts. Just remember: no purchase is going to revolutionize child-rearing. As Oster said: “Parenting a baby in particular has a fundamentally primitive feel. So I think there is a balance between taking advantage of technology where it is helpful, but not expecting too much.” But whether it’s time-saving tech, affordable resources, or data-driven peace of mind, parents can find support in unexpected places.

Subscription Services

Amazon Services

Amazon has countless subscription boxes available for Prime Members that are designed to fit a wide range of interests. Here are some of our favorites: 

Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
This smart speaker comes pre-loaded with FreeTime Unlimited (Amazon’s child-friendly content and services) and will tailor responses for little ears. Read more about it here

Amazon Family
If you’re already an Amazon Prime member and you have kids under 12, signing up for Amazon Family is easy – and free. Just enter in information about your kids’ ages and you’ll get tailored coupons and recommendations, plus 20% off subscriptions to things like diapers, baby food, and more. If you’re expecting, you can use Amazon Family to get a 15% Baby Registry Completion discount. 

Prime Book Box
Get a curated selection of kids books for up to 40% off the list price. Age groups range from baby to 12 years old. 

STEM Club Toy Subscription
Get science, technology, engineering, and math tools and toys delivered every one, two, or three months. There are three different age groups to choose from and each box costs $20. 

Subscriptions

A few of these are adult favorites that have successfully developed a kid-focused version of their subscriptions. 

Stitchfix
Shopping for clothes with kids can be a nightmare, which is why a kids subscription from Stitchfix can be a good option. For $20 a month, you’ll get a box of affordable styles to try on at home. If you decide to keep anything, that $20 is applied to the cost of the items. 

Quip
If you’re already a Quip devotee, this might be a no-brainer. The kids version is just like the grown-up one but has small tweaks to make it better for young brushers.  

HelloFresh
This is one of our favorite meal delivery services for 2019, and the family plan offers kid-approved and easy-to-cook recipes. 

Shipt
Though not kid-focused, this grocery-delivery service can be a time-saving tool for parents who don’t want to worry about going to the grocery store themselves

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
This program partners with local nonprofits to mail free books to kids around the globe. The books are always age appropriate and addressed to the kid. 

Care.com
It’s free to use Care’s basic services, but the premium subscription can be worth it if you’re using the sitters a lot. Premium memberships start at $13 per month and include benefits like screening tools and contact information for sitters. 

Wearable Tech

You may have heard about the quantified self movement, which advocates “self-knowledge through numbers,” often with wearable technology.The trend has inevitably spread, and it’s now possible to have a quantified kid. These are some of the most expensive and, let’s be honest, out there options for child tech. 

Owlet Sock and Cam
The smart sock tracks vitals like heart rate and oxygen while the baby sleeps, and will notify parents if something’s not right. For an added layer of assurance, the camera streams HD video with sound

Pampers Smart Diapers
The Lumi diaper system uses a sensor located on the front of the diaper to track sleep and alert parents (à la push notification) if the diaper is wet. It’s not available yet, but you can join the waiting list.

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