Why do people identify with the “I’m baby” meme? Why would anyone want to pronounce their helplessness, even as a joke?
For younger generations, the I’m Baby meme resonates on a deep level, and there should be no shame in proclaiming it. Far from shame, it’s also very possible to take ownership of the phrase, for all the personal growth and healing implications it has.
It’s worth discussing why it can make sense to feel like “I’m Baby,” especially among the Millennial generation, and how anyone feeling this way can feel more in control of their own wellbeing.
The special resonance of the phrase “I’m baby,” with younger folks tells us about the trials of recent generations. To talk about the “I’m baby” meme, we first have to talk about Millennials.
“Millennial” has become synonymous with “lazy, entitled, weak, and soft” and has become a catch-all derogatory phrase; most often, it describes just about anyone under the age of forty complaining about their job or speaking out about their feelings.
It must be noted that the oldest millennial today is 39, the youngest turning 24 this year. Sure, compared to other generations, one might say that millennials have had it easy. With no war draft and so many huge technological advantages, they should be grateful for all that they have, right? They should set aside their frivolous concerns and “feelings talk” to “get back to work” and stop complaining.
However, these are people who now will have have lived through the confusing aftermath of two depressions and 9/11, all the while trying to thrive under unprecedented student loan debt, healthcare inaccessibility, housing costs, and lack of well-paying jobs.
Alas, study after study shows that the struggles experienced by so many millennials are actually worse than their older counterparts, leading to significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety, and deaths of despair.
Is this just another way for millennials to deflect personal responsibility over their lives to an authority figure? Kind of.
As noted by writer Aiden Arata in an Instagram post:
“Being baby is a radical response to a culture in which older generations have infantilized us without nurturing us, a rejection of capitalist productivity standards, a joyful reclamation of tenderness, a revolution.”
Many young folks do feel like babies in a rapidly changing world — unprepared, under-equipped, voiceless, or helpless. The following carrot/stick analogy illustrates the full picture of helplessness I’m Baby refers to:
“Most parents in the 1980s and 1990s raised their children to believe that if the child did what he or she did or said to do, there would be a good life (a carrot) waiting for them at the end of that road; and if they didn’t, there would be consequences and pain [the stick]. The millennials jumped on that train; they tried to excel not only for approval, but also believing that their closely guided efforts would yield positive results. And they didn’t. They didn’t big time!” — Teal Swan
But young people are starting to realize that our state of helplessness relates to the reality in which we were raised.
Millennials and subsequent generations are finally taking ownership over this stigma, and reclaiming the stereotype. The social constraints within which we were raised made us feel helpless, but we can use that knowledge for self-empowerment. “I’m baby” can be a prideful rallying cry.
By acknowledging their inner innocence, and the reality of their upbringing, Millennials reclaim the right to feel the depth of their emotions and act accordingly. Just as a baby does not ask for permission to express their feelings, claiming “I’m baby” allows millennials to speak their truth in a system that rewards inauthenticity.
If you’re in the middle of the woods, and you have a map to New York City, does that help you? If the map is for the right location, but you have no proper training, will you be able to use the tools in front of you?
On both counts, the answer is no. It is a trial to be thrust into a situation with inadequate preparation.
Why is it so hard to be a “functioning adult” nowadays?
In our quickly evolving society, whatever preparation we get in childhood is bound to lose relevance by the time we hit adulthood. Additionally, even according to mainstream sources such as The Atlantic, Millennials and younger generations were under-prepared to begin with; parents were so set on our success, that they ended up accidentally “babying” us through childhood, setting us up for lives of anxiety.
In previous generations, individuals were raised with a reasonable expectation of the world they would come to inhabit as adults. But as technology evolves ever more rapidly, and social trends and expectations change by the week, tradition and the lessons of authority become less and less useful.
Childhood used to be a time of learning the rules of the adult world; now, children are better served by lessons in adapting, rather than conforming to a certain pattern. Those who rigidly move through the world are bound to feel helpless and ineffective in modern society. Unfortunately, the parents of Millennials and subsequent younger generations are known for both emphasizing rule-following and (innocently) depriving their kids of valuable failures (aka opportunities to adapt).
The coddling and babying which parents thought would help our chances, can be seen as self-fulfilling prophecies more than anything. Millennials and subsequent generations, on the whole, weren’t nurtured toward a sense of self-knowledge and self-efficacy, and weren’t allowed to learn through failure. Many of us were told that we would only be ok if we listened to the dictates of authority, and learned to ignore our non-conforming instincts and feelings.
These factors together leave young people with little effective training for the rapidly-evolving world they’re thrust into. Regardless of whose fault that is, the fact has a concrete impact on how we perceive and operate in the world. As adult babies, we have to learn to recognize and meet our own needs, while coping with the uncushioned blows of the real world.
Millennials crying “i is baby” reflect authentic emotion, which their parents stuffed down. For an emotionally illiterate world, this is a revolutionary and necessary step towards improvements in mental healthcare and awareness.
By owning their mood, millennials express authenticity — placing themselves one step closer to taking their power back and changing their circumstances.
Complaining is useful. For example, by complaining about burnout, one honors their feelings of being exhausted and overwhelmed. Changing one’s circumstances requires this first step of honoring real emotions. By complaining about student loans, one acknowledges the feeling of lack of stability, which again, is a step toward positive growth.
While expressing negative emotions creates opportunities for positive change, the opposite also holds true. Numbing oneself by overworking, drinking, or other common coping strategies leads to unnecessary stress and dismay.
In fact, it is precisely these denial- and avoidance-related coping methods that lead to Millennials’ disturbingly high rates of “death of despair,” including suicide and death by drug or alcohol overdose.
With disproportionate numbers of Millennials seeking treatment for mental health conditions or dying from deaths of despair, we know the current social climate just isn’t healthy. Millennial outcries for empathy, flexibility, and emotion should be addressed with as much concern as the physical ailments that impact older generations.
Furthermore, as is the duty of all generations, the strides made towards more inclusive emotional discussion will trickle down to future generations. Because mental health is as important as physical health, critical attention must be paid to the alarming rates of suffering experienced by younger generations.
One could say that the strides made by current “babies” clear the path for the next generation to more easily find their way.
So while it’s not the fault of Millennials that they were born into the conditions they were, it is their responsibility to heal themselves and assist in designing a world that embraces their sensitivity.
Considering the intergenerational importance — and personal impact — of healing from a stunted childhood, what can millennials do to help themselves grow from “I’m baby” to “I’m adult”?
The first step towards growing up from “baby” is to access the core feelings and truth of one’s situation. As many a wise therapist has advised: it is not easy, but it is simple. This sage advice can be applied to the Millennial generation, whose biggest obstacle may simply be honoring their reality, which causes discomfort for older generations.
One cannot change negative circumstances, if they cannot advocate for themselves. A baby cannot have its needs met if it does not understand or express that it needs help.
Owning one’s depression, anxiety, burnout and self-doubt can feel overwhelming or stigmatizing. But without this necessary honesty, baby will never grow up!
Nothing at all is easy about feeling the hopelessness and despair of the present. That said, the hardest and most helpful truths are often hidden in pain. By listening to tough feelings, we learn about ourselves. We can be more honest with ourselves and others.
Previous generations ignored their own pain in order to conform to societal expectations; they honored society’s demands above the needs their emotions attempted to express.
In contrast, Millennials’ pain is so strong that it often can’t be ignored. And it shouldn’t be.
The world asks us to stuff ourselves into tinier boxes than previous generations, and at some point, we can’t squish ourselves anymore.
We squish our personal lives into a few hours a week, in order to stay afloat working multiple jobs. We sacrifice time with family in order to feed our families. We eat unhealthy foods because obligations outweigh our health. Our pain doesn’t fit inside the box: only our value to others seems to matter.
These conflicts between reality and expectations say something about how far our society’s standards have strayed from human needs. How can we not take issue with these truths? Why don’t we honor very real struggles that we all share?
Instead of finding fault with ourselves, feeling worthless or incapable, why don’t we ask why conforming to standard expectations causes us so much pain? Is there something wrong with the standards to begin with?
By diving headfirst into authenticity, Millennials will begin to redefine expectations of themselves and their peers. Taking the path paved by Generation X, Millennials must advocate on behalf of themselves and accept the painful reality that the life promised to them may never manifest.
Millennials can build a new world by embracing their feelings regardless of backlash. After all, that backlash is often from people who grew up believing human emotions equated to weakness.
Authority figures may not understand at first, but Millennials must learn to say yes when they mean yes, and no when they mean no. Asserting your human reality means regaining control over your health and happiness — a large reward for the small discomfort of setting boundaries.
In a world where they may never have the stability of a middle class, a one bedroom apartment, or the security of a pension, the best adult babies can do is honor the truth that they do not feel good and build from there.
Rather than slip into apathy, millennials can find strength in their shared pain and begin to demand that amendments are made to the status quo.
In conclusion, if you are a Millennial who identifies as “baby” — you are not alone, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling this way. Your stress, pain, and struggle is warranted by the reality you were born into.
You were pushed into a world of broken promises and are now bearing the weight of a rather bleak future for you or your peers. Remember that personal attempts to “grow up” aren’t admissions of being helpless and incapable. We grow up not for others’ sake, but because we want to be able to do what we want in this world.
So start with that: grow in areas that are meaningful to you, rather than in areas you think “real adults” value. Find things that make you feel good, with people who make you feel good.
Where older generations could get by hating their job for fifty years, maybe you can’t, and that is okay. Maybe it’s better not to accept your own suffering. After all, if your life is making you miserable, only you can decide how much misery you will withstand.
So to all the millennial babies out there, keep crying — you are sensitive and the world is, in fact, unpredictable. Cry until you can say what you need, and speak until you can stand up for yourselves to create a world where your needs are met. Your experience is valid, and your honesty is courageous.