It’s easy to peddle the myth that millennials are entitled narcissists, more interested in launching startups, swiping Tinder and squandering their cash on small plates than they are in forging meaningful relationships and starting families.
Growing up used to mean finding a partner, planning a huge wedding and having 2.5 children — all by the age of 30. But these days, grim economic realities and a growing rejection of heteronormative values means that the markers of adulthood are shifting. We’re still growing up, we’re still convinced of the value of family but we’re cynical about the version we’ve been sold since the 1950s and its attendant consumerist fantasies (house! boat! designer stroller!).
We’re Redefining What Families Look Like
In 2017, it’s clear that the idea of the nuclear family: mum, dad, a couple of kids, doesn’t reflect the diverse family structures for many in our generation. Growing up is no longer a cookie-cutter process defined by ready-made milestones. It’s fluid, ever-changing and informed by the different paths our lives take.
Millennials are forging a new path to family: making their visions of a loving family unit come true in all kinds of forms. Kate and Tina Findlay are a couple that did just that.
Although the Sydney-based couple lived on different continents when they met online a decade ago, they planted the dream of starting a family during the earliest days of their courtship. A few months after getting married in New York, they started seriously discussing surrogacy. Their baby son Ben, who Tina gave birth to, is now ten months old.
“We were very aware of that cliché about two lesbians and a U-haul but we kind of went the traditional route — we found a place of our own, we got married and decided to try having kids,” grins Tina, a lively 32-year-old who’s about to return to her job after taking maternity leave to look after Ben.
“We started looking at what our options were as soon as we got married but it’s not like we could accidentally get knocked up — we had to meet with lawyers and it took four years until he was actually born,” says Kate, 35, who speaks with the under-the-radar confidence of someone who knows exactly what she wants. “We were looking at buying a house and then we were like, well, it’s either going to be a house or a baby and then we decided on a baby. Day care starts next month and our savings for a house will pay for that.” She pauses before bursting into laughter. “It’s definitely not going towards avocado toast! Although, I do enjoy it.”
For Tina and Kate, the challenge of growing up and starting a family is about finding the courage to be honest and brave enough to build a family life that’s in line with your values. “[When you start a family], you’re still you, you still have the same interests, the same things you really love,” Kate says.
‘Having It All’ Is Damn Near Impossible, But We’re Figuring It Out
When it comes to the ideal of ‘having it all’, the harsh reality is that balancing having a family with a kickass career is nothing less than difficult. But the changing nature of the workplace (such as the rise in freelance positions) means that millennials are figuring out how to navigate these tricky waters in their own unique ways.
Mike and Krishia Catabay, Filipino-born Australians, always wanted to be young parents. But the pair, who’ve respectively built careers as a media producer and business analyst and co-run CBay Creations, a freelance creative agency, believe that parenthood is less a hallmark of adulthood than it is part of a mosaic that incorporates family, work and creative passions — one in which children are a central part of a larger whole.
“We both grew up in similar families with similar cultural backgrounds and I always knew I wanted to be a dad and have kids younger,” says Mike, 32, who used to write a parenting blog called YDad and juggles a day job in media production at Macquarie University with photography and stints as a DJ.
Krishia, 29, says that there are benefits to starting a family while chasing her professional ambitions — despite the message that juggling work with a desire to have children is the kind of either/or game millennial women are set up to lose.
“Mike and I are fortunate to have full-time jobs that are very flexible. We’re able to move our schedules around as required,” says Krishia.
Sure, Mike and Krishia — creatively aligned, family-oriented and willing to approach the struggles of parenthood as a unit — are the model of a young couple who’ve achieved the kind of equal partnership that previous generations couldn’t imagine. But for the Catabays, who are parents to two sons, a four-year-old as well as a six-year-old who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, the life they’ve chosen is the result of regular compromises and the discipline to scale back commitments.
Starting a family doesn’t mean sacrificing their creative interests but juggling them with care-taking and abandoning the idea that the balance has to be perfect.
The Challenges Of Raising Kids Have Changed
Raising a family has never been easy, but the challenges faced by parents today differ from those of the baby boomer generation.
Owen Craven and Sean Gallagher live in South Yarra and have a three-and-a-half-year-old girl called Indigo, conceived via surrogacy in India. The couple epitomise modern families and have made it a point to introduce rituals that involve both the family they’ve created and a network of friends who have a stake in raising their daughter. In doing so, they’ve re-imagined what a loving family can be.
“We have family friends in Sydney and Singapore who are also two-dad families and every year we take a three-family holiday so that the kids, who are all born via surrogacy, can build these wonderful connections,” says Owen, who is a senior curator at Urban Art Projects. “My family was nuclear but also quite isolated so I try to open up ours to many people around us.”
“For both of us to work full-time and make sure that our working life fits around Indigo, to give her everything she needs is a challenge that our parents never dealt with,” adds Sean, who works at Swinburne University.
The pair says that rejecting nuclear structures has allowed them to evolve as people and forge a deeper bond with their daughter. They prove that if each parent endeavours to be both mother and father, we can redefine child-rearing for the better and access richer emotional rewards.
“I think one of the most wonderful things about being a two-dad family is that we each play both the maternal and the paternal role,” Owen says. “It’s so exciting for us being two blokes, to see the world through this little girl’s eyes. We just want to raise her in a safe, loving environment to allow her to become a wonderful, independent, strong-minded individual. It’s such a privilege to be her parents.”
Growing Up Today Is About Embracing Diversity In Families
If the families that millennials build today represent a serious departure from those built by their parents’ generations it’s because changes in attitudes play a growing role.
A July 2015 global survey by Havas Worldwide discovered that the majority of millennials believe that interracial marriage and same-sex marriage were a benefit to society and six in ten are deliberately bringing up their children differently to how they were raised.
Krishia says that for our generation, part of growing up is recognising that raising children – whether it involves two mothers, two dads, a heterosexual couple or groups of friends or relatives – isn’t about replicating the lives of our parents. It’s about being true to our personal desires, dreams and challenges and accepting that family can thrive in many forms. “Nobody gets dealt the same cards and I think we’re starting to move towards much more acceptance and positivity,” she says.
(Lead image: Owen Craven and Sean Gallagher/Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder)
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