Thursday, November 1, 2007

Parents Then and Now

When I was out last night, while driving through a residential neighborhood clogged with minivans and SUVs driving kids door-to-door for trick or treating, I was reminded of how the average philosophy of parenting has changed over the years.

The annual Halloween minivan parade is a perfect illustration of how the average parenting style now differs from that when I was growing up. Back when I was a kid during the sixties, only very small children were accompanied by their parents to go trick or treating. And they WALKED the neighborhood; there was none of this driving door-to-door crap. School-age kids went out on their own in groups, with their parents staying home to hand out candy to other kids. Parents warned kids not to eat fruit or candy not in the original packaging until it was checked and to watch out for cars, but that's about it.

Simply put, parents back then, for the most part, didn't hover; they didn't micromanage every moment of their children's days. They didn't overthink things, nor worry overmuch about every little thing that could possibly go wrong, however improbable. They didn't wrap their kids up in the bubble wrap of overprotection; understanding that bumps, bruises, and hurt feelings were all part of the growing up process that helped a person to mature. Parents back then had a more laid-back approach to parenting, relying more heavily on simple good common sense. The modern phenomenon of "Helicopter Parents" was a rarity then -- such parents that did exist then were viewed as neurotic and badly in need of a life.

There are those today who lament the decline of families with a stay-at-home mother, who believe that going to a daycare center is in every way inferior to being at home with Mom. But what many of these people either don't realize or don't remember is that despite the fact that most of our mothers didn't work outside the home in those days, they didn't exactly devote their entire days engaged in quality learning activities with their kids, either.

Stay at home mothering back then was primarily quantity time, not quality time. Mothers were there if we needed them, but, for the most part, kids and moms each did their own thing. While kids played on their own, either at home or roaming unsupervised through the neighborhood, mothers typically did housework, cooked, talked on the phone, visited with friends, worked in the yard, went shopping, did crafts, watched TV, and drove us to school activities, and the like.

Our parents were mainly from the WWII, "Greatest Generation", most of whom had been raised with a large dose of common sense themselves. The fifties and sixties were a time of wide economic prosperity in the US, and the governing attitude back then was largely "Let the Good Times Roll".

For the most part, we had life much easier than our parents did as kids -- and I think we had it better than a lot of kids do today. We were given the time and space to just be kids and to learn to improvise and think on our feet, as our parents did not rush in to do things for us. We learned responsibility because we tried things on our own and we were allowed to fail and learn from the consequences of our mistakes, both in play and in school.

I feel quite fortunate to have grown up when I did.

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