Millennials have put off having children, so boomers are the oldest grandparents ever.
At the same time, boomers are outspending other generations on travel and dining out.
Many millennial parents say they can't get the support they need from their parents.
Looking back on her childhood, Kristjana Hillberg said that it was "never a question" whether her grandmother would watch her and her brother when their parents went on a trip.
"If Mom and Dad ran out of town, we were at Grandma's," the 33-year-old told Business Insider. "Grandma wasn't going anywhere, and we always knew that."
But Hillberg, a mom of three, said there's no guarantee that her parents or in-laws would do the same for their grandkids — certainly not at the snap of a finger.
"We have to make sure that we are asking months in advance," she said, adding that their "own travel plans" often have to be factored in.
Hillberg's situation appears to be typical of a new generational dynamic in which boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — have become "too busy" to help raise the growing families of their millennial children.
Boomers are living better than ever
While other generations are struggling to get by, boomers are seemingly living better than ever.
A May analysis from Bank of America on consumer-spending habits found boomers were outspending other generations on travel and dining out. And why shouldn't they? According to the Federal Reserve, baby boomers own more than $78 trillion in assets — that's around half of all wealth in the country.
But while they're busy spending their money, their millennial children feel left behind. Leslie Dobson, a psychologist in Los Angeles, said many of her millennial clients were dealing with feelings of abandonment and resentment toward their boomer parents.
"It is a really common struggle," she told Business Insider. "You have children, and it feels even more like an abandonment that they've chosen their life over meeting their grandchildren and building these relationships."
"There's almost like this three-fourth life crisis that they're in," Dobson added of typical boomers. "And they're really looking at this as, 'Oh, my God, my life's almost over. When is my last day, and how am I going to live my best life?'"
Boomers blame millennials
Dobson knows the boomer existential crisis all too well. Her own father, Ted Dobson, a 71-year-old retired business owner from California, recently uprooted and moved to a luxury community in Mexico.
"He feels like this is the right choice, and it is truly a fit for how he wants to spend the rest of his life," she said.
It's a choice that hasn't made her or her sisters happy — especially because they envisioned having a doting grandfather around to help raise their kids. Instead, Ted Dobson said he's focused on his expat community in Mexico.
The elder Dobson said that even if he's off boating and playing pickleball in Mexico, he'd still done plenty to help his children out, including supporting them financially through much of their lives. At this point, he said, he deserves to spend some of his money on himself.
"They've all got nannies," he said. "We didn't have a damn nanny. They drive expensive SUVs. I drove a fricking minivan."
Moving to Mexico and buying a boat hasn't taken away from his children, he said: "I haven't spent a nickel less on my kids. I just spent some on me."
Still, many millennial children, including Dobson's own, would prefer time spent — and not necessarily money.
Ted Dobson said despite not living in the same country, he had tried to make time to visit his family. But on a recent trip home, he was able to see only a few of his ten grandchildren because of their busy schedules.
"Life revolves around the children, and you're either on board or you're not," he told Business Insider. "They're like phenomenally busy, right? And so there was one night I just had absolutely nothing to do even though I was there to be with my kids."
His expat community in Mexico, however, is seemingly always available and makes time for him, he noted.
Boomers are the oldest grandparents ever
Because millennial couples are putting off having children into their 30s and 40s, boomers are becoming grandparents at much later ages.
According to the CDC, in 1970, the average age of a first-time mother was 21.4; by 2000 that number went up to 27.2. The prospect of chasing after grandchildren has likely become less and less appealing for a rapidly aging boomer population.
But it goes both ways.
It's not just that boomers are choosing themselves over their families, Leslie Dobson said, but also that millennials have a fundamentally different view on parenting, so the advice and experience of their parents may not feel relevant or wanted anymore.
"What I've seen in my clients is there's a huge differentiation in parenting," she said. "If you ask a millennial, the boomers are overly harsh and not good at parenting the younger children. And millennials are very aware of what could potentially be traumatizing, what is not gentle parenting."
Daniel Cox, the director of the nonprofit Survey Center on American Life, which researches changes and developments in American culture, agreed.
Cox said that while in the "old days," new parents would rely on relatives to provide support and knowledge, they're instead turning to Google and apps.
"There's an entire billion-dollar industry that has developed in providing knowledge and equipping parents with knowledge and information about best practices and that kind of thing," Cox said.
"You aren't relying as much, perhaps, on your own parents' experiences," he said, and in some cases, you might not "even believe that they're still relevant."
The younger Dobson said she and her sisters had struggled with this, especially because millennials "have woken up so much more in our timeframe — I think more than other generations."
Boomer views on gender, sex, and politics have made for a "more contentious relationship than I'd say someone in their 70s and 80s wants to deal with right now," she added.
Some millennial parents feel alone
This distance from their parents, Cox said, is a part of other shifts that have made millennial parents feel more alone. For one, they're typically much less tied to religious communities and civic groups than previous generations.
"They don't have access to those really critical communities that are so helpful in establishing for the parents and the children a sort of system of predictable support," Cox added.
What millennial parents really need is someone who can help relieve "the parenting pressure," Cox said, a trusted extra person who's available to pick up some of the slack.
"What millennials want is regular, stable, consistent support, in terms of emotional support," he said. "Childcare is super expensive in a way that it has never been, and it feels more necessary than ever because of workplace demands. So I think that is a lot of the frustration."
Meanwhile, some boomers are focused on love and their new lives
Hillberg's case is not dissimilar to Dobson's. She told Business Insider that she used to rely on her 61-year-old mother, Nella Hanson, for childcare whenever she and her husband, Kurt, took a trip for themselves.
"She was a saint," the media-affairs executive added.
Hillberg said her divorced mother was always on hand to look after her oldest child, Lilyjana, now 11.
"I knew that if I needed my mom to watch Lily, she would hop on the red eye, and we'd meet her the next morning," she added.
But Hillberg said that her mom's priorities changed when she remarried in February. She said the newlywed turned down her request to stay with Lily and her, siblings, Stone, 5, and Roxanne, 3, while Hillberg vacationed in Costa Rica with friends.
"I thought it would be a shoo-in and she would automatically come and watch the kids," she said. "But she said, 'I recently married, and I don't want to leave for seven days.'"
Hillberg said that Hanson and her husband, Norman, had just returned from a lengthy honeymoon where they toured a series of national parks in a camper van. They've also told her they won't be available next summer to babysit her children since they've booked a trip to Europe.
Hillberg acknowledged she had mixed feelings about her mom's new unavailability. In fact, she was taken aback when Hanson missed the family's Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations last year.
"It's definitely been an adjustment," she said. "It's an uncomfortable boundary now. But I couldn't be more overjoyed that Mom has found love in her 60s."
As for Hanson, she told Business Insider that she could tell that her daughter was "put out" for being lower on her list of priorities.
"I adore my grandchildren and feel bad when I can't do things for Kristjana as much as before," the grandmother said. But, she added, it was the "right time" to put herself and her husband first.
Leslie Dobson also said that while she and her sisters wish her father was around more to hang out with his grandchildren, she understood his desire to spend his retirement years in Mexico.
Boomers "spent so much of their lives to be there for their family during all of these times of crisis" she said, adding: "You're getting your kids through high school and college, through their pregnancies, through their marriages, and now they finally reached adulthood and this capacity to be independent."
A lot of them, she said, feel like "they did the family, they did the life, and they're wanting to really live this glorious ending."
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