Here’s something you can pull out the next time someone says you’re not parenting the way “people used to”

Posted by
Someone's gonna get pissed that you even handed that card to your kid. Photo by _Dinkel_, used under Creative Commons license.

You know what I’ve learned since becoming a parent? Everyone just loooooves to talk to you about how you’re parenting your kid. This can be good, sometimes, when a stranger pauses to comment on how well-behaved your child is.

So when Ariel sent me a piece called Parenting in the good ole days by Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax, I rapidly read through it, reread it, and promptly forwarded it to a few friends who are also parents. Hax is responding to the following reader question:

Dear Carolyn: A non-parent here with a gripe about today’s parents: I don’t remember my parents helping me with my homework on a daily (or even weekly) basis. Isn’t it their homework? I don’t remember my parents playing (read, entertaining) me every day, either. We played with our friends. Why do parents today feel the need to do everything with their kids? — Anonymous

Here’s my favorite part of her response:

Unless they choose to homestead and home-school, each generation has to raise children in the context of current society — including but not limited to neighborhoods, schools, media, best scientific and medical practices, scientific and medical fads, and other ideas gone aerosol, not to mention whatever the lawyers dictate.

Some examples: Working parents are the majority now, single or married, so fewer kids come straight home after school, translating to fewer neighborhood kids out scratching together a kickball game. Plus, compared with 25 years ago, fewer households even have kids in them, with fewer kids per home, spaced farther apart — meaning fewer local playmates altogether.

Also, grandparents are staying healthier and in their own homes, thus diluting their influence on new generations — yet, better communications technology means more people have more ways to scrutinize parents’ choices, and more ways to pull kids away from their parents’ values. The village of my childhood has been replaced by something that’s still taking shape.

What do you guys think of the piece?

Comments on Here’s something you can pull out the next time someone says you’re not parenting the way “people used to”

    • Well, the whole “Free Range movement” says that when spending time together morphs into interfering and hovering, that that’s a problem.

      In any case, I think it’s easy for people to judge other people without knowing their entire situation, or why they make they decisions they do. And frankly, sometimes it’s nobody’s business.

  1. I don’t understand the “things were so much better back in my day” stuff. Don’t you think that’s what *everyone* says? Like, in every generation that ever existed?? I mean, screw advances in medicine, safety, technology, nutrition and education! Let’s all go back to the golden days of yore!

    Sure there are bad things now, like cyber-bullying, that didn’t exist when I was a kid. But bullies sure did and likely always have. Or any other example – I’m sure there was an equally bad one “back then.” Helicopter-parenting might be annoying, but I can name a number of kids whose houses were the place to be after-school because they were on their own for hours on end – at 8 years old. Or the way my older brother let us roll around in the way-back of the station wagon as he took turns at 30 mph. (I shudder when I think about my kid doing all the dumb things I did)

    I’m pretty good at shrugging off other people’s opinions about how I parent my kid, so I guess this sort of thing provokes at most an eye roll from me…

    • I think a lot of people confuse “a better time” with “an easier/more pleasant time in my own life”. Most people were less stressed as children. That doesn’t mean the world was less stressful 20, 30, or 50 years ago.

    • “Don’t you think that’s what *everyone* says? Like, in every generation that ever existed??”
      Hahaa, you’re so right: I don’t have the quote at hand right now, but I remember Latin author Pliny already complaining in a letter about them lazy, rude youths ‘nowadays’!

        • Re: how every generation thinks “their day” was better, a good (tangentially related) article is “What We Really Miss About the 1950’s” by Stephanie Coontz (you can Google it πŸ™‚ ).

          Re: what do we think about this article – I think it is EXCELLENT advice. When someone comes at you with the “in my day…” you can launch in to some of these reasons. Or use a fall-back such as “True, and in your days you didn’t have to take your shoes off to go through security to fly either! The world has REALLY changed, hasn’t it?” Or something.

          So yes, I definitely liked this. More articles like these please! πŸ™‚ .

    • It is. I’m working on a MA in American History, and one of the things I’m looking at is nostalgia. Right around 1820, there were a whole bunch of newspaper articles mourning the lost spirit of 1776 and complaining about complacency.

    • My mom was just saying how it’s wonderful that these days you don’t hear stories of kids beating each other up (like 9 year old girls seriously punching, kicking, and generally physically bullying another), or at least when you do hear about it, it’s newsworthy and terrible, as opposed to a common, everyday thing.

    • hah i think like this everytime my dad says he wishes it was still the 50’s. of course you do, dad, you were in your teens! personally, i thought the 90’s were awesome! but hearing my dad keep yearning for years of yore i grew up always bearing in mind that someday i’d think of the 90’s as the golden years… and they weren’t!

    • There are no golden days of anything, you know!? There are always people complaining about something or someone. I really struggled with the invisible pressure to parent “perfectly” and to make all the right decisions for my child. Now that I’m on the other side of all that anxiety and depression, I try to make a concentrated effort NOT to judge because you never know what is going on just underneath the surface.

  2. rrf, I think it’s because it can be taken too far — the so-called “helicopter parenting,” in which children aren’t given the opportunity to develop independence in play and thought.

    In general, I <3 Carolyn Hax! If you don't read her columns regularly, consider taking a look at them πŸ™‚

    I think commentary on your and other peoples' parenting choices is as unavoidable as death and taxes, because a) we usually think our choices are the best ones, or we wouldn't have made them, b) we do want the best for children, whether they're ours or someone else's.
    I'm not convinced commentary on and consideration of other people's choices is necessarily a bad thing, but we should all keep in mind the golden rule. If the kids are being abused or are in danger, report the parenting to the authorities; if they're not, but you're concerned, consider talking gently to the parents (try asking, without judgment, why they made the choices they did — perhaps if they examine their choices, they'll make different ones or at least understand their motivations better); if you're impressed, ask how they did so well — they may have a book or website they can recommend.
    Of course, that’s predicated on your relationship with the parents being a decent one. Be aware that by asking about parenting choices, you can really push someone’s buttons, so tread lightly πŸ™‚

    • I love Carolyn Hax too! She’s the only advice columnist I actually read because I feel I benefit from her advice. (By contrast, I used to read Dear Abby because I thought the advice was as funny and trainwreck-y as the letters… :))

  3. You know, I think this type of thing goes in cycles, but it’s important to realize that parenting styles really can change people’s outlook – at least while still relatively young.

    I currently tutor for thermodynamics and statics at my university. This is a fairly new program – maybe 10 years old. The university pays upperclassmen to tutor students in the foundation courses of our major. This would have never been done in the 40s, but it’s done now.

    Typically, getting help is done by simply walking in during designated times for your subjects, but we also offer individual tutoring.

    More and more students are signing up for individual tutoring each year. While no one can be 100% sure why this is, I believe, simply from my personal experiences, that many students are scared to start a new subject without someone there to back them up.

    Is this a bad thing? Who knows! But I think it’s an important thing to consider – overall culture can greatly change.

  4. My favorite part of the article (as the mom of a 6 week old) was her point about WARNING: DEATH being written on everything… it’s so hard today to tease apart “cover-your-ass” lawerspeak from things I should actually be concerned about.

    • Gosh, I agree! My husband and I collect warning labels off of things and put them in our scrap book. My favorites are still the picture of babies in boxes. Just today, I noticed the warning label on our AirPack packing noodles, and they were warning against using them in baby cribs as pillows.

  5. Oh I hear you, whenever i say something to my mom about my children, she will always fire back saying “you guy never did that” or “i never had to deal with that with you” as if we were never toddlers ourselves with temper tantrums!!

  6. I’m only 26, so maybe this letter is referring to a different generation of parents… But my father helped me with my home work every damn day. And by “helped”, I don’t mean “he gave me the answers!”. But he took a genuine interest in my education, from when I started getting homework (in maybe 3rd or 4th grade) right through to my final year of high school.

    I’d also add that whilst I want my ParasiticFutureDaughter to have friends and be social (which I’m definitely not), I want her to spend time with me socially too. Because I love her, and I want to see her.

  7. First of all, I’d like to point out that homeschooling is a totally viable option! =D
    So I guess I would be helping with a lot of homework and reading to the kidlets a lot, lol.
    But I think the tendency to classify things in the past as “easier/better” isn’t a good one. Each person gets to start out with a blank slate to make their life how they want it. I think it’s a really bad idea to blame problems/situations on “the culture”.
    That being said, just because something is “modern” or new doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea either.

  8. I’m as guilty as anyone with my “kids these days attitude” (usually applied to kids that exhibit “entitled helplessness” as Carolyn puts it).

    So my favorite part of the article was “A lot of us remember our childhoods, too, and want to re-create the best elements in our children’s. We just can’t import them wholesale from memory; we can only adapt them to now.”

    We’ve reached a point where seemly every day is filled with thousands of things we didn’t have as children, but are part of everyday life now. I can’t wait to hear “Mom, what did you do when your ipad crashed when you were a kid?” Uhhh, we didn’t even have the internet back then.

  9. Wow I really resonate with this article. For a while, I was struggling with so many people saying, “Gosh, it was never this way when *I* was a kid.” You know, when we sucked water out of horse prints and walked to school barefooted(or my mom’s favorite-“walked to school in moccassins” because she’s got native american ancestry). I really took offense to that, because it’s not like I personally created inappropriate TV, or porn sites on the internet, or whatever it was that was so offensive to the older generation. But as I grew as a parent (and as our parents grew as grandparents), I came to realize that it didn’t matter what they *used* to do. This is a whole new generation, a new world, and while we want to retain maybe some morals and traditions, there are lots of things that require that we evolve and adapt to the world we live in *now*.

    And honestly, I’m really excited to be able to spend time helping my son with his homework and playing with him when I get home from work. Are there really parents out there that *don’t* want to do these things?

  10. As a non-parent, but contemplating parenthood in the future, I do think about the issue of “helicopter parenting”, as it definitely seems to be a rising trend…one that I must admit, bothers me. When I see my in-laws constantly hovering over their kid, doing EVERYTHING for him, when, at age 4, he should be learning how to do some things himself, I wonder what kind of impact that might have on his ability to be self-reliant as he gets older.

    Furthermore, I work in a VERY affluent area where it seems competition in every facet of a child’s life is the norm, competing to get into the best nursery school, private school, sports teams, colleges….and parents are increasingly involved (overly so, in my opinion) in giving their kids an edge. Maybe this tendency toward “helicopter parenting” is a result of the increasing progression in our society to “be the best”, to “get ahead”, which fosters competativeness over cooperation, that is driving parents to “over-parent” in this way.

    Lastly, I must admit that as an only child, I could have done with less involvement to some extent on my parents’ part, as I often used their willingness to step in and help (read: do things for me) as a crutch, and now am still struggling in certain facets of my life as a result of this lack in self-reliance. There is a fine line between helping kids find their own footing so they can develop self-reliance and helping so much that even at age 27, your kids will be running to you to solve their problems; I am a case in point.

  11. About “helicopters” and other people commenting on parenting choices — I think that when parents choose to “helicopter” (and I’m assuming the term is being used to mean over-protective/involved as opposed to healthily protective/involved), it often DOES overflow into other people’s lives. As a daycare worker and teacher I see this — there are parents who assume that you, with a classroom of 10 to 20 to 30 kids, should give their child the same 1-on-1 attention that they give them at home. This is simply impossibily, and, in addition, is not the purpose of being part of a group — being part of a group can be a healthy chance to learn to be just that — part.

    This can also affect other parents & families at little leagues, community programs, etc. So while I strongly believet that parents have the right to parent their children as they see fit, when their ideas/expectations begin to affect other people, they can’t really expect other people NOT to comment on it.

  12. This is why the “free-range” parenting movement has really lost its shine for me. (That and the sometimes racist/classist stuff I see spouted in some of those circles.)

    It makes me think of this XKCD comic: It’s all about what the Boomers had, of course.

  13. I love the picture next to the article where they daughter is saying to her mom “So Mom — how is it that criticizing my parenting skills isn’t an indictment of yours?”.

Join the Conversation