When Anne Halsall, 34, brought her first son home from the hospital in 2012, she went online in search of advice.
“I tried to download an app for breast-feeding, and they were all clearly made by men, and they were all horrible,” she said.
So Halsall, a San Francisco engineer, wrote her own, called Baby’s Day.
“I was a frustrated mom who built an app for moms,” she said. “You can’t get more millennial than that!”
The much-maligned generation of millennials, those born between roughly 1980 and 2000, has been chided for being selfish, spoiled, uncommunicative, over-communicative and addicted to trophies, hookups and likes.
But while the rest of society has been busy hating on millennials, the older ones have been busy growing up, settling down and having children. More than 16 million millennial women are now mothers, according to Pew, a number that grows by more than 1 million every year.
These people — let’s call them “parennials” — are challenging all sorts of commonly held beliefs about the American family.
Let’s examine some of their new approaches.
Parennials spent their formative years steeped in personal technology. As a result, they’re “high-information parents,” said Rebecca Parlakian, program director for Zero to Three, an organization that has been studying new parents since 1977.
“The good news is that parents know more about child development than ever before,” she said. “Google is the new grandparent, the new neighbor, the new nanny.”
The bad news is that parents feel overwhelmed by the volume of information, confused about the “right way” to do things and harshly judged by friends and relatives.
Kate Flynn, 32, lives in New York with her 11-month-old daughter, Isla, and her college sweetheart, Michael. Like many new parents, she felt unprepared for the responsibility. “We feel like kids who aren’t old enough to have kids,” she said.
To compensate, she relies on technology, from chat rooms to child development apps like Wonder Weeks and WebMDBaby.
“I’ll be on the phone with my mom and say, ‘The app is telling me that she is starting her 9-month sleep progression,’ ” Flynn said. “I just found out that Wonder Weeks only goes to when the child is 1. I don’t know if that’s liberating or scary.”
So long, Mom and Dad
Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, has found that a third of millennial families follow traditional gender roles and are comfortable with their decision. Another third of them say spouses should share chores equally and feel they achieve this goal, while the final third strive for this equality but the female partner, in reality, does more.
“For 30 years we’ve been asking, ‘Can women have it all?’ ” Harrington said. “Now we’re asking if men can have it all.”
Gabe Wells, 33, an Oregon loan officer, said that he and his wife use different terminology than their parents did.
“The No. 1 thing I learned is that my language changed,” he said. “I don’t say ‘mother’ and ‘father’ anymore. I say ‘co-parent.’ It’s more reflective of what we’re trying to do.”
They realize 50-50 is “a pipe dream,” he said. “But if we can trade off going 60-40, that’s great.”
Co-parenting does come with downsides. Parlakian said she’s begun to detect a new theme in her annual surveys of parents. She calls it “gate-keeping,” when the less-involved parent tries to step up but the primary parent slaps the partner down, saying “You did it the wrong way” or “Why did you put the baby in that?”
“Given the statement ‘I would like to be more involved with raising my child but my parenting partner interferes with my involvement,’ nearly half the dads agree,” Parlakian said, “while only 16 percent of moms do.”
Can Granny pay the rent?
New parents of all ages often face money woes, but with parennials these challenges can feel particularly acute because they reached childbearing age during the Great Recession, are saddled with college debt and are perhaps job-hopping or part of the gig economy.
As a result, many parennials rely on their own baby boomer parents for financial support.
Kassandra Ortiz, 26, a New York City mother of two, has started a photography business on the side while her husband, who hopes to get into real estate, drives for Uber. To make ends meet, they get financial help with rent from her mother-in-law.
“Money has always been an issue, but we do our best and hope God will provide,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know if it’s a millennial thing, but we spend so much money eating out. We’d be better off if we didn’t.”
Jess Laird, 31, grew up with parents who were “broke actors,” she said, so she’s used to counting pennies. But despite the fact that both she and her husband, Morgan, are working, they’re under intense financial pressure because she’s still paying off her undergraduate loans and Morgan is doing the same with his law school debt. So they rely on her mother for child care.
“Other moms I talk to who are 35 or 40 seem to be more settled financially,” she said. “It feels weird when I say, ‘My mom is taking care of my kid.’ I even use the word ‘mother’ because it sounds more adult.”