Millennial motherhood can be lonely. While we experience motherhood in a world vastly different from that of Betty Friedan and her generation, ours brings its own challenges.
For starters, being both a millennial (born between 1982 and 2004) and a mom is not a common combination in circles where women have bachelor’s degrees, if not master’s or doctorates. The mean age at which women with college degrees first give birth is now 30. Women are increasingly earning advanced degrees, only widening the pool of childless women who are 30 and older. And when you consider that the women who had their first child before age 20 are not likely to be socializing with women having their first at 30, the world of millennial moms with higher education can feel rather small.
To be sure, millennial moms benefit tremendously from advances in technology that can make us feel connected. It has opened up a world of professional opportunity: young mothers can yoke their talent to tools like Google Hangout and social media to stay active professionally while maximizing the time they spend at home with their children. According to a recent study on millennial mothering trends, 39 percent of millennial moms have sold something they’ve made through social media, and they are significantly more likely than Gen X moms to successfully freelance.1 As the study’s publisher said, “Millennials are using the new digital tools at their disposal to deliver in very new ways for their family. . . . Moms aren't just saving money; they’re finding creative ways to earn it.”
Other tools like Amazon Mom, meal delivery services like Blue Apron, and grocery shopping services like Instacart make domestic life more streamlined and efficient for young mothers juggling work and family life. But the flipside of the technological connectedness that defines millennial motherhood is a sort of alienation that can come with it. It has created a world in which a mom like myself can work part-time at home in the middle of the city with two small children . . . but apart from an occasional errand, only interact with babies and a laptop screen for much of the workweek.
The effects of technological isolation are only exacerbated by increasing familial fragmentation in America. Even in the 1960s, when Betty Friedan complained that women were trapped on suburban islands far away from opportunities, they were much more likely to live near family that could offer support. To be sure, some millennials find themselves still living with their parents in early adulthood. But the rest are more likely than any generation before them to be living in an urban area, no doubt having left mom and dad behind in search of new opportunities and lifestyles.
The millennial women who wind up in a new and exciting city may find they have bought flexible and interesting career opportunities at the price of raising their babies thousands of miles away from the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts who once helped form a community network of support. The same young tech-savvy mothers building start-ups through Skype meetings are interacting primarily with their own mothers, who would once be just around the corner, on Skype. And when a good nanny can cost upwards of 20 dollars an hour and daycare centers can cost $2,000 a month, even nimble millennial moms finding ways to work during naptimes can find themselves raising their children with almost no family help or support, something with little precedent in human history.
The answer to all of this isn’t to delay childbearing further (the commonly proposed solution to mothers’ problems). Rather, millennial moms need tools and ventures that connect them to each other, creating a modern variation on the female communities of support and exchange that for most of human history have helped women get through motherhood, something that simply is not meant to be navigated alone. A project for an ambitious and savvy millennial mom, no doubt.
1. The survey sample may not have been representative.