From millennials to the Greatest Generation, parenting trends come and go

I've been around long enough to know that I don't really know that much. But one thing I do know is this: Every generation thinks it has things figured out.

So whenever I hear about new parenting trends, I get a wee bit skeptical.

My parents lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They were pretty amazing people, when I stop to think about it. Yet when I was young I was convinced that the Greatest Generation was basically clueless.

Sure, they taught me some solid core values, but their parenting style amounted to letting me play in the street after I'd finished my homework and chores.

No violin lessons, Mandarin classes or themed birthday parties. I walked to school.

When it was time to apply for college, it was up to me to get it done. Indeed, Mom and Dad would have laughed at the notion that raising children was something that required a "strategy."

My generation of Baby Boomers went the opposite route and overdid everything. We introduced the concept of micromanaging the heck out of our kids, overwhelming them with carefully choreographed experiences to nurture their budding Einstein brains and future Hall of Fame prospects. We boomer parents are idealistic and individualistic, but get out of our way if you know what's good for you.

I'm not really sure what Generation X stands for, other than that it's fun to ridicule Baby Boomers.

As the next in line, the Gen Xers seem to have made a stand firmly on the middle line between past and present, between the Luddites of old and the technology savants of today, between unprecedented levels of indulgence and permissiveness on one hand and the conviction that children do need simplicity and discipline on the other.

I think they're the ones who brought us such concepts as "stealth parenting," which is supposed to mean that parents swoop in only when needed instead of hovering like helicopters.

They seem a bit confused, but I suppose that's what my generation wrought upon them.

Now the millennials are having kids. And heaven help us, they're convinced they know how to do this parenting business correctly.

The buzz about millennial parents is all about the "third-child style," which is centered around the notion that children born third in a family lineup are typically subjected to less rigorous parenting because Mom and Dad are now old pros and are more relaxed. It's meant to be the anti-helicopter parenting approach, one that's more easy-going, less strategic and less apt to produce anxious kids who can't tie their shoes without a committee of experts.

As a fourth child, I might argue that "relaxed" might just be a euphemism for "tired." By the time I came along, my hard-working parents were so overburdened with responsibilities that I'm lucky I wasn't relegated to an ice floe.

But I do see some merit to the third-child idea. Millennials — those born in the last two decades, beginning around 1984 — have plenty to rebel against. It's certainly understandable if they reject the over-structured lifestyles their parents subjected them to and are opting instead for a looser approach.

We also hear that millennials are striving to be more enlightened. This also makes sense. This generation seems more understanding about people's differences, and now it hopes to teach its children to be inclusive and tolerant.

Millennials' kids are the ones who will play with Barbie dolls that come in multiple body types and skin tones, and will grow up in a world in which gay marriage is a foregone conclusion.

There are other facets of millennial parenting that are starting to receive scrutiny. This generation, in keeping with the more relaxed theme coupled with the fact that more mothers are working outside the home, is reputedly comfortable with outsourcing much of the child care needs. It's not exactly a village, but more of a team-based approach, without the guilt that tortured older parents when they realized they couldn't do it all.

And then there are the baby names, which are, shall we say, interesting.

The most popular names for newborns last year were predictable. The top three for boys were Liam, Noah and Ethan. For girls we had Emma, Olivia and Ava.

But beyond such classics, new trends are bubbling up now that millennials are having kids. We have the clever spellings (Emilee and Landyn) and the unique (Tressa and Trace). Another development that has all the parenting publications gushing is the increasing penchant for combining two names to come up with a hybrid.

A young couple might honor Grandpa Brian and Grandpa Gregory, for instance, by squishing the two names together to form Briory. Emma Bloomberg, daughter of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and her husband Christopher Frissora took the hybrid concept a step further and combined their last names when they decided that their newborn girl would be known as Zelda Violet Frissberg.

Old and skeptical though I am, I actually think this is a rather cool idea. But let these millennial parents be warned.

However they decide to raise their kids, there's one outcome that's certain. When their children grow up and become parents themselves, they're going to think that the last generation was clueless. And then they'll figure out the right way to do it.

PATRICE APODACA is a former Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She lives in Newport Beach.

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