The Loneliness of Modern Parenthood

This guest blog features the introductory and first edition of a new monthly newsletter written by our Director of NextGen Ministry, Dr. Greg Coates. We hope the information is helpful and invite anyone to “Opt-in/Sign-up” to receive these monthly e-newsletters moving forward.

May 2024 – Since joining the staff of the United Methodist Church of Geneva last summer, I have spent a significant amount of time observing, thinking, and praying about the state of the children and teens in our local communities.  Having been hired last summer as the “Director of NextGen Ministries,” I took pride in joining a local church that perceived the pressing need for more effective ministry among those younger folk we call “millennials” and “Gen Z.”  But what a daunting task lies before me!  As I write this in the spring of 2024, American teens have seen a sharp increase in the rates of depression, anxiety, and other very serious mental health disorders.  The fragmentation of our social networks and communities has led to an increasing sense of isolation, even as we are more technologically connected through our devices than ever before.  When I entered my teenage years in 1994, I benefited from a very tight-knit group of friends centered in my local church’s youth group which met (in person, obviously) twice a week, every Sunday and Wednesday night.  Frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without it!  I know that I am not alone in being saddened and even alarmed by the decline of such spaces for teenagers to just hang out and socialize.  But I’m getting ahead of myself… Allow me to make some introductions.  

This simple monthly newsletter, which I am calling Raising Children of Faith, represents my own sincere attempt at the following:

  • creating conversation among parents who want to see their children flourish in every way possible:  socially, psychologically, academically, spiritually, and so on. 
  • informing these undoubtedly very busy parents of the latest research being conducted around the mental and spiritual health of young people today, 
  • and hopefully building a community of like-minded adults who deeply desire to see future generations thrive despite the many real challenges that they will face.  This may take the form of a virtual space such as a closed Facebook group or, depending upon the interest, a monthly physical space where parents can come and mingle and learn from one another through guided, focused conversation.

I hope to see these grow organically here in the tri-city area because I certainly perceive a felt need for such a space.  Modern parenthood can be so damn lonely!  But it doesn’t have to be. This Raising Children of Faith initiative attempts to plant some seeds that will hopefully germinate in the fertile soil of suburban American life.

In the way of introducing myself, let me just state that even though I am affectionately called “Dr. Greg” at UMCG since I happen to have a Ph. D. in the history of Christianity, I claim no special expertise in the area of child psychology or parenting teenagers.  Though I am the proud father of two wonderful daughters – Lydah (17) and Eve (15) – who live most of the time with their mother in Evanston and attend Evanston Township High School, my credentials for addressing this subject matter end there.  As a divorced father, I am, however, deeply concerned for the well-being of my daughters and, as such, I do spend a lot of time trying to keep up with Gen Z trends and culture, reading the latest research on teen mental health, and so on.  Even so, I am an amateur.  But (let’s be real) aren’t we all amateurs when it comes to being a parent? They didn’t hand me an instruction manual when I left the hospital with my infant daughter.  I’m making this up as I go along.  But as one who is convinced that it does, in fact, “take a community” to raise a child, I invite you along this journey with me.  I hope to learn from each of you who read this, just as I hope you are able to learn some from me.

And on that note, we really should acknowledge an undeniable fact about modern parenthood in America:  it can be an incredibly lonely experience.  Like many of you, my wife and I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting during her first pregnancy.  It’s a resource that offers a sort of roadmap for the pregnancy and infancy stage.  Other parents at similar stages of life shared many of the same experiences along with us:  battling morning sickness, taking the right prenatal vitamins, sharing those fuzzy images from ultrasounds, gender reveal parties (ok, we skipped that part… it was 2008).  But you get the point:  there’s a sort of common, shared experience in those first years of parenthood.  But as children grow and come into their own, the variety of experiences broadens very quickly.  So that by the time your child is in the teenage years you could be dealing with any number of very different challenges:  eating disorders, video game addiction, issues related to dating and sexuality, ADHD, the challenges of AP classes, the ubiquity of pornography online, selfie-obsessed Instagram culture, the differentiation and individualization of teens from their parents, and on and on we could go.  The sheer number and wide diversity of these challenges can make parenting middle schoolers and teenagers a very isolating and lonely experience.  “Does any other parent know what I’m dealing with?” we are tempted to think.  

In short, the journey of parenting a teenager can often feel like walking a solitary path, particularly when confronted with challenges that seem unfamiliar or overwhelming. It’s crucial for parents to recognize and address their own feelings of loneliness, seeking support and understanding from fellow parents or professionals.  As teenagers come into their own, their world begins to revolve around friends rather than around their parents, and this can be a painful and disorienting process as we often long for those days of greater intimacy and connectedness with our children.  My daughter Eve used to stumble into our bedroom at 3am with great regularity in order to snuggle up to me.  It became a family joke that she’d wake up with her hair smelling faintly like my deodorant.  I cannot tell you how much I sometimes long to return to those days of having my sleepy little girl cuddle up next to me at night, but those days are gone.  They really do grow up so fast.  

In the months ahead I hope through this newsletter to offer each of you a reminder that you are not alone.  Even though our experiences as parents may vary widely, we all love our kids and want what is best for them.  I invite you on this journey of community=building where we can build trust with one another, share courageously and vulnerably, and exchange experiences and wisdom so that this journey of parenthood won’t feel quite so isolating.  I encourage you to subscribe and share this.  Grandparents and step-parents are also warmly welcomed.  

Next month in June I’ll be sharing specifically about why raising our children in the Christian faith matters and how it can offer an important framework to guide our kids through the choppy waters of modern life.  But even if you think of yourself as more spiritual than religious, hopefully the insights will prove helpful.  Come along with us!  You are welcome here.

With Hope,

Dr. Greg Coates Director of NextGen Ministries

United Methodist Church of Geneva