We were just along for the ride.
You don’t have to actually be a parent to know that parenting has changed a lot over the last couple of decades.
For one thing, did our parents even use the term ‘parenting?’ I certainly don’t recall ever hearing it. Back when I was growing up, it seemed like having kids was just a normal part of life – not something that required you to change your entire identity. I never felt like the world revolved around me, or like I was the most important thing in my parents’ lives.
Those were the days before the terms ‘helicopter parent’ or ‘Sanctimommy‘ entered the lexicon; Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care was pretty much the only game in town in terms of parenting books, and it was likely to be abandoned in a stack of books underneath the ashtray on your parents’ end table.
Having kids these days is different. Kids these days are different. We’re turning out an entire generation of entitled young people who expect to be catered to at all times, and we’re making ourselves miserable doing it. Maybe it’s time to think back on how our parents raised us, and take a page from their book.
Here are 11 definitely not textbook things all our parents did at some point, that we (mostly) turned out the better for:
1. They refused to give us what we wanted, often just because they could.
More than one of my fellow parents has told me they don’t use the word ‘no’ in their house. Instead, they give their children suggestions of other things they can do; it’s all about offering choices and respecting the child’s feelings. To that I say, NO thank you. When I was a kid, ‘no’ meant ‘no,’ and it wasn’t questioned. In my house, it’s the same. Why? Because I’m the mom, that’s why.
2. They didn’t play with us.
Once we were old enough to shuffle a deck of cards and understand what suit was trump, we were sometimes allowed to play with our parents. But our parents playing one of our baby games with us, or getting down on the floor and dressing our Barbie dolls? HA. Maybe grandma could occasionally be suckered into it. But honestly? We didn’t want them butting in, anyway. Everyone knows grown-ups are no fun.
3. They told us to shut it.
It wasn’t quite ‘children should be seen and not heard’ when we were growing up, but when we were told that ‘grown-ups are talking’ we knew it meant we better shut it, and quick. We weren’t allowed to prattle on endlessly while the adults around us hung onto our every word like they do nowadays. Who’d want to, anyway, when you could stay quiet as a mouse and be privy to all kinds of mysterious adult talk?
4. They sent us outside to play.
“Go play in the street,” our dad used to tell us when we got too rowdy – something parents of today would never say to their precious little snowflakes. But we understood. We knew he didn’t really mean that we should go dodge traffic; he just meant for us to make ourselves scarce so he could get things done, and we could get our energy out. We’d run out and find our friends on the block, or hang out in the driveway and melt crayons in the sun. At dinnertime, our parents scouted around to see whose yard the bikes were piled in, then hollered for us to come home.
5. They left us home alone.
As soon as we could boil water for macaroni, our days of terrible teenage babysitters were over, and we rejoiced. We knew to keep the door locked, knew not to answer the phone unless it was our parents calling with their special code (ring once, hang up, ring again), and knew to hide the evidence of our late-night junk food raids and feign sleep as soon as we heard their key in the lock.
6. They fed us actual junk food as meals.
Not just non-organic produce, but fast food, and packaged food, and red dye #2-laden food. Friday nights we voted on McDonald’s or Taco Bell for dinner – actual dinner, not just a desperate drive-by snack because we whined for it.
7. They got divorced.
Is it just me, or does it seem like more and more people are staying together ‘for the kids’ these days? Yeah, having divorced parents sucked sometimes – but also, we got stepsisters and stepbrothers, and a whole bunch of new cousins, aunts, and uncles in the deal. We learned to be adaptable, and that parents are just people, too – people who make mistakes and try to fix them so they can try to be happy. It didn’t always work out for them, but at least they tried. And plenty of research has shown that kids whose parents are divorced are actually better off in many ways.
8. They didn’t research schools.
Back in the day, there was no endless reading of websites that deconstructed every aspect of each different educational theory and compared private and public schools. Then again, there was no such thing as the internet yet. We went to the public school we were zoned for, or we went to the local Catholic school. End of story.
9. They didn’t make us wear helmets.
Have you been to a sledding hill in the Winter lately? Kids are wearing helmets. To go sledding. Has everyone read Ethan Frome one too many times or something? We never even owned helmets, and we’d race all around the neighborhood on our bikes. Now, I’m not saying that was a great idea, but – helmets for sledding? Give me a break, y’all.
10. They worked us hard.
Every week, we had to vacuum the house, scrub down the bathroom, fold and put away laundry, clear the table after supper, clean our rooms, and take turns washing dishes. And this usually started at age six or seven. I’m still trying to figure out how my parents made this happen; my kids’ eyes are going to get permanently stuck one day – they roll them so hard when I ask them to do housework. (Maybe the problem is that I’m asking, instead of telling.)
11. They lived their own lives.
The most important, and best thing our parents did – though it would be looked down upon today – was, they didn’t give themselves completely over to parenthood. They didn’t tell us we were the brightest stars in the universe and the only thing that mattered to them in the world. In fact, they made it quite clear we were their second priority to each other. We never felt like the sun rose and set because of us. We weren’t in the driver’s seat – we were just along for the ride. And bumpy as it often was, it was a good ride. So thanks, parents, ’cause we all turned out pretty great.
GIFs via giphy.com.
Comment: Do you think modern parents are taking parenthood too seriously?