I was born in the 1970s, when car seats and BPA warnings didn’t exist, and I survived. So in my humble opinion, I think millennial moms could definitely learn some things from ‘70s parenting trends. Though I may have turned out fine despite the laissez-faire approach adults of my parents’ generation took to raising their kids, there are some styles of parenting that I think are fitting in today’s overly-sanitized family culture. And I’m not just talking about eschewing modern technology because “the old-fashioned way” was just better. I can identify some things that made sense over 40 years ago, and still feel pertinent to parenting today.
Though we’ve come a long way with preventing illnesses and identifying atypical attributes to allow for early intervention in kids’ lives, which improve their overall health, there are some areas of parenting that will never change. Moms today still have to deal with tantrums, and picky eating, and feeling like a failure rather frequently. Those experiences are universal, and the way my mom dealt with some of that stuff in the ‘70s is not really all that different than how I handle the moments when my kids stress me out.
The big takeaway from past decades' parenting trends, for me, is limiting choices. As a middle class family in New York City, our options for schools and entertainment and food are practically endless, and combined with the limitless feel of an interconnected world online, I easily fall down the rabbit hole when all I’m looking for is a good sunscreen for my kids.
So taking a cue from my own mom, here are some things I think every mom today could learn from ‘70s parenting trends:
There weren't a plethora of breakfast options for us growing up. There were Cheerios and Corn Flakes and Wheaties, as sugar cereals were not an option in our house. Grocery stores didn’t carry as many variations on a food thing as they do now, either, and there certainly were not more than three brands of peanut butter. I think about how much time I spend deciding on what kind of whole wheat bread I’m going to buy and I don’t get those minutes back.
Keeping things simple, as parents did in the 70s, must have saved them a lot of anxiety about feeling there was never enough time. Choice can be overwhelming.
There were three times a day I was invited to eat as a child: at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My parents’ pantry was not stocked with snack food. It was all adult food, and if I was hungry between lunch and dinner, they’d peel me an orange, cut up an apple, or offer me a few olives in a clean ashtray.
There were those times when my grandfather, who owned a typewriter repair shop from our apartment, would stop by to spoil me with a milkshake from Baskin Robbins. My mother would frown as her guiding hippie principles were being derailed by a doting grandfather’s sugary gifts, but she couldn’t resist the chocolate elixir either.
I don’t remember watching Sesame Street with my mom, who was probably taking a much needed break from me and my baby brother while it was on. Or at least taking advantage of us being glued to the muppets on the screen by using the time to pee or something.
My mom didn’t keep a packet of wipes in her purse. Some spit on a tissue did a trick, and that was only when the dirt on my face was especially egregious after spending the afternoon in the playground.
I admit to going a bit overboard with the baby proofing gadgets with our first kid. Did I really need a refrigerator lock? Well, maybe I did, but my toddler didn’t. A simple, firm “no, don’t touch” should suffice to let kids know, repeatedly, that there are some things that are dangerous and are not allowed to be touched. In hindsight I think it would have been better to teach my kids the basic “no touching unless you ask” rule, rather than just locking down their world (which might've just motivated them to get crafty and figure a way to break into the cabinets anyway).
I really wanted to dress my children in natural cotton clothing manufactured in a sustainable way by adult, well-compensated laborers. But that doesn’t come cheap. Polyester is machine washable and dryable, and if it starts to fall apart after a few months it doesn’t matter anyway because, by then, the kid will have outgrown it.
We only have one television in our house, but my husband and I have our phones, there’s an iPad the kids share, and my 10-year-old daughter has her wifi-enabled iPod. That’s a lot of screens for four people.
So we make a point to come together to all watch the same thing once a week, on our family movie night. This Sunday night ritual is a touchstone of our family life, and a shared experience that, no matter how fractured our work and school and extracurricular schedules are, brings us all to one place to create the memories of laughing or crying or gasping together.
We will all go our separate ways to watch our separate screens soon enough, but nothing beats gathering around the TV hearth as a family.
Nothing changes a screaming toddler’s tune like a track from Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. The only difference is that we’re streaming it at a tap of an icon instead of dropping the needle on some vinyl.
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