Parenting: New…and Improved?

By Rachel Perkins of The Well-Adjusted Adult

I oftentimes find myself comparing my parenting to that of the generations before me.  I tend to assume they got it right and that my generation is the one struggling with this whole raising-a-person thing.  I assume because my peers and I are alive and pretty much thriving that our parents did a good job.  Our parents didn’t seem quite as stressed as we are.  It appeared effortless, and they still managed to not be all weird and frazzled.  I call bullshit.

When I think about it, I am of the firm belief that parenting is harder today than it was in our parents’ era.  Don’t get me wrong; they had their challenges, but what they didn’t have was the entire world mandating every aspect of their parenting.  For better or for worse, things have changed, and we have an entirely new set of standards to live up to.

Let’s start at birth.  Today everywhere a pregnant person looks, there are tons of women being rather superior about their plans to do natural childbirth with no pain relief.  I get it.  You feel it’s best for the baby. Let me tell you what I think is best for MY baby. An epidural. Because a mommy who doesn’t have to feel the “ring of fire” as baby’s big ass head rams its way through her glory hole can be a happier, more functional mommy. 

Our parents may have gotten opinions from a few friends and family members, but things were more private in their day. Today we defend our choices to hundreds of judgy granola women who feel like they are better than us because their childbirth was a near death experience. You have a steel vagina? Good for you. Now get me the anesthesiologist.

Today’s kids seem to have evolved into demanding little jerks who believe it to be your responsibility to entertain them like a court jester.  My parents and other adults were NOT my playmates.  I don’t remember my parents ever PLAYING with me.  And frankly, I tried to stay out of sight when we were at a family gathering and there were other kids around because the moment your parent laid eyes on you, it was time to go.  It’s like it reminded them, Oh yeah, we’ve got those small people to deal with. We didn’t have this constant “look at me,” attention whore way of life.  There were some, but those kids were the assholes. 

Mostly I blame smaller family sizes today.  In previous generations, kids had many other kids and siblings to hang out with. Today society tells us that as parents, we suck unless our kids are also our friends and we hang out together. FALSE! I’m a grown ass woman, and I don’t want to play with Legos or build forts every day. I will play when I want to, but it is not a daily requirement. Learn how to entertain yourself, kid.  Since when are parents required to revert to childhood activities for themselves in order to be decent parents? 

Don’t get me wrong; my parents and I did things together. My fondest memory is when my mother would take me to see the Peanut Butter Players dinner theater for kids. It was like meeting in the middle.  Dressing up like a big girl and going out to do something that I thought was so sophisticated, but they were kid-friendly plays and had chicken nuggets on the plate.  I remember our vacations and the fact that my mom always brought along other kids my age so she could watch from the side of the pool with one eye on us and the other eye in her book while I played with SOMEONE ELSE.

In generations prior, there was much more of a village mentality when it came to kids. No, I don’t mean in a judgy, tell-me-all-the-ways-I-am-wrong kind of way. But if a kid was doing something wrong, other adults would call that kid out. When a kid was being unsafe and the parents weren’t around, other adults got involved. 

Today everyone wants to voice their opinions but not be part of that village.  People will tell you that you are doing everything wrong AFTER something happens but dare not be the one to say, “Hey, buddy, you’re too close to this Gorilla enclosure, so back up. Where’s your mom?”  They will THINK he’s too close and do nothing about it. They won’t find the camaraderie in having a precocious child that slips away no matter the efforts of the parent.  They will instead call you a shitty parent while having amnesia about that time Little Jake decided to try to drive the car and crashed it into the garage.

Our parents had villages, and as kids we had more than one set of adults to go to. Everyone is much more closed off and sensitive these days.  I dare you to blame a kid in your neighborhood for anything. Watch the fireworks happen between the parents, in front of the kids, so they can learn that they won’t be held accountable for anything they do wrong.

My parents also probably seemed a little more pleasant because they got to get away from us more often than we can today.  As children of previous decades, we were far more self-sufficient.  We could manage to stay home alone for a bit without much controversy and maybe even make a simple meal. 

Kids today are different and so are the parents.  We live in a world where information about everything is shared so far and wide that we have seen every possible scenario of what could go wrong and it haunts our dreams.  Forget about sending your 7-year-old to the store with a note and some money.  You’d spend the entire time in a panic attack, thinking someone has snatched them.  Don’t even think about giving your elementary student a key to the house so they can let themselves in and stay home alone until you return from work at 6.  Even if you are doing it now and it’s going well, you’re probably terrified that the wrong person is going to find out and call Child Protective Services, demanding that the neglected child be removed from the home. 

I hear older people saying, “The world has gotten worse since you guys were kids, so that’s why you can’t do the same things anymore.” I reject this conclusion.  There have always been terrible things and terrible people, we just know about it more in the information age, so we have to try to protect against every single thing we have heard about. Previous generations didn’t think to protect against the things they couldn’t fathom happening because they hadn’t heard about them.

Somehow kids survived the 70s and 80s where there was precious little consideration to simple safety measures. Seatbelts? Car seats installed by a professional because we are too stupid to do it ourselves? Bah!  Today the moment we get a positive pregnancy test, we are jamming those little plastic covers into outlets, putting foam caps on the edges of coffee tables and locking the toilet so the baby doesn’t drown in it.  And baby gates?  Our best lesson to stay away from the stairs was to fall down them once or twice. 

Today we are protecting our children from every single bump and bruise and germ possible because the world has told us we should.  That takes up a LOT of time.  Our parents were busy playing bid whist while we were drinking water from the hose and breaking bones from trying to pop a wheelie on our bikes, which we rode with no helmets.

Today we are arming 8-year-olds with cell phones so we can get in touch with them and track them the moment they leave our field of vision (if, in fact, we ever allow them to leave our field of vision).  Can you imagine that when we grew up, we went away from the house to play with friends and could not be reached at all? Our parents just had to hope we made it back… and they probably weren’t even thinking about it.

Sorry, Mom and Dad, but it’s clear. You had it much easier.

This post was originally published on The Well-Adjusted Adult.


About the Author

Rachel Perkins is a working mother and wife living in the Philadelphia area. When she isn’t busy with her full-time career as an accountant, she is blogging on The Well-Adjusted Adult where she tackles the challenges of being a grownup with the grace of a drunk T-Rex.