toy trucks

The More Things Change

Recycled anxieties and renewed hope—one writer explores how the core of parenting stays the same across generations.

Millennials are (finally) having kids. So what kind of parents will they become? These stories from our millennial parenting issue reflect six distinct experiences and reveal that generational divides aren’t always what they seem.

On cold days, my wife, Maren, and I sometimes dress our 21-month-old daughter, Maja, in a red hoodie with a little Mack truck patch sewn on the chest. It’s cozy and adorable and something of a family heirloom. There are photos of me wearing it when I was that age; I had the same thin blond hair and pudgy cheeks. She pulls off the look better than I ever did.

Becoming a parent inevitably sends you down the rabbit hole of your own childhood memories, mapping Way Back Then onto Right Here, Right Now. I take stock of the differences: I liked baseball and cake; Maja is trending toward climbing and blueberries. I grew up playing Frogger on a hulking IBM, and she, I am required to note, is a digital native.

More than anything, though, I’m struck by the generation-spanning similarities, the hand-me-downs that go far beyond that red sweater and the shelves of books by Sandra Boynton and Dr. Seuss. My second-grade teacher ranted about how much time kids spent watching “the idiot box,” and now we worry about Maja’s screen time, even as we occasionally let her play with our phones. Sometimes, we even pull them out on purpose when she gets a bit too wiggly at inopportune moments. We know she’ll be soothed by a bookmarked video of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood—itself a generational throwback, an animated descendent of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Doug and his daughter, Maja.

The more things change … well, you don’t need Siri to finish that aphorism. My wife and I worry about the stability of the world, about how unrest and political schisms will affect the future. The headlines can be overwhelming. But so it was for my grandparents, bringing kids into the world at the close of the most horrific war the planet has ever seen. So it was for my parents, raising my sister and me in the lingering days of the Cold War, still reeling from the tumult of the 1960s.

Our stomachs tighten when we think about paying for college, for retirement, and even, on occasion, for our mortgage. Soon enough, we’ll worry about playground bullies and cyberbullies and Maja’s first unchaperoned concert, presumably by whatever band is annoying parents in the late 2020s.

All we can do is hold out tempered optimism that, like our parents and their parents, we’ll basically get things right, and so will our kids. We take joy in knowing that the best part of parenting is the timelessness of its core details. This morning, Maren’s parents called to say hi. We spoke on FaceTime as Maja paged through the 1967 picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? We have two copies, and I’m hoping one of them will live on for story time with our grandchildren.

Doug Mack is a journalist and the author of The Not-Quite States of America, a travelogue about the U.S. territories. He lives in Minneapolis. Email him at

Still life photography by Desiree Espada; courtesy of Doug Mack (playground)

Originally Published April 2017