For many eager to start a family of their own, the pandemic provided an ideal window to settle down. For those with children, there were pros and cons that came with a changing work-life landscape. Along with the would-be millennial mums and working dads were Gen Zers.
We usually hear about Gen Z in the media as they relate to topics like TikTok, anxiety and climate change. Partly in response to that stereotyping, VICE sent photographer Chris Bethell on a trip around the UK to meet new young parents at their homes to talk about parenting styles and what it means to be a mum or dad during a pandemic.
ZOË, 23, AND MELODIE, 2
VICE: Can you talk a bit about your parenting style?
Zoe: I would say it’s relaxed. I know a lot of people believe in really telling your children off and giving them a slight fear of you, that they’re inferior. But I want her to know our relationship is very open and she’s equal to me and anyone else – that we can grow up and be really close. I think her knowing that she’s powerful and that she can do anything she wants and be who she wants to be is important. Being open is the main thing. I have friends who, even at my age, can’t be completely open with their parents. I think your relationship with your parents doesn’t have to be [hierarchical], you don’t have to be below them, you can be equals, be friends. I want to be hanging out with her when she’s 16!
What do you hope for her future?
I hope the world our generation is trying to build now will be the one she’ll be living in. Everyone equal, everyone happy and no racial discrimination. Gender equality. I think again it comes down to openness. I really try to educate her in the things I wasn’t educated in until recently like the Black Lives Matter movement. I looked at myself as a parent and looked at her book collection. I realised she didn’t have a book with a person of colour in but I hadn’t even thought of that until the movement. That needed to change, so we got some more diverse books and dolls for her. Through these bad times, people are learning. I think that will massively benefit her generation when she’s older.
How has it been raising a child through a pandemic?
Really hard. She was two in December so this all started when she was 15 months old. We were going to baby classes, she was seeing other kids, but she hasn’t been exposed to other children for a year now. I can see how that’s had an effect on her. She seems confident running around here, but when we’re in playgrounds, she’s shy, very to herself. For me, it’s been hard as well – I had a job which I then lost. I love being a mum, but having a break two or three times a week when I went to work helped. Now we’re just inside all the time. I’m ordering activities on Amazon, finding all sorts of activities on Pinterest like dyeing spaghetti and hiding toys in big bowls of jelly; very random things. It’s been hard but it’s made me appreciate the little things.
ALEXIS CARRINGTON, 24, AND KENZO BJØRN, 1
VICE: What does being a parent mean to you?
Alexis: It’s so funny because my whole family says Kenzo is my little brother [and say] “your mum [must] look after him”! She doesn’t, I do look after my child! Right now I have two jobs, I’m trying to get back on with my career and I look after my son. My parenting is very relaxed, although I’m only a year into it. I’m definitely not going to be a parent that’d keep him in a box. You get those parents that want you to do certain things, “be this kinda person” or “take this kinda career”, but I just want to let him fly, to be honest. I’m still growing as a person and learning about what I want to do, so I’m going to let go of any boundaries for him. We’re going to be going clubbing together!
What do you think other generations will think about Gen Z parents?
I reckon they think we’re having babies just like we’re playing Sims. We just wanna see what they look like, dress them up in nice clothes and that’s it. I’m not going to lie, he is my best accessory! Love dressing us up in matching outfits! But yeah they [probably] think we’re really naïve about parenting.
How has the pandemic factored into his upbringing so far?
Even at his birthday party, you could tell the kids were anxious. They didn’t really know how to interact with people. I think his generation will have a lot of social anxiety. I think this is actually worse for him than it’s been for me. For me, it’s been pretty nice: I haven’t had FOMO because we went into lockdown a week and a half after having him. So I wasn’t like those parents who are fed up of staying at home with their newborn baby while all their friends are out in summer.
What does his adulthood look like in your ideal version of it?
I want his future to be full of opportunities. First of all, he’s obviously mixed race. I hope for his future he has the same, or even more opportunities than I had. I hope his race doesn’t hinder anything in his life. And I just hope we’re living a better life than we are now. I feel like we’re at the bottom, and usually when you’re at the bottom things can only go up.
OLIVER MOUNSEY, 23 and HANNAH KILLEEN, 25, AND DALI, 2
VICE: What do you think other generations think of Gen Z?
Hannah: I feel like every time I speak to someone older than us they think we’re quirky because we’re either vegetarians, studying an art, or in the way we parent. When you speak to other people your age, it’s just the norm. And I would say the way we live and parent is quite similar to a millennial parent.
Do you think your generation are having more children than millennials did at your age?
Hannah: It’s hard to say. A lot of our friends are in their mid-thirties and they don’t have kids but all our friends in our age bracket do. I think maybe Gen Z are realising you don’t need to have a traditional family life, you don’t need to have a house and get married. Maybe our generation are challenging social norms, which is a really good thing. A family is what you make it.
What’s your parenting style like?
Oli: This is where the quirky bit comes in. We spent a lot of time studying parenting styles.
Hannah: But then everything goes out the window when you have them. I thought I’d exclusively breastfeed and have him eating fruit every single day, but he’s so chilled out and well behaved… He’s not been challenging to parent so we’ve let him lead. We talk to him like he’s our equal and I think that’s really worked out well for us because he’ll play on his own and be really independent. We’re lucky as well because he turned one at the start of the lockdown and I was on maternity until then. So we’ve had all the time in the world to spend quality time with him.
What do you hope for his future?
Hannah: I just hope he’s content. Whatever he does, we’ll support it. For his near future, I hope he’ll be confident to make friends as he’s not seen a lot of kids.
Oli: As long as he’s happy and confident then we’ll be happy.
Hannah: I also think people should raise their boys to have more respect for women – it feels like a given, it feels weird and textbook to say that but it needs to be done.
BILLIE, 23, AND THEODORA, 14 MONTHS
VICE: How would you describe yourself as a parent?
Billie: Very relaxed, very baby-led. She’s quite independent and has a toy room in the middle of the house so we just let her float in and out. Even when it comes to sleeping, it’s always been very baby-led. I personally don’t like the idea of an extinction routine where you leave them to cry it out. She gets to do what she wants, basically.
Do you have any idea what older generations might think about Gen Z parenting styles?
They probably think there needs to be more shouting and smacked bums. But I don’t agree with instilling fear. I wasn’t brought up being hit so it’s not something I’ve ever thought about, but it’s also something I wouldn’t ever like to think about, either.
How has the pandemic been for you both?
Lonely. Ethan [Billie’s partner] works all the time doing the buses for Stagecoach and he wasn’t around when we went into the pandemic. He was, but he didn’t live here at the time. It was hard because I was a single parent with her. It was difficult to get anywhere, essentially. We were missing out on baby groups and she was missing out on development and socialising – I mean, I was too. Meeting other parents is a key part of parenting.
Has it been nice spending so much time with her?
Definitely – you learn a lot more about them. They’re tiny people, regardless of what you do with them they’ve got their own style. Her style is trouble!
What do you want for her adulthood?
If anything I hope she grows up a little bit different. Like I was brought up really. My grandad was quite old-fashioned and he didn’t quite understand mixed relationships – he thought “oh that’s not right”. I’d like her to grow up without that being an issue. Her brother, who is due in July, is mixed race so I’d like it to be easy for them.
NATASHA, 24, NOAH, 22, AND NYLA, 2
VICE: Would you describe yourself as Gen Z?
Noah: Technically we are. But we weren’t on social media and watching televisions when we were kids, we were doing colouring books and dot-to-dots and that. We weren’t super influenced by technology. Whereas nowadays, Nyla knows exactly what a phone is. She doesn’t know her way around it but she definitely knows she can get entertainment from it.
Natasha: She knows what YouTube Is! I think from a mum’s perspective, we have things easier than past generations.
Noah: To an extent we do, but then again, we were affected by the council cuts and everything that was taken away from the communities.
Natasha: As a parent, I feel like it’s easier for me to meet other mums than perhaps it was. I’ve made most of my mummy friends through Instagram. We also have the luxury of being able to put on the TV so we can switch off or do a chore, which isn’t something our parents had as easily. They’d put a video on, I suppose, but there’s so much entertainment for kids now.
How’s it been raising a kid during the pandemic?
Natasha: It’s been heartbreaking. She’s picked up on it, she asks for friends. She goes up to other kids but they move away.
Noah: There were some kids running around playing hide and seek, they were considerably older than her, they must have been at least eight or nine. She was just following them around, wanting to talk to them, but they didn’t want anything to do with her.
Natasha: It’s hard because you don’t know if those kids have been told to keep themselves to themselves because of everything going on.
What would you love to happen in her future?
Natasha: Hopefully our generation will educate the next – we are more woke, we are more aware of things like mental health.
Noah: I just want her to be safe.