How Parenting Today Is Different, and Harder

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Often, Pew found, this means more emotional engagement. Nearly half said they were raising their children differently than they had been raised by their own parents, and the largest share said the main difference was in how they showed love and built relationships with their children. In open-ended responses, they said they wanted to raise children who felt unconditional support from their parents. That meant less yelling, and more verbal affirmations, outward displays of affection and honest conversations about hard topics.

“I didn’t have a safe place to express my emotions of feeling understood,” one mother, 32, told Pew. “I try to have weekly talks with my kids to check in on their emotions to see how they are. Even if they had a good week, I have found it is still good to remind them you are there for them.”

Becky Kennedy, the psychologist known as Dr. Becky who founded the parenting group Good Inside and wrote a book by the same name, said that among the parents she works with, this was common: “I think this generation knows they needed that, and there’s more and more permission to go, ‘That really was an important need.’”

“Forever, parenting has been the only job in the world that we get no training and no support for; we’re just expected to do it,” she said. “This generation knows how much it matters, and it feels harder because they know how broken the system was for parents and they’re trying to fill that gap.”

Another way parenting has become harder, according to the survey, is a new set of concerns about children’s well-being. Parents typically have such worries but fears have changed over time. The so-called helicopter parents of the 1980s were mostly concerned about physical safety, like kidnapping and teen pregnancy. Those concerns remain, but they’ve been superseded by ones about mental health: Three-quarters of parents said they were worried their children would struggle with anxiety or depression, or face bullying.

Low-income parents and Hispanic parents, especially immigrants, were more likely to be worried across the board, including about potential violence. Four in 10 Hispanic parents, and the same share of low-income parents, said they were extremely or very worried their children could be shot, compared with roughly one in 10 high-income or white parents.