I often think about how we survived under the watch of our parents. There were no infant seats (how did you get anywhere with me in the car?), no seat belts (ok, there were seat belts, but they weren’t safe and no one wore them), people smoked basically everywhere, we gnawed happily on plastic and toys full of lead, climbed on high steel monkeybars, and electrical outlets were always in plain view and ready for a zappin’.
Parenting standards have obviously changed over the years (and most for good reason), but here’s why I say our parents rocked.
They Cooked. Meals. In pans. Sometimes even in the oven. Every day. And if we were hungry, we ate. There were very few drive-thrus, no Toaster Strudel, microwaves, Lunchables, or pizza delivery. We ate meals, you know, with a starch and a vegetable. There was no such thing as a Meal Deal, and items that are passed off as meals today, like the “Pizza and Cookie” combo pack, Hot Pockets, or Jalapeno Poppers, didn’t exist.
They Sent Us Outside to Play. We played outside, often, most times until after dark. They encouraged it. We were only in the house when it was raining, and sometimes not even then. I remember not even knowing what to do with myself in the house, and would keep checking the window to see if the rain stopped so I could go back outside.
They weren’t afraid to discipline us. For the most part. They weren’t afraid of looking like a “bad parent” at the mall. They weren’t afraid of telling us we were out of line and punishing us accordingly. Speaking of which, I was in the grocery store with my son just yesterday, and saw this couple whose daughter was just about the same age as my son (about 18 months), whining and making noise. She wasn’t throwing, kicking, biting, crying, nothing. Just making noise. The dad was embarrassed. He picked the girl up and held her close, as the mother scooted quickly around the store, picking up what they needed. They wanted out of there, lest they be judged. The kid wasn’t even misbehaving, at least not according to my standards. When they walked by me, I heard the Dad whisper to the little girl, “See, he’s being a good boy. Why can’t you just be a good girl?”
They weren’t parenting philosophy zealots. When I was young, if you went, let’s say, to your son’s baseball game, you’d find parents, sitting, cheering, supporting their kids. You wouldn’t be able to determine which one was the attachment parenting family, or the vegan family, or the vaccination-free family, or the sustainable living family, or the gluten-free family, or the green family. There were just families. And they played. Together. No one was on their soapbox trying to assert their will, or looking down on others for not following suit.
We knew the value of money. Probably not that well, but definitely better than now. I was happy when I had enough money to buy myself a cassette. We had some toys, a few favorites, and we played with them until they basically fell apart. We didn’t have Nintendo DS’s with fifteen games, an iPod, a cell phone, a laptop, and DVDs to keep us entertained. What do you suppose that would cost in allowance? Six years’ worth?
They allowed us to make friends. Things weren’t so incestuous when we were young. Our parents let us, for the most part, make our own decisions with regard to our friends. If I didn’t like what another kid was about, I wouldn’t play with him. My parents didn’t go to beenverified.com to conduct a background check on my friends’ parents, or friend the kid’s parent(s) on Facebook to find out what their deal was. Friendships weren’t contrived by way of playdates. We went outside, remember? Just like the other kids. We made friends organically.
They threw us birthday parties. With cake and party hats. I don’t remember ever attending a birthday party of the magnitude that I see today. I remember a wayward pizza or rollerskating party, but a party with ponies? Inflatables? Spa days? What?? We were lucky if our party had ballons (which mine rarely had). Our parents weren’t concerned about impressing the neighborhood. They were concerned about celebrating our birthday, and for us, that meant family, friends, cake, a few bags of chips, soda, and ice cream. If we were lucky, we got a themed paper tablecloth and that crummy Happy Birthday sign with 50 pieces of old tape on it from everyone else’s birthday. And do you remember the pictures? We were smiling. We were happy. We weren’t those little ingrates whose ponies, limos, karaoke, and sponsored gift bags weren’t enough.
Things have come a long way since my childhood. Things are better, safer, less labor-intensive, and more convenient for sure. But with that comes a lot of, well, crap. Though I’m moving into the future with my babies, and am actually looking forward to navigating these winding and socially complicated roads, I still wouldn’t trade, for all the money in the world, the genuine, raw, and meaningful upbringing I experienced. I really didn’t want a pony ride, anyway.