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Report looks at whether millennial moms are more traditional, happier

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 11:45 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Millennials, more than any other generation, believe one parent should stay home, report says
  • The report found millennials also believe a mom who works sets a positive example for the child
  • Millennials think parents should be able to step in and out of their careers, editor says
  • Millennials are happier than Gen Xers and baby boomers, according to the report

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- I'm a Generation X mom who works outside the home, and I've always felt strongly that women who have a choice about whether to work or stay home after having children should feel completely comfortable with either decision.

Should a mom choose to work, her children will be fine as long as there's a good child care situation in place. You know the mantra, "happy mommy (who wants to work), happy baby."

Based on that thinking, I have to say I was fairly blown away when I read one of the top findings of a new report by Working Mother Media, which examined the attitudes of millennials (born 1981 to 2000), Generation Xers (1965 to 1980) and baby boomers (1946 to 1964).

Millennials scored highest, over Gen Xers and baby boomers, when asked whether they believe one parent should stay home to care for the children: Sixty percent of millennials said yes, vs. 55% for boomers and 50% for Gen Xers.

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What? Are we moving in the wrong direction here, ladies? Are we harkening back to an "Ozzie and Harriet" time when mom stayed at home, dad worked, and that was the complete family story?

What millennial women want now

Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Media, says no. She points to what else the millennials said in the survey of more than 2,000 moms and dads: that both parents should make a significant contribution to the household income, that mothers and fathers should share equally in daily household activities and that a mom who works outside the home sets a positive example for the children.

"I think many men and women want ... the ability to step in and out of their careers and not be stigmatized for it, and I think the millennials are saying this, too," said Owens, who notes that most millennials currently have children who are younger than those of of Gen Xers and baby boomers.

"Many men and women want to stay home with that little guy in the first years," she added. They're saying "somebody should be home with that little tiny baby, but they do want a career."

In conversations with millennial moms across the country, I was struck by how much they believe the decision to work or stay at home is personal rather than political, how many would stay at home if they could and how they don't seem to feel the pressures of feminism driving their decisions. They are charting their own course.

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Aliah Davis-McHenry, 33, president and chief executive officer of her own public relations firm, has two sons, ages 8 and 11. She's done it all: stayed at home when the boys were young, worked part-time and consulted during their preschool years and now works full-time from home, which means she can be there when her sons get off the school bus.

"I feel like it's a very personal decision," Davis-McHenry said. "In a perfect world, with all the variables being aligned, who wouldn't want to be home every day? ... But that's not the world we live in."

Miriam Lane, 25, who works in sales for a television station in Huntsville, Alabama, says she or her husband could probably stay home with their 2-year-old daughter, but that wouldn't support the kind of lifestyle they want for their family.

"I think it's great if a parent can stay home," Lane said, "but there are a lot of situations where it's just not feasible to be able to do that. I know specifically in our situation, we do have to have both parents working to be able to afford beyond just our basic needs."

Brace yourself, Mom: Millennials move back home

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace, a Gen Xer, was blown away by how more millennials think a parent should be home with a child.
CNN's Kelly Wallace, a Gen Xer, was blown away by how more millennials think a parent should be home with a child.

Christine Esposito's feelings are influenced by her own mom, who didn't work. "I always had the image of me being like her and staying home," said Esposito, 30, who works in the e-learning field in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and has a 2-year-old daughter.

"But I really feel like things have changed a lot," she added. "I don't want to stay home and never be able to go out to dinner and never be able to go on vacation."

For Patricia Downs, a 31-year-old mom with a 2-year-old boy in day care, the issue is clear-cut: She thinks a parent should be home with the child, and she wishes it could be her.

"I think that's the best thing for my child," said Downs, an account manager in the cosmetics industry in Stony Point, New York. "I feel like he misses out on time with myself, my husband. ... There are times he needs Mommy, and I'm just not able to go."

I wondered whether the views of millennials on this question of whether one parent should be home with a child were influenced either by their own upbringing as children of dual-income Gen Xers and boomers or by the experiences of people they know.

Meghan Lodge, 24, whose daughter is just 8 weeks old, said her views are definitely shaped a bit by the childhood of some of her friends.

"I have some older friends who ... had to stay in day care, or they had to come home by themselves" when they were older, Lodge said. The Thomasville, Georgia, woman believes that one parent should stay home with the child if they can afford it. "I mean, they turned out fine, but they always talked about how much they wished they had more time with their parents."

Survey: Reluctant breadwinner moms are less happy

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Beyond the question of working versus staying at home as parents, millennials told us something else in this survey: that they are a whole lot happier than previous generations (PDF). They reported more satisfaction with their jobs, their family finances and their relationship with their partners than Gen Xers and baby boomers.

"I think we're more motivated towards achieving satisfaction and balance," Davis-McHenry said. "I don't think it's only about making money. I believe it's more about fulfillment: feeling like we're making a difference and making sure that everything from home to work, those needs are being satisfied, and I think that's what's making us happier."

Many millennial moms say they are thankful to the women who came before them, the Gen Xers and baby boomers, who broke down barriers, allowing them to make the choices they want to make for their lives. But at the same time, they don't seem to feel any of the pressures of fulfilling anyone's expectations other than their own.

"We do things more according to what we see fit for our family, what's best for the family, rather than what other people think about it," Lodge said.

Owens, of Working Mother, believes that this optimism on the part of millennials has definite implications for the workplace.

"They're going to demand more. They're already asking questions about the 24/7 always on (work life)," said Owens, herself a Gen Xer. "They're asking for flexibility already as a given, and you know what, they're not even asking for it. They just expect it. And amen to them."

From this Gen Xer as well, amen indeed!

Do you think one parent should stay home to care for the children? Chime in below in the comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook.

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