It doesn’t take much effort to find a post or meme on social media comparing parenting in the 70s, 80s, or 90s to parenting today. They litter our feeds, making them almost unavoidable. I’ve even written and shared some of these myself.
These posts explore the differences between how our parents approached parenting and how we do, often insinuating that we are lucky to be alive at all and that our kids have it way better than we did, what with our neglectful mothers sending us out into the wild and ignoring us for days on end so they could enjoy their daytime programs and their Virginia Slims in peace.
Most of them are jokes, these posts and memes, and they are funny, you’ve got to admit. But when I really sit down and study the generational tactics side by side, I’ve got to be honest: my parenting today isn’t all that radically different from that of my parents.
I find myself reading them and thinking, “Ummmm, so is this NOT what I am supposed to be doing then?”
Because I’m guilty of most of the free-range, so-called irresponsible parenting practices chastised in these posts. And the worst part is I’m not ashamed, though the message is that I should be.
I mean, sure, whereas my parents practically strapped us to the roof on family road trips while they smoked Marlboro Reds with the windows up (I exaggerate), I dutifully strap my kids into their carseats and abstain from hotboxing them in second hand smoke for 4-hour stretches at a time. That’s one aspect of my parenting that differs from parenting of yore. But there are laws about these things now — research and statistics that just weren’t available in 1983. So yeah, I follow more stringent child safety precautions than they may have back then.
But the other stuff? The minute details, such as regulating playtime and food intake? Not so much.
Unlike some of my peers, who enroll their kids in enrichment programs and scheduled activities all summer long, I shove my kids outside and tell them to create their own enrichment activities and schedules, ones that usually entail “stay within calling distance and come back inside when the sun starts to set.” What they do with that is (mostly) up to them. Hell, my 11-year-old can even tell you the family motto: follow the 3 Bs. If it ain’t bruised, broken, or bleeding, be like Elsa and let it go.
I’m not saying I have zero rules. Just today, for instance, my 8-year-old asked if he could “go play in Damien’s garage.” Being as I have no effing clue who Damien is, where his garage is located, or even if he has parents, I gently declined that request, but I said my son and Damien were welcome to play outside our house. Within yelling distance, of course, which very well could have included Damien’s garage for all I know.
The point is, I let my kids roam. I give them freedom. I don’t always know 100 percent of the time exactly where they are and exactly what they’re doing, but I DO know that they will come a’running when I come a’calling and that there’s enough common sense and fear there to encourage smart choices, and I don’t see what’s so wrong with not being up their assholes 99 percent of the time. I am always 1 second away, and they are learning self-sufficiency and independence. Win.
If that sounds bad, free-range outdoor play is just the beginning of my [neglectful, according to some] parenting tactics.
Let’s talk about food, for example. I still have Pop-Tarts in my pantry and Kool-Aid in my fridge, two parenting staples of yore that, if you carefully review the posts, are akin to letting your kids eat Satan’s sperm. They don’t indulge in them all day, but a little dab’ll do ya, if you get the reference.
I’m all about encouraging my kids to eat healthy foods. And I do. But I’m also not about making my life a living hell, and with 3 growing boys who somehow manage to be hungry the millisecond after they’ve eaten, I’m not going to live in the kitchen, preparing the next Bento-boxed meal for eternity. Some high fructose corn syrup will put hair on the chest, as my grandfather used to say. Or at the very least, tide them over until I can heat up a vegetable.
What’s perhaps worst of all is not only do I NOT involve them in every organized activity this side of Mars or strictly monitor their bowel movements, but I also have very few regulations when it comes to anything — and I DO mean anything — outside of school: screen time, naptime, bedtime, you name it. It’s like the 1980s called and asked for my soul back or something.
I have never been the kind of parent who has to forego going somewhere because it messes with my kids’ sleep schedule or who sets a timer on the Disney channel. Our philosophy is go with the flow. Sometimes the kids watch TV for hours on end and go to bed by 8 pm, and other times they don’t see a screen for a week and stay up at a campfire until midnight. Unless it’s a school night, anything goes.
Are they cranky as a result? I guess? They’re cranky even when they get zero screens, healthy meals, and adequate sleep, so forgive me if we don’t put our lives on hold for some made-up notion that letting kids watch a couple hours of age-appropriate TV or stay up late one night per week is going to turn them into serial killers.
My kids ride their bikes through the neighborhood, play outside in the yard, drink from and splash each other with the hose, fend for themselves from time to time, come home when the proverbial street lights come on, and live relatively carefree lives outside of school, just like our parents saw to it with us.
They know what a Twinkie tastes like and have no problem with a salad for dinner either. They aren’t overworked, overscheduled, or overregulated. And as far as I know, they’re no less damaged than I was at their age, which considering, I honestly see as a win.
At the end of the day, I appreciate, laugh at, and even create my own versions of that nostalgic content condescendingly comparing parenting tactics of yesterday to today, but if we’re being honest, my parenting doesn’t differ all that much from previous generations.
I’m not sorry about it in the least, and if you ask my kids what they think, I’d bet the house they aren’t either.