A couple of years ago, my 2-year-old son and I spent a day swimming at my mom and dad's house. We went inside to eat lunch. Within seconds, I turned around to see my toddler standing on a chair, reaching down into a fish tank with one of his stuffed animals. "Fishies need friends," he repeated.
"I see you want those fishies to have a friend. It's so kind of you to share. Your toy doesn't belong in the tank. I'm going to pull you down off of this chair so you and the fishies don't get hurt," I said.
I then told my son the fish could see his stuffed animal better through the glass and it would keep his toy safe and dry. After he understood this and accepted it, I tackled the "climbing in the chair" debacle. "Chairs are for sitting, not standing. You may sit in this chair while you watch the fish."
I turned around to see my mom and dad smiling at me. "That was really great, Lauren! No yelling or angry words. You're so patient," they said.
I was surprised and delighted with their feedback. "Yeah, I just try to empathize, redirect, set boundaries and tell him what he can do," I replied.
"Well, it worked great this time!" my mom said reassuringly.
It was the first time I realized I was choosing to raise my child similarly, but also differently from the way I was raised. While my parents were not overly strict or rough and I always felt loved, safe and secure in our home, I do remember the occasional yelling, timeouts, etc. When I became a parent, I knew what generational values I wanted to pass down to my children. I also knew there were some different parenting tactics I wanted to try. So I decided to research and find what works for me and my family.
A recent study revealed many parents in today's generation are parenting similarly to how they were raised in some areas and very differently in other areas. In January of 2023, Pew Research reported "roughly as many U.S. parents say they are raising their children similarly to how they were raised (43%) as say they are trying to take a different approach (44%)."
(READ MORE: When it comes to parenting quality matters more than quantity)
An open-ended question revealed five focuses for today's generation of parents: Values and Religion, Behavior and Discipline, Love and Relationship, Education, Freedom and Autonomy.
Of the parents who said they're raising their children similarly to how they were raised, 63% mentioned a focus on instilling the same values and beliefs passed down in their family. Parents who say they are raising their children in a different way than they were raised were less likely to focus on this theme, although 13% mentioned it.
For those taking a different approach to parenting compared with their own upbringing, 44% of respondents mentioned a shift to focus on love and their relationship with their children as the most common theme. This theme was less common among parents raising their children similarly to their own upbringing, although 16% mentioned it.
When it comes to behavior and discipline, about 29% of parents say they're using the same tactics and expectations they experienced as a child; 32% of parents say they're changing the way they discipline, with many mentioning using a more "gentle and feelings-based approach."
The last two focus areas, education and freedom/autonomy, provided the least responses from parents. Of parents who said they were parenting similarly to how they were raised, 5% to 9% mentioned the importance of passing down the same values in education and freedom/autonomy. And 5% to 8% of parents who said they were parenting differently mentioned wanting to provide a better educational experience and give their children more freedom/autonomy than what they received.
In conclusion, many parents are passionate about passing down generational values and ethics to their children. Many parents also feel the need to focus more on building a relationship with their children, providing more love and connection than they experienced in their own childhood.
While each generation provides different challenges and mindsets, this study as a whole brings some clarity to the desire of parents and families today -- to focus more on relationships and empower their children to do the same. That's something hopeful we can all hold each other accountable to.
Lauren Hall is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at [email protected].