I know. We know. WE GET IT. The outdoors, drinking from hoses, sunshine, bike riding without helmets, outside from sunup to sundown, Mom smoking Kools at the kitchen table kicking you out of the house, no television, kids had consequences, Moms made dinner every night, WE GET IT.
There really is no way to over-emphasize how weary I am of seeing this complaint on Facebook. MY DAD SPANKED ME AND I BECAME RESPECTFUL. “In the 1970s, my mom barely knew I was alive!” “I didn’t wear a helmet and I lived!”
I mean, great for you.
Can we please stop romanticizing parenting of the past? Parenting in the 1970s bears absolutely no resemblance to parenting today. There is virtually no aspect of life that is the same, owing to technological advance and, you know, common sensical things like the benefits of wearing a seatbelt when driving 70 miles per hour down a highway. Life as we know it is so drastically unlike life from my childhood that I sometimes wonder if I came from another planet. A quaint, archaic planet carpeted in shag, with olive appliances.
Let’s break it down a little, shall we?
"My mother kicked us outdoors when the sun came up, and told us not to come back until dinnertime!”
I mean, great. That would be excellent, and I would love to do that now, but for one weeeeeensy little change from the 1970s: The 24-hour news cycle. Every time a child goes missing (well, a blond/blue-eyed child, but that’s a whole OTHER kettle of fish), it’s instant, national news. And the repetitive nature of the 24-hour news cycle means this story is shoved down our collective throats repeatedly over the course of several days. Cameraphones and video improvements mean we see security footage of the child’s last known moments over and over again. We’re haunted and fascinated by gruesome details that are parsed out between commercial breaks.
Once you've seen video footage of a child riding a bicycle into, apparently, oblivion, seventeen times in twenty-four hours, you tend to be a little gun-shy about letting your kid roam around outside alone. If you can blithely let your kid walk out the door after seeing that image repeatedly, then you’re either a better person than I am or an utter sociopath.
The inevitable result of this? Less kids go out to play, because as parents we’re increasingly frightened of predators and accidents alike. When less kids go out to play, even less parents begin allowing their own kids out. I don’t know about you, but when I allow my kid outside, it’s usually because there’s a roving pack of neighborhood boys about, and there remains a modicum of safety in numbers.
So stop telling me how you went outside for fourteen hours a day in 1984, and implying that I’m a lesser parent somehow for not attempting to shoehorn a thirty-year-old practice into a 2016 world.
“We spent our time in creative pursuits! We didn’t spend all our time staring at iPads or on computers! We played with Legos and built with blocks and LEARNED THINGS!”
Okay. Have you seen the things you can do on an iPad? Have you watched your kid interact with a video game, or a computer?
I loved Legos as a kid. I built houses with them, and my sister and I would make up little kiddie Peyton-Place-type soap operas. Legos were an amazing creative outlet for me.
You know what my ten-year-old does? Constructs his own houses in Minecraft. These elaborate, gorgeous, detailed houses that blow me away. He can use different texture packs to make the materials look any way he wants them; he can use mods to input works of art or different plants. Minecraft in creative mode is like Legos on steroids. If Minecraft had been around when I was ten years old, I would be as addicted to it as my son is. It’s creative, it’s dynamic, it’s constantly evolving because of new modifications and packs and user contributors, and it is amazing.
He also plays his fair share of banal, everyday video games -- shoot-em-up games, Call of Duty, that sort of thing. But I really don’t see how the ever-changing worlds in those games are more detrimental to the child mind than replaying that perpetually mind-numbing twentieth board of Frogger I could never get past.
We were never really a spanking family, even in the 1980s. If you don’t have the same talent as my mother for leveling one’s entire ego with one flat, disappointed gaze, then I don’t know what to tell you.
It tells me something that resolution in this world is rarely achieved through might; and even when it is, you still have to hash out the peace after the fighting stops. The pen truly is mightier than the sword, and frankly I think everyone would do better to realize that.
In our family we have always preferred to destroy people emotionally anyway.
“My mother made us dinner every night!”
Hokay. I mean, not to denigrate anyone’s mother’s cooking, but do you remember the stuff you ate as a kid? I love my mother, and she’s an excellent cook; but even moms who are dedicated to this task end up shoveling out cream-of-crap tater-tot casseroles once in a while.
(Note: Oh, God, you have to read that recipe.)
In the 1970s and 1980s, I daresay there were also a whole hell of a lot more mothers staying home all day, who had more time to plan, prepare and implement a meal. Rather than, say, me, who scrambles to get home with children before six pm, and can never attempt anything on a weeknight that requires more than twenty minutes. Even twenty minutes is a stretch when you have a three-year-old charging like an enraged bull at the refrigerator screaming for CHEESE SNACKS YOGURT BERRIES MOMMY I WANT SOMETHING TO EAT CHIPS WANT CHIPS
“My parents never even asked if I had homework. Kids today don’t take any responsibility for their own schoolwork because their parents do it for them.”
To whoever came up with that little gem: Do you even have kids? Because I cannot even tell you how many times my son has come home with school projects that explicitly require my assistance. As in, LITERALLY TELL ME I HAVE TO DO PART OF IT. And no, I do not want to have to help anyone create a solar system. I don’t want to work on PowerPoints when I get home from work after creating PowerPoints all day. I already went to school.
If you really want any of this to change, you have to start with the teachers who are requiring me to sign ten agendas/behavior sheets/time-out slips/ouch reports every single day. Start with the teachers whose project outlines blithely say, “Parents can help by constructing a scale model of the Sistine Chapel while students write a one-paragraph, syntactically irregular poem about trees.”
Don’t come to me with this stuff.
“In my day, keeping score was a way to lose gracefully! Participation trophies are disgraceful! You shouldn’t get anything just for showing up!”
Firstly, as someone whose utter lack of any kind of physical grace virtually guaranteed her a right-field spot for four years in the Vienna Ponytail Softball League, fuck you. These kinds of things were very clearly written by sneering coaches’ daughters who played first base or pitcher, who were blessed with coordination and excellent eyesight, and who never failed to take advantage of those gifts by systematically destroying the self-esteem of every lesser player on the team.
By virtue of putting up with the insults, the backhanded comments, the eyerolls every time I dropped a ball, and the suggestions that “she should sit out this inning, because the score is too close,” I EARNED THAT PARTICIPATION TROPHY.
And so does every other kid who optimistically joins a sport, learns to work with people they might otherwise avoid like a pile of athletically-gifted snot, and spends a few months running up and down a field for, basically, no very good reason that I can see.
Secondly, as a parent whose kid has played soccer in youth leagues for a few years now, don’t kid yourselves. No score is officially recorded, but everyone, from the parents to the kids on the teams, still keeps score. We all know who’s winning and who’s losing. Announcing it on a scoreboard doesn’t change that, and it doesn’t lessen the impact.
Being a parent is SO hard. Sometimes because the kid is difficult, but mainly because other people’s expectations of you are insurmountable and their goals unreachable. In the 1980s, nobody had mommy blogs. Or Pinterest. Or Facebook, or Instagram. Our mothers weren’t constantly bombarded with friends’ glossy, filtered photos of perfect birthday parties, or effortless casual style. Your mom smoking Kools wasn’t opening her door to find Maria fucking Kang with her abs of steel, yelling, “What’s YOUR excuse?”. Nobody extolled to her the virtues of roasting kale leaves. She didn’t know any better, and she didn’t know any worse, either.
That said, you know what I do have in common with my own mom from the 1980s? Both of us are simply trying to get through this with a modicum of dignity and the hope that our kids don’t end up atop a clock tower somewhere with an automatic weapon. Both of us just kinda want our kids to grow up and get nice jobs they like and have nice lives they’re happy with. Both of us are desperately pretending we know what we’re doing. We’re doing the best we can.
So stop pushing me. And roasted kale tastes terrible.