I’m A Millennial With A Minivan, And I Feel Pretty Great About It
August 7, 2015 | By Ylan Q. Mui
I am a millennial, and I drive a minivan.
This does not make me a disgrace to my generation.
Yes, I know that millennials are supposed to love public transportation. We’ve boosted transit ridership to record highs.
Yes, I realize that millennials invented the sharing economy, cruising around town on a rented bike or hailing an Uber on the Apple Watch.
And yes, I understand that millennials revitalized cities, or at the very least, put the urban in suburban, part of my generation’s life mission to reinvent our communities, our workplaces, the entire world.
But here’s the unfiltered truth: Millennials are growing up. I was born in 1980, which puts me on the leading edge of a generation that is now roughly between the ages of 18 to 34. And though we have delayed -- or shall we say “redefined” -- many of the milestones of traditional adulthood, the inevitable is finally happening.
Millennials are having babies. Nearly 11 million millennial households, about 10 percent of the country’s population, have at least one child, according to consulting firm FutureCast. I’ve had two, and trust me, they are the ultimate disruptors.
“Kids are a complicating factor. They force a sort of pragmatism,” Jeff Fromm, head of FutureCast and author of a book about millennial parents, told me. The millennial generation of moms and dads are “going to move from crowdsourcing craft beers to crowdsourcing baby food.”
As it did for generations before us, parenthood is forcing millennials to reevaluate our beliefs. Just look what happened to the Baby Boomers, born between about 1946 and 1964. They created an entire counterculture founded on rejecting their parents and the value system of the "establishment." But once they had their own children, they transformed into overly involved helicopter parents who can't seem to kick their kids out of the basement.
Gen Xers, born between approximately 1961 and 1979, have taken it one step further. Indifferent and disaffected in their youth, they have evolved into hyperengaged attachment parents who welcome their children into the family bed. Dr. Sears has replaced Dr. Spock.
The new moms and dads of my generation are beginning to sort out where we stand. Many millennials entered the workforce and started families in the wake of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and many in my generation are still struggling to get back on their feet -- much less afford a minivan.
Maybe that's influenced the way we think about parenting. New research by Nickelodeon has dubbed our style as the "Velcro family." Not only do millennial parents go everywhere with their kids, according to their analysis, the children have a vote in family decisions. Think more democratic, less codependent. My husband and I have tried to force ourselves to go on date night once a quarter -- that's four times a year, folks -- but often find that we'd rather hang out with the kids. For Valentine's Day this year, we took the family to Disney on Ice.
I talked to Neil Howe, the demographer who coined the term millennial along with his business partner William Strauss, about the characteristics that define my generation to see if they still applied now that I'm a suburban mom.
In other words, are Minivan Millennials really that different from regular millennials?
Inclusivity, he told me, is one of the bedrocks of the millennial mindset. Well if it's diversity you want, the suburbs are increasingly the place to find it. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that diverse neighborhoods are twice as likely to be located in the suburbs as in their central city.
Living in the 'burbs has also given me a new appreciation for the indoor shopping mall. That relic of the retail Stone Age has become my saving grace on sweltering afternoons when both the kids and myself need a climate-controlled place to burn off energy. Maybe this alone is enough reason to pull my millennial card. But as much as I am addicted to Amazon, sanity is unfortunately not available through subscribe-and-save.
Howe told me millennials are also obsessed with authenticity. What could be more authentic than openly embracing the mom of two that I am now and all the gear that comes with it? Enter the minivan. I know it’s not hip, or even ironically hipster. But it’s physically impossible to fit two car seats and a double stroller in a SmartCar. Meanwhile, there is something immensely satisfying about closing the doors of a Toyota Sienna minivan with a push of a button.
But perhaps the most defining characteristic of millennials is how connected we are. Gen X may have introduced the world to the Internet, but we created the social network. It's worth pointing out that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that he is becoming a dad.
My social media use skyrocketed after I had children. In the darkest hours of the night, I lay awake, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram as I nursed my baby, living vicariously through posts of my friends without kids. Drinking wine! Eating at restaurants! Watching SYTYCD! I liked them all.
Meanwhile, my network of friends with kids became my life support, offering up instant advice on everything from baby wearing to sleep training (#fail). I tracked diaper changes and feedings with an app on my iPhone, and my daughter’s first birthday party was essentially plagiarized from Pinterest.
So Minivan Millennials are true millennials--and it's about time our growing cohort gets the attention we deserve. Nickelodeon is not the only one trying to understand us and our kids. Goldman Sachs issued a report this spring on millennial parents' $1 trillion in buying power and their favorite brands, such as Melissa & Doug, Earth's Best Organic and The Honest Co. (Check, check and check.) Even Uber launched a new service last year that lets customers request a car seat with their ride.
Maybe if you’re lucky, a minivan will pick you up.