According to the Pew Research Center, more than sixteen million millennial women are moms, with over one million millennials becoming moms each year.
Born in 1981, I’m one of the older millennial moms out there, by the usual way of accounting, and can relate to much of the millennial mom experience.
Much of what’s true of every generation throughout all time is true of millennials. We are just people. Yet, just like every other generation, we have some particular tendencies, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses that result from the time, place, and society into which we were born. Here are three harmful characteristics I’ve observed in millennial motherhood, along with ways I’ve sought to align my mothering with God’s word.
1. Our feelings too often hold sway.
Millennial moms could easily be the feeliest group of moms to date. Being in touch with our feelings has wonderful benefits. It helps us to be self-aware, makes us quick to understand the feelings of others, and helps us connect with people who are different than we are, because we can put ourselves in their shoes emotionally.
The potential drawbacks, however, are many. If our currency is primarily or solely emotional, we don’t tend to award credibility to those driven by thinking or logic. If someone doesn’t pay homage to our feelings as they disagree with us, they may lose their voice in our lives. What’s worse, we don’t tend to employ thinking and logic as readily as we ought. Not only is this a bad example for our children; it also stunts our parenting and growth in godliness.
Our children need more than a mom who empathizes and feels with them. They need more than a mom who gets down to their level to convey solidarity and trust — which we tend to be good at. They need to know they have a mom who, because she knows the whole story of God’s word, sees through them, beyond them, above them, and answers to someone other than them.
Our children need moms whose minds direct their feelings, not the other way around. Moms should be a safe place for their kids. Our empathy is a gift that helps us to be that, but empathy with no connection to the solid truth of God’s word is the opposite of safe. It’s crippling to ourselves and our children.
Encourage your children to feel deeply, but not at the expense of thinking deeply — rather, as a result of it. Encourage them to feel strongly, but with the reins of truth in hand, ready to pull back when an emotion has taken the bit in the mouth. Encourage them to feel passionately, but to do so about the things that are fitting to feel passionately about and with an unflappable trust in the God who is over all feelings.
2. We consistently feel both guilt and confidence.
Guilt and confidence are the strange bedfellows of the millennial mom. Pew records that 57 percent of millennial moms say that they are doing a “very good job” at parenting, compared with 48 percent of Gen X moms (born 1965–1979) and 41 percent of baby boomers (born 1946–1965).
Yet it takes only the most cursory glance at any social-media platform to see that millennial moms are awash with guilt. Guilt and the millennial mom are like peanut butter and jelly. They just seem to go together. You know it’s true because if you’re a millennial mom who just read “peanut butter and jelly,” you likely just felt a stab of guilt that you fed that to your kid this week.
Millennial moms are constantly wondering whether they are doing the right thing. It’s like we’ve lost our compass and can’t find north, so we get on social media or Google to try and figure out if other people are feeding their kids PB&J three times a week and if there are any studies that tell us what damage it causes.
In a world where information about everything is at our fingertips, it seems everything has been elevated to the status of “this matters.” So, from laundry to food to sunscreen to screen time to simplified home decor, nothing is no big deal to millennial moms. And because we also are finite women who cannot ride every hobbyhorse at the same time, we are exhausted, burnt out, and often very guilty.
Yet, because we reinvent the wheel on every possible facet of life, researching (or rather Googling) each topic for ourselves and reaching our own conclusions, we tend to be very confident — even haughty — about the conclusions we’ve reached and the job we’re doing, whether it’s about vaccines or vacuums.
The benefit to our guilty confidence is that we do have, in Christ, a constant, never-ending absolution for it. Jesus met all the righteous requirements of the law for us and then died in our place. We also are a part of Christ’s body, with spiritual mothers and fathers who can guide and help us to think Christianly about every part of our lives. Remember, millennial mom, that our guiltiness and haughtiness was nailed to the cross. We are free to live according to Jesus’s ways.
3. We are connected yet dissatisfied.
According to a study called Digital Women Influencers, millennial moms spend four more hours per week on social media than other moms. They also have 3.4 social media accounts as compared to the 2.6 accounts of other moms. We are connected, yet dissatisfied. We portray something we don’t have and long for the very thing we project. Every Facebook like and Instagram heart scratches an itch on the soul that is gratified for a moment, only to feel itchier and itchier as the days wear on.
Our motto could easily be “The grass is always greener on the other side of the Clarendon filter.” We make our grass as green as possible via those perfect Instagram filters — it’s our way of quieting the inner suspicion that our lives fall horribly short of everyone else’s. Our generation’s badges of achievement aren’t the new car or boat or vacation home, but the new experience and the new destination — all of which are fully documented — so we long and ache for the next best thing.
Often, the next best thing is whatever we can come up with to share in our social-media feeds. Nothing is sacred, nothing private. Could it be that our sharing isn’t so much an overflow of the fullness of life, but a scraping and grasping to connect and appeal to our viewers? Getting others to sympathize or idolize us with an online picture, a status, or a joke seems to be good enough for us.
But it isn’t enough. All the satisfaction of online approval is really just bloat — it looks and feels like we’re full, but the fullness is actually nothingness, and it’s preventing us from consuming what really would nourish us: God’s word, Jesus Christ, and his blood-bought body, the local church.
We must repent of the sin of trying to be virtuous apart from Christ. We must repent of online pretending and online oversharing. Our longing, our aches for more have a direction; they aren’t pointless. They’re pointing us to someone. Jesus Christ is the person we need. He is the place, the final and best destination that lays a lasting balm on the ache in our heart for something better.
So the millennial mom can say with a man from a generation long ago (Augustine, 354–430) that wasn’t really so different from hers, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Abigail Dodds (@abigaildodds) is a wife and mother of five. She’s a homemaker seeking to know and love God through the study of his word. She’s a regular contributor to Desiring God and blogs at hopeandstay.com. This article first appeared on desiringgod.org.
Image courtesy Jonathan Faint, Freely Photos