“Being a modern parent is terrible. I’d give my left kneecap to have parented in the 70s and 80s when all you had to do to be considered a good mom is to remember to wind down the windows when you smoke in the car.” Bunmi Laditan
How often have you heard an older person saying, “In my day, we had to walk a whole kilometre to school on our own and it cost 22 pence to buy a packet of chips.”?
The world changes at such a rapid rate that what was relevant and acceptable in generations gone by, is often either not appropriate or even possible anymore. There are many factors at play in this dynamic, most significant is that human beings and the society they construct are constantly transforming and modifying.
A lot of older generations of parents believe in the adage “children should be seen and not heard” and a lot of middle-aged generations of parents feel newer generations of parents are overthinking everything. And, in some ways, they may very well be right.
While we often lament the passing of the ‘good old days’ where kids rode their bikes all day unsupervised, where kids were more polite and respectful and nobody batted an eyelash at a parent spanking their kid, some of the aspects of “the good old days” are debatable. We need to adapt as we learn, we cannot simply apply past learnings without trying to improve upon them.
There are certain things we should be trying to repurpose into today’s parenting strategies.
One aspect of the ‘good old days’ that I believe deserves repurposing is chores and giving kids from all ages a certain amount of responsibility. New generation parents need to learn from the past and make our kids do stuff for themselves. Because when they realise all that their parent’s do for them, they will realise a level of appreciation not just for those parents but for what hard work looks like and that will definitely stand them in good stead for the real world one day. Instead of making their lives so cushy that when they do venture out into the big wide scary world, they receive such a mean bitch slap, that they come running home with their tales between their legs and an irreparably wounded sense of self.
Chores are not just about helping to alleviate the load on parents, but also about self-worth. Responsibilities have shown to increase a child’s self-worth. It also teaches them perspective and that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
Multiple studies have shown that children who had chores fared better later in life. One reason is that kids who do chores, feel more competent and capable. Another reason is that children who do chores feel like they are part of the team and are more able to understand the importance of helping others out and acting for the better of the whole team, not just themselves.
In the ‘good old days,’ there were far fewer screens, and the screens that were available were not mobile. Children’s lives were not as structured, they had more free time, time to explore and dream. The had more time to just play and be kids, they had less pressure and fewer expectations. Their time was not all tied up in school, homework, extra murals, extra lessons and Next Presidents Club meetings.
In the ‘good old days’, before the internet, smartphones, Facebook or SnapChat, children built stuff, experimented, wandered and wondered, stared at the sky, poked mud with sticks and organised treasure hunts or breath holding competitions. They were not passively consuming, they were actively creating.
This lack of structure and abundance of free time resulted in one of the most powerful forefathers of creativity – boredom. Children in the ‘good old days’ were free to be bored and with this freedom, they were responsible for finding a way out of that boredom. And the antithesis or antidote for boredom is imagination. When you are bored, all of a sudden a stick resembles a pirate’s sword and a bush becomes a castle under siege.
According to Paediatrics Magazine, January 2007 (vol. 119, issue 1), “A hurried overly pressured education that is focused on academic preparation and an overly scheduled lifestyle are interfering and interrupting the ability of children to have “child-driven” play.”.
Writer Thomas Kersting, in his book Disconnected, wrote, “Boredom is to your brain what weightlifting is to your muscle.”. He calls boredom “mental fertilizer” and urges parents not to fill up every minute of their child’s life with external stimulation, especially electronic stimulation.
Parents today, need to stop trying to make everything fun and stop helping them to have fun. Do what parents of the “good old days” did – let them get bored so they go outside and find their own fun. Let them actually interact with other little human beings in person, not in Fortnite, WhatsApp or Google Hangouts.
Again I quote Bunmi Laditan to sum it up succinctly as to where the new age parents need to take a page out of the ‘good old day’ parents’ book, “I think this generation of parents is the first one to believe they need to create good memories for their kids via structured activities forgetting that childhood, when safe and watered, is intrinsically fun.”
In principle, I agree with everything she has to say about parenting in present-day. Parents today overthink everything and try to control everything.
But in the same breathe, I think that sometimes this desire to control is a very real and legitimate response to having to raise children in a very different world to that of our predecessors. And the reality of this world cannot be overlooked in choosing what, when, where and how to overthink and overreact. It is at this point that the ‘good old days’ loses much of its appeal.
In the ‘good old days’ children didn’t wear seatbelts, never mind sitting in a car seat. In the ‘good old days’ women drank and smoked for the duration of their pregnancies.
In the ‘good old days’ dads were not really involved in child rearing and mothers were not really involved in the career-making.
In the ‘good old days’ if you didn’t fit into the box of the perfect feminine form, then you were not considered beautiful. There was a very narrow definition of beautiful and it excluded more women than it included.
In the ‘good old days’ bias was just the way things were, if people wanted to be different, or more accurately wanted to just be tolerated or accepted for their differences, then they must deal with the fallout. It’s not the problem of normal people to make the few weirdos feel better about themselves.
In the ‘good old days’ parents were always right, even when they weren’t. A parent would never admit fault and an apology to a child was not even an option. Parents in the ‘good old days’ would never take the time get down on their child’s level and say sorry for losing their temper unfairly or for any other of the million mistakes parents make on a daily basis.
In the ‘good old days’ consent was not something you spoke to your kids about, but that didn’t mean that abuse wasn’t happening, we just weren’t really talking about.
In the ‘good old days’ children were taught to be obedient and compliant. They were taught that when an adult speaks, they must listen and when an adult asks, they must comply. How many of us growing up felt uncomfortable with our parent’s telling us to kiss Auntie So-And-So on the lips hello and goodbye? But more importantly, how many of us were taught by this interaction that we as children have no sovereignty over our own bodies and personal boundaries?
In the ‘good old days’ children were taught that they were not the boss of anything, not even their own bodies.
And in the ‘good old days’ girls were taught to be submissive and sweet, while boys were taught to be assertive and bold. Girls needed to be nice and boys were expected to be naughty.
But thankfully, the ‘good old days’ saving grace was that it was insular. All the bad stuff was still there lurking in the shadows, but it was more confined, geographically, physically. And the saying “ignorance is bliss” was a hallmark of these older generations, as a parent, you were unaware of the danger, how could you fear it, never mind try to outsmart it.
Today, parents know better. Ignorance is no longer an option and threats to our children are not physically confined. Because the bad stuff has gone viral, it is free to travel around the world in a virtual network that knows no bounds and moves at the speed of light. And because we are a part of this global network, we are exposed to the bad stuff daily, if not hourly.
For want of a better, less gimmicky word, our generation of parents woke up and for the first time were confronted by the overwhelming nature of the world in which we live, the world in which we are raising our children, the world in which the light is struggling to fight back the darkness. And this awakening made us over-correct and we became overly protective and overly controlling.
But now we are conscious, and this consciousness may just be what saves the world from itself, we as a generation – millennials, generation y or whatever label they have given us – are determined to not let sleeping dogs lie. We are going to use the power of connectivity and global citizenship for good and not bad. We are going to use our newly found consciousness to change the things that were bad about the ‘good old days’.
My consciousness has awoken with a headache with regards to certain issues. One such issue is gender equality, I awoke from being a woman with minor feminist tendencies that would rather let things go than cause a stir or be impolite to a full-blown bra burning, pussy hat knitting, Trump hating, Serena loving, angry face emoji-ing and searing rant delivering nasty and bossy mominator. A person that would have been labelled as a ‘dike’ or a ‘ball-buster’ in the ‘good old days’.
Because when Izzy was born, suddenly I had a dog in the fight, my daughter would not live in a world that didn’t give her every opportunity, respect and choice offered to her male counterparts. If I fully intend to raise a fearless girl, I need to help fight for a world that will not break her.
This shift in consciousness and desire to help change the world for my daughter leached into adjacent areas of concern, like body positivity or bias or intolerance against all who are different or previously marginalised.
But one adjacent arena has stirred me up the most, I am sure this topic has many mothers around the world wringing their hands in anxious discomfit, an area that goes beyond gender equality into gender security. This is the concept of consent and bodily autonomy.
Because this is one aspect of parenting in the ‘good old days’ that was just plain wrong. In present-day we know better, now we understand the importance of kids knowing that they have full power over their body and that if anything makes them uncomfortable they have the authority to refuse to engage.
That is why I won’t ever tell Izzy to give anyone a kiss or a hug, why I won’t ever carry on tickling her after she says stop or enough, why I won’t ever pretend to cry when she doesn’t feel like cuddling me, why I ask often “who is the boss of Izzy’s body?” and wait till she says, “Me”. And why I ask her “Who is the bossy of mommy’s body?”, when I want her to stop doing something to me that I don’t like. Because consent goes both ways. And so does consciousness.
Consciousness is a two-way street. While we are battling the dragons of old – abuse, bias, hatred, persecution, inequality, harmful stereotypes, ignorance – we need to use our consciousness to apply balance to the lives of our children and to develop a level of consciousness within them.
We need to consciously parent, we need to step in when needed and step back too. Let your child fail sometimes, let your child get bored, let your child help you and themselves, let your kids just be and just be kids. I have labelled this ‘lazy parenting’ in a previous post, but actually, I don’t think it is lazy at all, it is a conscious choice. I think it is better described as ‘lean back parenting’, where you remove yourself a little and give your child space and opportunity to test the boundaries of their potential. Give them the gift of space and set the example for them to develop their own self-awareness.
Because these controlled experiments of conscious parenting or leaning back are going to equip them far more to succeed when faced with the real dangers of the world. It will give them a strong foundation and base from which to have the courage of conviction to stand by their beliefs, their desires and their sense of self.
We need to learn from, the good and the bad, of the ‘good old days’ and look to the new days where we are raising children to be tolerant, socially conscious and kind adults with integrity and compassion, because if the world is going to stop being such a shit show in the future, that seems obvious as to what we should all be striving for.
And remember, we are never going to get it one hundred per cent perfect all of the time, but consciousness is not perfection, consciousness is about trying and learning to be open and aware of yourself and the world. As Jodi Picoult said, “The very fact that you worry about being a good mom means that you are already one.”
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