UNPOPULAR OPINION: Being A Spoiled Gen-Y Stereotype Has Made Me a Better Mother
If ever there were a woman who embodied the laziest media stereotypes about Millennials, it would be me. I’m a 28-year-old upper-middle-class white chick from the East Coast. I drifted down the placid Nile of my youth on a barge of praise and attention, dressed in an endless rotation of “those matching pajamas from Hanna Andersson.”
As an adult, I’m a little lazy about things like laundry and changing the water cooler at the office. And I often believe, over the quiet protests of my better judgment, that I’m “the main character of a very special story.”
I always feared that these qualities would make me a terrible parent one day. It’s like my 27-year-old-friend Lily* wrote to me recently: “My whole sense of self is a delicate interplay of instant gratification and deluded ambition overlaid with NO COMPROMISES. I truly cannot see this mixing with parenthood.”
A year ago, I would have agreed with her. Then, however, I had a baby, and I’m surprised at how much my Special Snowflake attitudes have eased my transition into motherhood. Not only that: in the long term, I think they’ll make me a happier, more effective parent.
This may sound counterintuitive, if not outright ridiculous. I know, I know. But I still think there's value in sharing my story, if only to reassure other members of the so-called "Idle Trophy Generation" that they, too, will not necessarily suck at being parents just because they feel a little spoiled and immature. If you love your kids and are truly committed to being a nurturing and effective parent, there's an upside to having some less-than-altruistic instincts.
To explain what I mean, let me break it down for you by my stereotypically millennial flaws.
Egotistical Flaw #1: I think I’m interesting.
Although I’ve spent my life chasing achievements—educational, personal, professional—my self-esteem isn’t founded on them. Thanks in part to my “you’ll always be a winner” upbringing, which I now believe was a tremendous gift, a small part of me will always suspect that I am fascinating and worthwhile.
The decision of whether to work or stay at home with my baby is, and will continue to be, extremely difficult (and I recognize it's a privilege to have that choice at all). But I’m not worried that I’ll feel like less of a superstar if I stay home or less of a supermom if I work.
Deep down, I’ll always be pleased with myself. And I’m glad I’ll be able to model that existential happiness for my son.
Egotistical Flaw #2: I feel entitled to a fulfilling life.
I don’t expect anyone to cater to my needs, but I do think I deserve personal fulfillment, and I’m willing to pursue it at the expense of other people’s opinions about me (although not at the expense of my child's well-being).
I originally conceptualized this idea as an entitlement to balanced work, play, and family time. But my as my brilliant friend Anne, 35, pointed out to me in an email, “Searching for that perfect triangulation seems somehow simplistic, because they might not be the most meaningful and fulfilling pillars.”
Here’s how she describes her own set of priorities, which I’m going to steal: “Feeling nurtured, providing nurture, feeling creatively stimulated, feeling like I’m making a positive difference in the world…and feeling content with myself—being content to simply ‘be…’. Basically, I’m striving for contentment—which means abandoning the ongoing compulsion to calibrate my happiness, particularly in relation to others my age.”
Finding such contentment will be a dynamic process, requiring different choices at different times in life. But once it becomes clear what the right choices are for me and my family, I’m not going to seek anyone’s permission to make them.
My family’s health and well-being will always my top priority; my personal fulfillment is a close second. Period.
Egotistical Flaw #3: I don’t kill myself with busywork.
To my delight (and consternation), I’ve arrived at the stage of life involving a job and a baby and a husband and a mortgage and in-laws—only to discover that I’m STILL not as crazy-busy as I was at my achievement-focused high school.
If there’s one thing an overscheduled childhood teaches you, it’s how to prioritize—to cut whatever corners you can and focus on the things that matter. As a result, I’m well-practiced at saying “no.” And it’s made adulthood a lot easier.
No, I can’t do the dishes tonight; I don’t care if it means a messy kitchen for 12 hours. No, I can’t work after 5; the emails can be answered tomorrow. And no, I don’t feel guilty --although I am sometimes a little embarrassed by the number of discarded socks on my floor.
Of course, there are millions of people in this country who HAVE to work constantly to stay afloat. I realize that I’m writing from and about a position of huge privilege.
But there are also tons of busy-busy-busy bourgeois people who perform frantic lives just to appear important. I see through this—or at least I think I do; maybe I’m kidding myself—and choose not to participate. And I hope to be able to pass this skill down to my son.
Egotistical Flaw #4: I overshare.
I’m not afraid to divulge details of my personal life in public. I try to respect other people’s privacy, but I’m an open book about me.
Last winter, I found myself pregnant and with no maternity plan on my health insurance. Looking down the barrel of potentially tens of thousands of dollars in hospital costs, I took to Facebook to ask my 1300-odd friends for advice.
My mother was horrified—talking about medical stuff! And finances! On social media!—but with the help of responses to that post and my awesome employers, I was able to get the coverage I needed.
Now, I’m doing the same thing with parenting issues. If I’ve got a problem or question and can discuss it without compromising my son’s privacy, I have no problem sharing it with a big audience. It’s usually the fastest way to find an answer.
Egotistical Flaw #5: I have what others might call “helicopter parents.”
They live 20 minutes away and visit twice a week. They worry, worry, worry about me, my baby, my husband, my dog. They bring us take-out and offer to babysit.
I think they’re wonderful. We’re super-close. They’re loving, involved, still working themselves, and much more energetic than my own grandparents were in their 60’s. My son is already benefiting from their influence in his life.
What’s so bad about helicopters, anyway? They help people fly.
Egotistical Flaw #6: I crave novelty.
My 27-year-old friend Anais worries that her compulsive multitasking will make her a bad parent. “My shortened, flippant attention span may turn me into one of those moms that ‘mmhmms’ without ever listening—may influence my ability to sit with child and help with homework, or read stories, or otherwise appreciate those quiet family moments my childless womb suspects are key to motherhood,” she writes.
I’m worried about this too. I love my son and crave one-on-one time with him, yet I reflexively dive for my phone when he's not actively engaging with me. It’s an ongoing struggle.
That said, there’s an upside to this restlessness. I get my baby out of the house a lot, because I’d go crazy otherwise. My mind goes a mile a minute thinking up new adventures, new songs and stories, new silly noises I can make to entertain him.
Sure, my multitasking brain gets distracted easily—but it’s also deeply curious. And it’s fun.
My friend Alice, 29, said it best: “In our world, we have SO MANY ways to satisfy curiosity and learn about things. I hope that translates into teaching kids how to explore and find out about things—online or offline—and that having lots of interests is OK.”
I’ve been a mom for all of five months, so I’m hardly qualified to make final pronouncements on parenting. I’m sure there will come a time when the obliterating love I feel for my son will come into conflict with my personal ambitions and desires, and my stereotypically Millennial personality will be a hindrance rather than a help.
For now, though, I’m pleasantly surprised by how comfortable I feel as a parent. And I’m optimistic that as more twentysomethings start to have kids, they’ll feel the same way.
*Names have been changed