Here’s Why We Can’t Parent The Way Our Parents Did

Typical 70s Family

Typical 70s Family

I often hear parents from older generations marvel at the “tools” we younger mothers and fathers have: the battery-operated swings, the iPads, the bottle warmers, the terrifying Bumbos.

“What will they think of next?” they say. “If only I had things like that when I was a mother.”

In truth, I think my parents had it better. I’m not alone in that sentiment.

In her piece, “What Would My Mom Do (Drink Tab and Lock Us Outside)”, author Jen Hatmaker marvels at a world in which her mother would usher her and her siblings out the door and expect them to find all-day, unsupervised entertainment outdoors.

I recently heard one of my writing heroes, Dave Barry, discuss how happy his parents were because they didn’t hover over their children every waking moment. Mr. Barry said it was the Depression-era parents who did it best because they prioritized their own happiness. He said his generation – my mother’s generation – is responsible for starting the phenomenon known as helicopter parenting.

I’ll see him a helicopter parent and raise him the helicopter society that parents in my generation have come to know.

The problem isn’t that younger parents DON’T want our children to have childhoods like we did; it’s that in many ways, we CAN’T let them have those childhoods.

Why?

Because peanut butter has been outlawed. I’m told this changes as my children get older, but for now, I have to get a little more creative than the standard PB&J my mother packed for us every day. Not only am I searching for peanut butter substitutes that don’t taste like feet (looking at you, SunButter), but I’m competing with the social media barrage of picture-perfect school lunches filled with stuff my kids would never eat, like red peppers and hummus. I mean, whatever, I get it that some kids will die if they are exposed to peanut butter. My point is that my mom could shut her eyes, grab whatever her already-full hands could hold, shove it in a paper bag and send us out the door. I have to scrutinize every element to make sure it’s nut-free and pack it in an eco-friendly container because HEAVEN FORBID I would be so wasteful as to use paper bags.

Because you can’t leave your kids in the car. I’m not talking 90-degree-weather-stranded-in-a-parking-lot kind of abandonment. I mean that I can’t run in to pay for gas and leave my kids strapped safely into a locked vehicle. If I do, some agents from Social Services will be at my home and I’ll either lose my kids or have to commit umpteen hours of community service.

Because, actually, kids aren’t allowed to be anywhere alone. Nowhere. An unsupervised brother and sister walked from their home to a nearby park in Silver Spring, Maryland, and someone called the police on the parents. The kids were 10 and 6. I was rollerblading all over my neighborhood when I was that age – and you better believe my mother wasn’t skating along behind me.

Because we are constantly reminded of the terrible things that will happen to our children. If it isn’t gun violence, it’s kidnapping, or drowning, or car accidents, or drugs, or chemicals in the food, or chemicals in diapers, or chemicals in household cleaners, or chemicals in the water. We are reminded of these things on the news, on our social media feeds and at play dates. I asked my mother how she dealt with the onslaught of worries, and she said, “We didn’t have them.” My mother’s generation had their own share of concerns, of course, but they weren’t faced with them on a daily – even hourly – basis like we are.

Because we have the Mommy Wars, and those aren’t going anywhere. My mother told me that if she thought another parent was doing something wrong, she might gossip about it one-on-one with a mommy friend. However, my generation will outright shame a “bad” parent on the news or in social media. My generation posts incessantly about how we’re doing parenting wrong when we feed our kids non-organic foods, when we don’t care about GMO, when we bottle-feed, when we breastfeed, when we co-sleep and when we sleep alone. We still have the ability to parent as we wish, but we have to face the judgment and utter vitriol in a much more open way than generations past.

My generation is taking the “it takes a village” sentiment a little too far. Unfortunately, the good intentions mean my children won’t have the freedoms I did.

I can’t parent like my grandparents, and I can’t parent like my parents. I assume that my children won’t be able to parent the way I do, either. In 2035, there will be laws against letting children run through sprinklers and restrictions on how much time they can spend in the sun.

I can only do the best I can with what I have. And right now, I have to figure out how to convince my almost-2-year-old that SunButter is delicious.

Kate Meier has two kids and zero tolerance for people who criticize parents for bullshit reasons. Go enjoy her sarcastic sense of humor at her blog, My Kind of Parenting, or here on Facebook.

15 Comments

  1. “I mean, whatever, I get it that some kids will die if they are exposed to peanut butter.” I doubt you would be so dismissive if it was your baby staring at you terrified because he can’t breathe. Stop complaining and be grateful that your heart doesn’t fill with fear every time your child attends a birthday party or eats out. May you long enjoy the fortune that many of us don’t have: having healthy children. And if some misfortune befalls your babes, may you never be met with the word, “whatever”

    • If your child is allergic to peanuts, then by all means don’t feed him/her peanuts. But don’t expect children who aren’t allergic to go without.

      • Even if it means another child’s life? Do you really value peanut butter that much? Some kids can’t even sit at a table where peanut products have been served without losing their ability to draw breath. Please educate yourself so you don’t cause harm to innocent children

      • What I believe is an injustice if in fact that it really is against the law anyplace to send your child to school with peanut butter. Are these two issues:1 is what will be deemed illegal next, and thereafter; it’s two easy to say something is illegal, and dismiss the situation, and 2: is while I very much sympathize with those parents like myself (my son is an adult now), that have allergies to peanuts is that most people want to take the easy way out. Do you think that our children were loved any less, not too mention we had less to work with to help us should anything transpire with an allergic attack. But Im happy that we used communication to help solve our issues rather than just say just make it illegal. You may think that, that sounds insensitive but quite the contrary. You don’t understand the value in teaching your child or their classmates about his allergies and why we as friends must lookout for each other. Did they always understand probably not but it was a lesson learned and his closest friends did receive the teaching and I never once had to rush him anywhere due to that peanut allergy, we didn’t have the benefit of the epy pen in my day. I am just trying to share that all these electronic devices have taken away our in person communicative skills which has caused us to shy away from confrontation which makes it easier to just forbid something rather than speak on it. What if something deemed illegal is something that might save your child but hurt another’s, what would be the answer to that sitation? Let’s really think before reacting in all situations and most importantly let’s communicate with one another. And with regard to Facebook or any picture snapped, etc. As the old saying goes “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” Please think about that, especially the half of what you see. A picture snapped does that really tell the whole story, just be careful it could be you in the picture one day telling others, I didn’t do what it looks like. And that might be the truth.

  2. I really wish you weren’t so casual about the food allergies. It’s heart-breaking to have my kid at a birthday party watch other kids enjoy cake and ice cream when he can’t have either, due to allergies. I’m glad you don’t have to deal with food allergies on top of the normal parenting stresses, but it’s not like those of us who do chose to give our kids allergies.

    • Me, too. If she thinks it’s difficult to pack a lunch for her kid with no allergies, try packing one for a kid who has allergies. It is infinitely more difficult.

    • People who are allergic to peanuts are allergic to a protein in peanuts, not the pesticides other crap in the peanut butter. Organic peanut butter can kill them just as easily as regular.

  3. let me add: You can’t let your kids out to play all day with the other kids in the neighborhood…because there are no other kids outside.

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