I feel very much like a millennial, and this surprises people.
It came up at the eye doctor’s the other day. “You’re not a millennial. You don’t seem entitled and full of yourself.” Generationalism comes up every day when you’re my age, and let’s face it, millennials have the worst rap of them all.
We can’t commit. We expect too much out of the workplace and relationships. We’re compulsive consumers who spend too much money on our avocado toast and Uber to save enough to buy a house. We’re killing everything, including restaurants, grocery stores and our parents’ retirement funds.
When I had kids, I started to resist these generalizations. This was 2007, when the generation from 1980-1997 started to shift from “Generation Y” to “millennial,” an apt term that reflects our coming of age during the early internet and Y2K era.
Unlike Generation X parents, I was not a fully formed adult when Sept. 11 happened. I hardly remember a time before a Bush or a Clinton being in office. Sex scandals, unjust wars and domestic terrorism events have battered Americans for generations, but thanks to nothing like what millennials have seen, thanks to the advent of the 24-hour news cycle we didn’t have a choice to escape.
With that exposure to news and different ways of living, millennials developed an unprecedented levels of curiosity and tolerance. We enthusiastically accepted what our older brothers and sisters and parents might have called “alternative lifestyles.” We were all feminists, even if we didn’t use the word.
Alt-music became mainstream, and so did non-hetero-cis-gendered norms. We had to watch “Ellen” come out, for God’s sake. That was the last time we wanted to see anyone we loved in the closet.
We didn’t have to rely on the static information found in encyclopedias to quench our thirst for knowledge, even at an early age, but that stream of knowledge turned into an infinite flood of reality TV, cable television and now the never-ending Facebook timeline.
I’m the oldest of the millennials. My first child is the same age as YouTube. My second can make the most amazing digital art using the Snapchat toolbox.
I had kids earlier than most of my peers, so when I look around at other parents of middle schoolers, I am surrounded by Gen Xers, and my millennialism often stands out.
They watched PBS, then Netflix, but I had little anxiety when they started to switch over to YouTube. I understood why they wanted to subscribe to content producers who make imperfect, low-budget videos every day rather than the better quality shows that come out in seasons.
They’ve had email addresses since they were born and are more fluent in web culture than I am, introducing me to new words, apps and ideas that the internet is abuzz about.
They have lived in an internet-connected home all their lives. Give them a problem to solve, they know where to press a button and speak the text to the phone so that the Google can answer the question for them.
But here’s what might surprise you: Millennials have a deep love for offline life and are even more introspective than their parents.
First, on unplugging: We were born with a nostalgia for the pre-digital era. We watched our parents buy their first CD players and “car phones” and eagerly embrace the new technology of the day, but we were fascinated by the less connected life they had when they were our age. (I’ll never forget when my mom told me that she used to “cut” and “paste” the edits on her college papers.)
You need not much more proof than Pinterest to know that non-digital hobbies — crafting, building, making, cooking and general do-ing — are alive and thriving and, thanks to millennials’ eagerness to connect with one another online, the respective offline communities are thriving.
My kids watch me quilt, run, do yoga, cook, make art and garden. They know I’m as addicted to my phone as anyone, but they also watch me carve out a balance.
This leads me to my second point: We might come off as entitled, but millennials have a higher chance of becoming thoughtful, self-actualized parents than their predecessors thanks to what I call the “Oprah Effect.”
I was raised on “The Oprah Winfrey” show. We grew up coming home from school and watching the queen of daytime TV encourage us to unpack our feelings. As the years went on, Oprah dug deeper into her own emotional journey, and every day, she and her guests modeled healthier conversations about dealing with relationships, inner struggles and societal problems.
Our parents were watching, too, and raising us with more consciousness than even their parents were able to provide.
Middle-class millennials were raised in a culture where it was mainstream to be talking about how to be more honest with yourself and the people you love.
Building upon the hard emotional work our parents and grandparents did to get us to the end of very difficult century, we picked up this “life your best life” ball and kept running. It’s not as if we have the playbook memorized, but millennials — as evidenced by their selfies — have never not looked within.
Now that we’re raising children, we’re bringing that consciousness to them. They know how to use “I feel” statements and breathe deeply if they are angry. They know that even though we don’t live near our family — millennials are always on the move — we need to Facetime and stay connected with them digitally. They know that there’s a big world out there whose resources we use every day when we take a shower, eat food or drive a car.
GenXers raise their children with these values, too, but I’d argue that it comes more naturally to millennials. I haven’t quite figured out if we are more optimistic, too, or why that might be, but that’s something I sense, too.
“You can be anything,” is a powerful message we’ve been hearing since birth, but the flip side of that is the pressure to be everything.
I’m not sure if millennials struggle with perfectionism more than their predecessors, but I’m sure that my own too-high expectations for myself leads my kids to have super high expectations for themselves, too.
My millennial friends are just now starting to have kids themselves, but I’m always eager to hear from other parents about how they think their generation affects how they raise their kids. Leave a comment if you have thoughts to share!