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?
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.
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.
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
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.