How Today’s Parents Say Their Approach to Parenting Does – or Doesn’t – Match Their Own Upbringing

Illustrations by Hanna Melin

How are U.S. parents raising their children these days, and how does their approach compare with the way their own parents raised them? To answer this, Pew Research Center asked over 3,700 parents nationwide: Compared with how you were raised, are you trying to raise your children in a similar way or a different way?

Graphic showing how parents say they are raising their children similarly to or differently 
from their own upbringing and if so, in what way among five themes: values and religion, behavior and discipline, love and relationship, education, and freedom and autonomy.

Overall, roughly as many U.S. parents say they are raising their children similarly to how they were raised (43%) as say they are trying to take a different approach (44%). About one-in-ten parents (12%) say they’re neither trying to raise their children similarly to nor differently from how they were raised.

More from this survey: Parenting in America Today

When asked in an open-ended question to describe the specific ways in which they’re raising their children, parents’ responses touched on many different dimensions of family life, with some including details from their own upbringing. Five distinct themes emerged from the parents’ open-ended responses. Among parents who say they’re raising their children similarly to how they were raised, the dominant theme focused on values and beliefs that are important to their family. For those who are taking a different approach to parenting compared with their own upbringing, a focus on love and their relationship with their children was the most common theme.

How we did this

For this analysis, we surveyed 3,757 U.S. parents with children younger than 18 from Sept. 20 to Oct. 2, 2022. Most parents who took part are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This survey also included an oversample of Black, Hispanic and Asian parents from Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, another probability-based online survey web panel recruited primarily through national, random sampling of residential addresses. Address-based sampling ensures that nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Respondents were first asked if they are trying to raise their children similarly to or differently from how they were raised. Respondents were then asked an open-ended question based on their response to describe the ways in which they are raising their children similarly to or differently from the way they were raised. Overall, 87% of respondents provided an answer to the open-ended question they received. Center researchers developed a coding scheme categorizing the responses to both questions, coded all responses, then grouped them into the five themes explored in the data essay.

The full methodology and questions used in this analysis can be found here.


Values and religion

Among parents who say they are raising their children similarly to how they were raised, 63% mentioned something having to do with values and religion when asked to elaborate. Parents who say they are raising their children in a different way than they were raised were less likely to focus on this theme (13% mentioned it).

Responses for parents who are raising their children similarly tended to center around instilling respect for others, good morals, and a strong work ethic. Some also described principles to stand by, like integrity and honesty, while others mentioned certain civic or ideological values, such as raising their kids to be good citizens or instilling conservative values.

“Instill morals, ethics, a sense of right and wrong, work ethic, respect for others, faith, and an understanding of correct principles that will help them succeed and to help others to succeed in life. I was raised the same way.”

Father, age 39

“I am not taking my kid to the church, and I am trying to teach my kid to be open and friendly to people ‘different’ than her.”

Mother, age 44

A significant share of these parents (17%) specifically mentioned religion, with many saying that they want to pass along the same religious beliefs and values their parents instilled in them. These parents pointed to faith and spirituality as a focus in raising their kids, just as it was when they were growing up.

Among parents raising their children differently from how they were raised, 7% mentioned that they want to instill different values in their children from the values they were raised with. These range from compassion to open-mindedness, which some parents feel were not among the values their own parents taught them as children.

The same share talked about religion when detailing how they are trying to raise their children differently. Some mentioned adding religion into their children’s lives (where it may have been absent in theirs), while others emphasized limiting or removing the amount of religious influence compared with what they experienced growing up.


Love and relationship

Among parents who say they are raising their children differently from how they were raised, 44% gave answers that focused on love and their relationship with their children. This theme was less common among parents who are raising their children similarly to their own upbringing (16% mentioned it).

For parents who say they’re taking a different approach in raising their children, many said they are giving them more love and affection than what they received as a child; they want their children to feel like they are growing up in a loving home where there is a lot of support and outward praise. Parents who are raising their children in a similar way to how they were raised tended to talk about providing their kids with a loving household or giving them unconditional love, either through verbal affirmation or other displays of affection.

“I always knew that if I needed my family that they would be there for me no matter the situation. I always had their love and support. I want them to know that it’s never a situation that they can’t come to me.”

Mother, age 37

“I was never shown affection or told that my parents loved me. I am trying to show more love in my caregiving.”

Mother, age 44

Being an involved parent was a sentiment expressed by both groups of parents. Among those who say they’re taking a different approach to parenting, some said they want to be more present in their kids’ day-to-day lives than their parents were. Both groups of parents talked about the importance of having family dinners, supporting their children in their extracurricular activities, and generally spending time with them on a regular basis.

Parents who are raising their children differently from how they were raised expressed some unique – and often poignant – things they are trying to do. This includes better lines of communication with their children – not yelling as much and listening more. Additionally, some parents directly referenced having open and honest conversations with their children, sometimes even surrounding current societal topics.

Other parents said they are focusing on cultivating an understanding relationship in raising their kids differently and underscored accepting their children for who they are. A handful of parents mentioned they want their children to grow up confident and comfortable with themselves, and others focused on providing their children with emotional support and being more in touch with their feelings than their parents were.


Behavior and discipline

Whether they’re trying to raise their kids similarly to or differently from how they were raised, comparable shares of parents pointed to expectations for their children’s behavior and discipline when asked to say more about their approach to parenting (29% and 32%, respectively).

Parents who say they’re raising their kids similarly often emphasized responsibility, manners, respecting rules and doing household chores. Some also pointed to setting boundaries, holding their children accountable, and not tolerating unacceptable behaviors such as lying.

Many parents who say they’re raising their children in a different way focused on their parenting style, approaches to disciplining their kids, and setting expectations for behavior. Some mentioned taking a gentler approach to parenting, while others said they are firmer with their children than their own parents were with them. About one-in-ten of these parents specifically mentioned that they would not use corporal punishment when discipling their children.

“I was raised in a traditional environment and my parents were principled and strict disciplinarians. I believe children benefit and turn out well in such environments.”

Father, age 45

“I was raised in a time where physical punishment was more common and much more socially accepted, but I almost immediately strayed away from that when raising children of my own.”

Mother, age 51


Education

In reflecting on their parenting, 9% of parents who say they’re raising their children similarly to how they were raised mentioned education, as did 5% who say they’re raising their children differently. Both sets of parents discussed the importance of ensuring that their kids work hard and do well in school, along with the type of schooling they want their kids to have, such as homeschool or private school. Parents who are raising their children in a similar way emphasized the value and importance of education overall and expressed high academic expectations for their kids. Those raising their children differently spoke about education in the context of giving their kids a better education than they had, while a few mentioned giving their children a little more leeway on academics because they grew up with strict parents.

“My mother always talked to me about bullies, she encouraged my education and prepared me for school, she attended school functions/meetings, taught me about God, took out time to meet my friends, etc. I do all these things.”

Mother, age 41

“My parents were … unable to afford to put me in any classes or lessons. They valued academics above all else. While I think academics is very important, I would like my children to have a more well-rounded upbringing.”

Mother, age 40


Freedom and autonomy

Parents also commonly mentioned approaches to parenting that give their children the freedom to just be kids and the autonomy to make their own choices, regardless of whether they’re raising their children in a similar or different way from how they were raised. Parents in both categories described a variety of approaches related to autonomy: allowing their kids to learn and grow from their mistakes, giving them the freedom to make their own choices, and wanting them to think for themselves. In particular, some parents who are raising their children differently discussed how they want their children to have more independence.

“[I] encourage them to think independently, allow them to be creative and grow, give them opportunities to explore the world in a safe and supported way.”

Father, age 42

“I try to give my children more trust, let them make more of their own decisions. I actively try to help them reach their own conclusions rather than forcing my beliefs on them. I see myself as a partner with them rather than a boss.”

Mother, age 39


In their own words

Below, we have a selection of quotes that describe the many ways that parents are approaching raising their children today – both similarly to and differently from how they were raised.

“Loving my child unconditionally, and supporting their educational and creative expressions, thoughts and endeavors.”
Mother, age 57
“My parents were overprotective and didn’t let me do anything or go anywhere. They were also unable to afford to put me in any classes or lessons. They valued academics above all else. While I think academics is very important, I would like my children to have a more well-rounded upbringing.”
Mother, age 40
“I grew up in China where academic excellence is very important, and [for] my kid born here, well-rounded is more important.”
Mother, age 48
“Showing them daily and in many ways how they are loved and valued.”
Father, age 49
“More religious beliefs, more striving for excellence, and more educated, and more walking by faith and financial independence.”
Mother, age 59
“More freedom for the children. Empower them to make their own decisions.”
Mother, age 46
“Emphasize education, hard work.”
Mother, age 37
“Coach and mentor my children to be a contributing member of society. Be a parent, not their friend. Explain the ‘why.’ Educate children on being … kids and the many challenges of growing up and being an objective voice.”
Father, age 47
“My wife and I are raising our children to be honest, respectful, hardworking, dependable yet letting them enjoy their youth while being responsible. All without child abuse.”
Father, age 38
“I was raised in a very religious family, and I want my children to share the same faith.”
Mother, age 42
“Teaching good values, respect others, and not to be racist. We all have the same value as humans, giving them advice that I never had. Times have changed, but we can’t change our morals.”
Father, age 47
“Same model of discipline. Same morals and manners.”
Father, age 38
“Being self-sustainable, less technologically dependent and more self-reliance in skills and abilities of hands-on work/labor.”
Mother, age 33
“Giving them freedom to do what they want but reigning them in when they go outside of the boundary.”
Father, age 46
“I didn’t have a safe place to express my emotions of feeling understood. I try to have weekly talks with my kids to check in on their emotions to see how they are. Even if they had a good week, I have found it is still good to remind them you are there for them.”
Mother, age 32
“Give them a good education and encourage their interests. Also make sure they feel loved.”
Father, age 34
“Outdoor school program. Not rushing academics at an early age.”
Father, age 44
“Encourage them to pursue their own interests and dreams and not ours as parents.”
Father, age 53
“I want them to be independent, save money, invest in their future, and become obsessed with their idea of success and not society’s ideas of success.”
Mother, age 38
“Don’t try to employ my values to them, let them define their own.”
Father, age 37
“I was raised in a traditional environment and my parents were principled and strict disciplinarians. I believe children benefit and turn out well in such environments.”
Father, age 45
“Raising kids with a respectful parenting approach. My parents were respectfully parenters, but not starting at an early age.”
Father, age 31
“Making family a priority. Having dinner at the table together every night. Being involved in my kids’ school, sports and extracurricular activities. Being present.”
Mother, age 50
“With personal example in the first place. In the warmth of a united family, based on respect and tolerance.”
Father, age 50 (translated from Spanish)
“Loving, accepting and guiding home.”
Father, age 45
“Trying to keep them independent and not being a helicopter parent.”
Mother, age 47
“Same discipline, same punishments, same rewards.”
Mother, age 40
“Trying not to scream at them as much as my parents did me.”
Father, age 39
“Saying yes sir and yes ma’am. Taking responsibility for their actions.”
Father, age 37
“My parents both worked so didn’t have a lot of time to play with me. I am lucky to be able to stay home now with my kids and spend a lot of time with them.”
Mother, age 42
“Telling them how important getting an education [is], so they can live a better life.”
Mother, age 46
“I hold my children accountable for their actions and don’t tolerate lying in any form.”
Father, age 48
“Setting limits but letting them know I love them.”
Mother, age 31 (translated from Spanish)
“Give him a good-quality education [better] than the one I was exposed to.”
Father, age 36
“I’m trying to raise them as respectful, productive adults with values, morals and integrity.”
Mother, age 40
“God-fearing and loving household, two-parent home, building kids with character and grit.”
Mother, age 36
“Emotional connection and more room to express feelings.”
Mother, age 39
“I try to give my children more trust, let them make more of their own decisions. I actively try to help them reach their own conclusions rather than forcing my beliefs on them. I see myself as a partner with them rather than a boss.”
Mother, age 39
“We are raising them based on the biblical teaching that our parents used as well. Fear God and to remember the Ten Commandments, love one another as God so loved us.”
Father, age 41
“Education, values and respect, all adapted to technology and the times of now.”
Mother, age 45 (translated from Spanish)
“Stay away from family micro traditions and taboos.”
Mother, age 60
“I am raising my kids with a strong Christian foundation. I strive to live my life as an example of good, godly values for my kids. I impart in them the importance of love, family and fellowship.”
Father, age 41
“My parents were too strict and controlling. I talk with my sons and we make decisions together.”
Mother, age 55
“I want to raise my kid to be more independent and confident.”
Mother, age 29
“Spend quality time with my child, read with them and sing songs.”
Mother, age 39
“Recognize individual differences and not to enforce parent’s agenda.”
Mother, age 43
“Making sure my children get a great education.”
Mother, age 53
“To have good morals, be patient, kind, generous, smart, hard-working and have good common sense.”
Mother, age 56
“By teaching them to love, honor and respect parents; love and serve God faithfully; stay faithful; love the country and obey the laws of the land; read the Bible.”
Mother, age 58
“I am not taking my kid to the church, and I am trying to teach my kid to be open and friendly to people ‘different’ than her.”
Mother, age 44
“Giving them a little more freedom to learn to make their own decisions.”
Father, age 30
“With emphasis on academic performance and attaining intellectual potential.”
Father, age 46
“Being close to all my family. Being active in my kids’ lives.”
Father, age 49
“I prioritize school more and the importance of good grades. I also have one child instead of three (like my parents) to ensure we have enough resources for activities, tutoring and organic good.”
Mother, age 41
“By having a strong parent-child relationship. Keeping an open door and an open mind.”
Mother, age 37
“Being involved in my children’s extracurricular activities.”
Mother, age 43
“I was homeschooled in a conservative Christian home, without any goals for higher education. My children are in public school and I have three in college now with great opportunities for their future.”
Mother, age 40
“To not be dependent on the government, to not be limited in their beliefs in themselves, and to be a giver to humanity.”
Mother, age 49
“Listening, respect, boundaries, leading with empathy and kindness.”
Mother, age 31
“My mother always talked to me about bullies, she encouraged my education and prepared me for school, she attended school functions/meetings, taught me about God, took out time to meet my friends, etc. I do all these things.”
Mother, age 41
“I was raised in a time where physical punishment was more common and much more socially accepted, but I almost immediately strayed away from that when raising children of my own. I also was raised under the philosophy of parents never being wrong; where children were never meant to question or combat their parents’ words. This took longer to unlearn, but I want my children to feel like there’s a proper channel of open communication available between us so long as a certain level of respect is maintained.”
Mother, age 51
“Giving them more independence in what they want to pursue and not pressuring them to do what they are not interested in.”
Father, age 51
“With a lot of unconditional love.”
Mother, age 40
“Let them be independent and not keep them inside the bubble.”
Father, age 51
“In a loving, caring and structured household.”
Mother, age 39
“I was raised in a migrant farm-working family where the whole family worked on the weekends and summers. No time for sports or extracurricular activities. My kids will actually focus on being kids and not have to worry about having to grow up too fast and worry about money or bills.”
Father, age 43
“To have high academic expectations, good morals, and be a responsible citizen.”
Mother, age 36
“More actively engaged in school and what they are doing for extracurricular activities.”
Father, age 53
“Avoid any physical discipline or yelling. Being more loving, understanding and caring.”
Father, age 46
“I want my children to know that a parent is supposed to be there for them 100% of the time, not just when it’s convenient.”
Mother, age 33
“I always knew that if I needed my family that they would be there for me no matter the situation. I always had their love and support. I want them to know that it’s never a situation that they can’t come to me.”
Mother, age 37
“Not giving them everything they want. Learning the value of a dollar and working hard for the things you want and need instead of expecting it to be handed to them.”
Mother, age 34
“I am trying to be more attentive to my children than my father was. Raising with more direct interaction and more forward-thinking and understanding nature.”
Father, age 35
“Good morals. Knows right from wrong.”
Mother, age 35
“Open communication on all decision-making.”
Father, age 28
“I am trying to be positive with my daughter. I encourage her and tell her she is smart. I also make sure she knows we love her and care about her.”
Father, age 45
“Manners and strict guidelines without being too authoritative.”
Father, age 28
“Exposure to many opportunities – sports, leisure, etc. Good academic base and value education.”
Mother, age 43
“Promoting independence and exploration of identity.”
Father, age 42
“I don’t demand that my son conform to my expectations for his life.”
Mother, age 52
“Keeping faith a strong component of our family beliefs and traditions.”
Mother, age 48
“My parents gave me a lot of leeway to explore my interests and relied on respect more than discipline to show us how to live.”
Father, age 46
“I’m much more involved in their day-to-day lives, mental and emotional well-being and aware of their friendships, relationships in general.”
Mother, age 51
“No physical abuse, with a more open dialect and lots of encouragement and unconditional love.”
Mother, age 40
“Encourage decision-making.”
Father, age 58
“No forced religious beliefs. Focus on teaching emotional intelligence and emotional regulation.”
Mother, age 43
“I’m giving my child the freedom to grow and pursue her passions.”
Mother, age 34
“Not Catholic; much more open in conversation about mental health, sex, drugs; sex-positive; more politically literate.”
Mother, age 47
“We are planning on home-schooling.”
Mother, age 37
“Not trying to be a helicopter parent like my mom.”
Mother, age 28
“Eliminating bad traditions. Teaching core values that work like respect, work, God, and country.”
Father, age 50
“Instill morals, ethics, a sense of right and wrong, work ethic, respect for others, faith, and an understanding of correct principles that will help them succeed and to help others to succeed in life. I was raised the same way.”
Father, age 39
“I’m letting my children choose their own paths and how they want to express themselves.”
Mother, age 35
“I try to avoid spanking my children.”
Mother, age 34
“To raise them in a way that they can be respectful of everyone that shows them respect.”
Mother, age 45
“Lead by example, and be tough but fair.”
Father, age 32
“I was never shown affection or told that my parents loved me. I am trying to show more love in my caregiving.”
Mother, age 44
“[Old-fashioned], having respect for others as well as the elderly, doing what’s right and living by the Bible!”
Father, age 50
“Trying to push them a little more on grades and schoolwork.”
Father, age 46
“Not to be racist and to accept people in all colors, shapes, forms and sizes.”
Mother, age 50
“We decided to homeschool, I opted for a different spiritual path than the one I was mostly raised in, and we are a lot more flexible.”
Mother, age 54
“Having my kids do chores, be responsible for keeping track of their belongings and readying themselves for school/sports/extracurricular activities.”
Mother, age 49
“To achieve a good education by sitting with them and helping them do all [their] homework.”
Mother, age 29
“Spending more time with them which includes playing, helping in studies.”
Father, age 47
“Encourage them to think independently, allow them to be creative and grow, give them opportunities to explore the world in a safe and supported way.”
Father, age 42
“I try to spend all the time I can with her and talk to her more than talk at her.”
Father, age 34
“Breaking the generational curses of just yelling. Trying to understand that my kiddos are tiny humans with big emotions and to provide a safe base for communication about anything, even things that may not seem important to me, but to them it’s the world so I do my best to listen and advise as needed.”
Mother, age 28
“I’m trying to be more open so my child and I can have more conversations, and not be so judgmental as my parent was.”
Mother, age 42
“Gentle parenting versus authoratative.”
Mother, age 36
“More grounded and conservative.”
Mother, age 49
“Ability to think on their own versus being told what to do about everything. Also, open about sexuality versus sex not being mentioned or a sexual being not being acknowledged. Last major way is self-expression with clothes, style, etc.”
Mother, age 52
“High expectations, but freedom to make and learn from mistakes.”
Father, age 48
“Avoiding verbal abuse, cursing and put-downs.”
Father, age 44