Personal Story

Gen Z Motherhood: What I Wish People Knew About Being a Young Mom

written by CAYLEE NUNLEY
gen z mom"
gen z mom
Source: Olya Afanasyeva | Pexels
Source: Olya Afanasyeva | Pexels

I live within walking distance of a great park, and when it’s nice out, I load my daughter up in her stroller and make the most of it, heading down to walk the trails and get some fresh air. Seldom am I the only mom with this idea. I push my daughter past the many playgrounds that sit along the path and watch kids play as groups of Millennial moms chat under the park shelters, divvying up snacks and rocking their younger babies. Statistically, I’m a young mom as a member of Gen Z—people born between 1997 and 2012—though I don’t feel that way until I encounter other mothers.

Regardless of how I feel when I’m home alone with my daughter, the reality is I don’t really have friends my own age who have kids, and the one who does lives in another state. Have you tried maintaining a healthy and fulfilling long-distance friendship with someone when you both have babies who don’t sleep through the night? Spoiler alert: It’s really hard. So, while, of course, motherhood is motherhood despite the age of the mom, here’s what I wish people knew about being a Gen Z mom.

I’m Fighting Off Impostor Syndrome

I’ll admit, though my husband and I had been married for years and actively planned to have our daughter, once we were pregnant and that initial shock and excitement faded, I was worried about what people would think. We had done everything “right,” but we were still young.

Early in my pregnancy, I browsed the baby sections in stores when I had extra time but hesitated at the end of an aisle if another mom was shopping there. As silly as it sounds, I felt like I didn’t belong. Several months into my motherhood journey, I still have serious impostor syndrome at times due to my age. When I am asked about my daughter out in public and am offered advice or suggestions, I often find it feels less like advice and more like being told what to do. Just because I am young doesn’t mean I still need to be parented. I am the parent!

Unsolicited Parenting Advice is Everywhere

Among the ever-present string of unsolicited parenting advice are things that make me cringe:

“She’s still not sleeping through the night? Why don’t you just let her cry it out?”

“If you carry her around all the time, she’s going to be so attached to you.”

“Just put some rice cereal in her bottle and she’ll sleep great.”

At times, it can seem never-ending. Family members will chime in with what they think I should do, and I have to remind myself that I am qualified to parent my own child. When I present the evidence of why we won’t be doing things, I can be brushed off and treated as if things are just my preference or a fad over actual evidence-based decisions. As a new generation of parents, Gen Z is setting a new tone for what raising a child looks like, and that involves new strategies for tackling issues that have been around for as long as there have been babies.

I’m Learning to Trust My Instincts

For example, being breastfed, my daughter would cry on a bottle for hours without eating an ounce if we let it go on that long. She wanted to be on me all the time, laying on my chest or in her wrap, not doing tummy time or playing in her other gear. I was made to feel like I had caused all of these things, that I had somehow coddled her and made it difficult for others to watch her in my place. But these were just normal issues babies deal with because they are exactly that: babies.

So, I ignored what I was being told and did what felt right. It still wasn’t easy, but I stopped trying to make her magically change overnight for others, and she started changing bit by bit each day. I did something nobody was suggesting: I followed my instincts. Older generations seemed so eager to pass on their “magical” quick-fix remedies, strategies, and methods that I almost forgot I was made to do this. It’s not just me, I see it in other Gen Z moms I know. We aren’t letting anything top our instincts.

gen z mom
Source: Canva

Gen Z Moms Face the Overwhelming Urge to be Perfect

Gen Z is the first digitally native generation, and to me, that doesn’t seem like a big deal most of the time, but it impacts everything. We are so naturally attuned to living online in some way, being able to look anything up at any time, with a constant stream of content available to us that is more than we could ever absorb properly.

We Know Social Media Isn’t Reality—But It’s Hard to Ignore

Social media influencers lead glistening, perfect lives, and while we know better than to believe everything we see, it’s still something we strive to replicate. I read seven parenting books cover to cover before I was even pregnant, and if there had been more time, I would have read more. I didn’t want to have any questions, I didn’t want to ask for help, and most importantly, I wanted to look like a natural.

“I didn’t want to have any questions, I didn’t want to ask for help, and most importantly I wanted to look like a natural.”

It was important to me to seem as prepared and knowledgeable as humanly possible before my baby even existed so I knew what to expect from conception to age 1. I soaked in as much information as possible because I was weary that asking too many questions would make me look bad, and I’ve never been the best at asking for help anyway. I was already young, I didn’t want to look unprepared. This feeling isn’t something I am alone in as a Gen Z mom.

We Feel Pressure to be the ‘Perfect Mom’

According to a poll conducted by The Everyday Health Group, the need to feel like you are being the perfect mom is on the rise in most Gen Z mothers with an astounding 83 percent of moms ages 18-26 feel the need to strive for perfection in raising their children. That number is shocking, but I can’t say I’m entirely surprised with the prevalence of social media and the amount of seemingly perfect influencers that fill my discover pages. Not to mention older generations watching our every move.

“An astounding 83 percent of moms ages 18-26 feel the need to strive for perfection in raising their children.”

Dealing with the subconscious pressure to live up to all of that can be a lot, and it can be hard to not sit and compare yourself to others. I know it isn’t possible to actually be perfect, but I also feel the need to do my best to strive for perfection. Social media and input from older generations aside, I feel I owe my daughter my absolute best. Her childhood is in my hands in a world where every day it seems like childhood ends earlier and earlier.

We’re Going to Do Things Differently—Sometimes Very Differently

After our daughter was born, my husband and I didn’t let anyone into our hospital room or come to see us at home for a month. I wanted my privacy from over a dozen sets of prying eyes at one of the most vulnerable times in my life, and we wanted time to bond with our daughter uninterrupted. That was important to us. We had coached our family for months ahead of time, not keeping it a secret that this would be our plan, but we were still met with our fair share of criticisms.

These were some of the first real iron-clad boundaries we had ever set with our family, and some people were shocked. The last babies in the family were born over 10 years ago, so setting these boundaries wasn’t what they expected from us. I have clear memories as a child loading up to see each new baby at the hospital, cramming into the recovery room, and watching a tiny baby be passed around like a new puppy while the mother sat rigid on the bed, half the time still in a hospital gown. I didn’t want that to be our experience. We held our ground, and that time in the hospital and the month that followed turned out to be just as magical as we’d hoped for, and I don’t regret it for a second.

This is a theme growing more and more common among Gen Z parents—we aren’t keen to just lie down and allow things to remain as they used to be if we don’t like them. We change them. If we aren’t sure what we want, it’s only a matter of scrolling to get an idea.

We Do Know How to Be Present—Without Screens

As someone who has grown up with access to anything I want online, whenever I wanted it, who is part of a generation deemed addicted to screens, I have discovered an interesting side effect. I absolutely don’t mind unplugging and slowing down for my daughter. She needs me, so I’ll be still. I’ll let her lie with me a little bit longer, I’ll come to her aid every time she cries; I’m present.

So far, this has resulted in a bond with my daughter that makes every comment, look, and suggestion worth it. I’m doing my best. My journey is only a part of the beginning of my generation’s journey into motherhood. The youngest members of Gen Z are just now entering middle school, but I think we will be reshaping motherhood as time goes on. So, if you have a Gen Z mom in your life, instead of offering her unsolicited advice in an attempt to be helpful, remind her she was made to do this. Tell her she’s doing a great job. She’ll appreciate it.