5 Big Ways Parenting Has Changed Over the Years

It's not your imagination. Parenting today is different (and sometimes harder).

Published July 13, 2023
dad and little girl

If you're like those of us who grew up roaming the neighborhood unsupervised until dusk and drinking out of the garden hose when you were thirsty, you know a bit about how parenting today is different (and harder sometimes) than when we were kids.

Parents of today have some amazing tools to help make things a little easier, but they also deal with pressures and stresses that parents of the past did not.

1. Today's Parents Have to Multitask to Get It All Done

Do you feel like you're doing a million things at once as a parent? You are. Despite being more likely to have both parents working outside the home, parents of today spend just as much (or maybe even more) time with their kids than parents of the past. They do this by multitasking.

While your parents were definitely busy, they may have only been doing one or two things at a time. Parenting today means somehow managing to juggle caring for kids, working, taking care of your home, and everything else. Makes us tired just thinking about it.

Fast Fact

About 43% of today's parents are trying to raise their kids in a way that's similar to their own parents, while about 44% want to change things up. These intentions may be a factor in how parenting has changed over the years.

2. Parenting Today Is More Expensive

child kayak lesson

Sure, you maybe took piano and swimming lessons as a kid, but your parents probably didn't shell out for the most expensive educational summer camps or infant music lessons. Today's parents in the middle and upper income brackets spend about a third more on child care, education, and children's goods than parents did a generation ago.

What's also interesting is that parents in lower income brackets do not spend more, which may mean the advantages that come with privilege may be becoming more significant.

3. The Pressure to Be a Good Parent Is More Intense

All it takes is a quick skim of a baby care book to know that there's a ton of pressure on today's parents to do a good job. Today, children are seen as more vulnerable than in generations past, and that means the role of parenting has become far more intense.

Most of us have heard of "helicopter parents" and "tiger moms," and even though we try not to go overboard, we work really hard to keep kids safe from what feels like a million risks and give them every possible advantage (hence the extra spending and need to multitask).

That's not to say that parents of the past weren't worried about safety and being good parents. It's just that in the age of constant information, sensationalist news, and tons of expert opinions at our fingertips, we're overwhelmed with ways we can do a better job. That's a lot of pressure, and it's something our parents and their parents did not experience in the same way.

4. Parenting Today Involves Managing Distractions

One of the ways parenting today is different and harder involves managing distractions. We always have our phones (plus all the multitasking we need to do to get everything done). When we're playing dolls or cars with our kids, we have to make the conscious choice not to scroll Instagram at the same time (or endure the guilt we might feel if we're not being fully present). It's another kind of pressure.

While parents of past generations watched TV or listened to the radio in the evenings or chatted on the home phone, they didn't have the ever-present device in their pocket.

5. Today's Moms and Dads Get the Benefits of Technology

mom and son on tablet

Even though tech can be a distraction we have to manage, we also get to use it to our advantage as parents. Remember long road trips where you and your siblings argued over the space in the back seat and picked fights with one another over basically nothing? Today, parents can toss a couple iPads back there and enjoy a little peace.

That's not the only way parents benefit from technology either. Past generations didn't have access to things like baby monitors that allowed them to be out of earshot, the ability to email a teacher instead of spending tons of time trying to get through on the phone, or even the convenience of a teleheath doctor's appointment instead of hauling a kid across town for a check-up.

Parenting Today Is Different (and Also Not)

Looking at how parenting today is different and harder offers some perspective on the constant pressure many moms and dads feel. It's also worth looking at how things are the same, though. After all, being a good parent is about loving kids and trying to give them every advantage you can. Each generation tries to do better than the last, but across the generations, love and caring are constants.

5 Big Ways Parenting Has Changed Over the Years