The Independent Women’s Forum tapped into new research indicating that money fears on the part of parents aren’t what they used to be. In fact, today’s generation isn’t just content to go tiny when it comes to their houses. Millennial parents are more likely than ever to agree that “family income is high enough to satisfy nearly all important desires,” and less likely to say “our family is too heavily in debt.” Comparatively speaking, the IWF states, parents aren’t just more likely than non-parents to have a positive economic outlook; they’re better financial planners as well.
These statistics shatter the age-old myth that parents are miserable because kids cost too much money. The theme popularized in the ’90s during the dot-com bubble went bust when economic misfortunes set in. The ensuing culture shock left folks who prioritized money and career over kids with a lifetime of regret:
In an interview with the Institute for Family Studies, Herbst, a professor of social work at Arizona State University, explains that nonparents today “perceive their financial situations to be deteriorating relative to parents. They have also become more likely to express regrets about their lives, more likely to want to alter their lives and less likely to be confident.”
Yet, in a recent interview with Motherwell magazine, bestselling author Jennifer Senior still argues that parental misery is tied to money. Specifically, the All Joy and No Fun author states that “parental anxiety is economic.” But, there’s more to it than that. A review of her bestseller in the New York Times reveals the real stress in parenting lies in the “paring down of mothers’ and fathers’ traditional roles.” Now that we have so many systems in place to fulfill a child’s needs (examples listed are as far-ranging as doctors for healthcare and factories for food), parents simply can’t figure out where they fit in. Hence the stress so sharply captured by the reviewer:
Over and over again, I find myself bored by what I’m doing with my children: How many times can we read “Angelina Ballerina,” or watch a “Bob the Builder” video? And yet …If I lost all my emails, I’d manage, and if I lost my children, I’d never recover; yet still I sometimes find it hard to stay in the moment with them. Senior demonstrates that there is no contradiction in this seeming paradox; she understands that tolerating our children is the cornerstone of loving them.
The picture painted here is common enough. It’s also one that belongs to a generation that came of age when greed was good. When economists and even bestselling authors argue that when parents worry over money what they’re really saying is that parents worry they’re spending too much time working and not enough time with their kids. Statistically speaking it’s the truth: 50% of dads and 56% of moms feel this way. An entire school of mindful parenting has emerged to teach parents how to relax into the precious moments they do have with their kids.
Commenting on the pressure many women feel to conform to the societal demand to put career ahead of family, Erica Komisar, therapist and author of Being There, observes:
First of all, having is a possessive word. When we focus on having a baby, having a marriage, having a great and successful job, and having lots of material stuff we have lost touch with the most important part of life: being. …Intimacy requires time; giving up your role as a primary caregiver comes with sacrificing physical and emotional intimacy with your child.
Millennials, already well-schooled in economic uncertainty, aren’t willing to hedge their bets on big bucks. And, perhaps, as children who grew up in the Friends era they may hold some regret that peers were often substitute parents. Perhaps this is the reason why a growing number of millennial women are coming to the conclusion that, as Komisar explains:
…you may never be the CEO of the bank or corporate law firm if you choose to make your family your first priority. But you may not have emotionally healthy children or have a close relationship with your children now or when they’re adults if you make your career your first priority.
Tiny living, experiences over possessions, and yes, even kids over careers are all cultural indicators that money isn’t what the new generation of parents want. What millennials want is time, and millennial parents want to spend that time with their children.