A friend of mine sent me a link to this blog post yesterday: If 70s Moms Had Blogs. It’s the funniest thing I’ve read this week — and I’m reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain. Here’s a taste.
About an hour later Matt came back crying that Mrs. Johnson had spanked him because he was throwing rocks at cars.
“Good,” I told him, “I hope you learned your lesson. If I hear of you doing that again I’m going to bust your ass too, so you got lucky this time that you only got one whipping.” Then I sent him back outside while I continued to clean.
Little while later, here come the girls saying they’re hot because it’s 80 degrees and sunny. I gave them some more red Kool-Aid and told them if they were hot to stay in the shade and stop whining about it.
Read the whole thing. It’s funny. Unless you’re the humorless sort who sees something like this and feels a need to lecture everyone on the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, sun exposure and child-beating, as if you’re the only person in 2014 who realizes these things, like you’re alerting the rest of us to a scientific discovery. Maybe your own parents left you in a car too long with the windows rolled up as a child and it fried the humor right out of your head.
Of course, there’s an entire genre on Facebook these days of parents posting things about how they had it growing up; how tough they were; how they weren’t spoiled; how they weren’t coddled; how kids these days, blah blah blah.
This drives me nuts. Why? Take a good look at your kids, people. Just who the hell do you think is raising these coddled, overprotected children? Society? A village?
No. It’s you. Yes, you. You’re the one who won’t let precious little Jimmy out of your sight for one second. (You’re also the one who smoked pot and drank until you puked and screamed “The Roof Is On Fire, We Don’t Need No Water Let the Motherfucker Burn” and put out in high school and college, but now act like Miley Cyrus is the advanced guard of some child-de-virginizing horde, but that’s a story for a different day.)
Even folks who talk a big game keep a constant eye over their children, convinced that there’s an ever-present threat of physical harm and child abduction, when, in fact, there are none. Excluding kids taken by their own parents in ugly custody battles, child abductions have not gone up. No one ever actually put razor blades in Halloween apples. (I wonder if the truly offensive idea to a lot of people is that no one else wants your kid.)
I’ll be honest and include myself in the nervous nelly camp, convinced that any child I’m charged with watching will crack his skull or have a meteor drop on her head if I’m not watching 100% of the time. I like to tell myself I inherited this from my grandmother. But then why is everyone else in America like this these days? And what about my grandmother?
I tend to remember her as a worry-wart and a bit paranoid because she a) told me not to open my Cub Scout knife at the Scout-o-Rama one year (of course I did; of course I cut myself) and b) she wouldn’t let us leave the immediate vicinity of her house, walk across a half mile of pastures and into the woods (of course we tried; of course we got switched).
But here’s what was in the immediate vicinity of her house: front yard (it had grass and flowers, so we left it alone); back yard consisting of dirt, a rusted-out swing set, a concrete bird bath usually filled with mosquito larvae, a tire swing, milk and bread crates; a side yard consisting of more dirt, a few fire-ant hills and clumps of burning grass; a chicken yard full of chickens, turkeys, ducks, guinea hens and their shit, as well as a rusted-out, broken down wagon and what I think were the remains of a pop-up camper; a barn and barn yard; a pond that was usually dry; numerous chicken coops which housed as many black-widow spiders as chickens; a go-cart without brakepads; ropes; wood; sheets of rusty tin; nails; tools; feral cats; fireworks; BB guns; etc.
She put us out the house first thing in the morning — sometimes with shoes! — and did not follow us. She did not hover at the window constantly keeping an eye on us (unless she happened to be washing dishes). Hell, she gave us matches. To burn things. We were left alone to do our thing, even if that thing sometimes included fighting, getting hurt, burning ourselves, possibly picking up tetanus, or peeing on armadillos.
We were left alone. That’s the biggest difference between now and then. Even parents who allow their children a fair amount of rough play these days typically do so while hovering.
The Atlantic has a fascinating article this month called The Overprotected Kid. In it, Hanna Rosin writes:
Even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all.
I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years. It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting.
Some of what’s going on currently might be an over-reaction to latch-key-kid syndrome. MY MOM DIDN’T SPEND ENOUGH TIME WITH ME; I’LL NEVER DO THAT TO MY KID.
The thing is, it’s doing your kid a disservice. Time alone with other kids teaches them useful things about risk-analysis, social skills (and social-pecking orders), self-reliance and the fact that Mommy’s not always going to be there. When kids turn into adults, the self-sufficient kids who were left alone are likely going to be bossing your kid around — and while you’re trying to enjoy retirement, your adult child is going to be calling you and whining that the boss was mean or that life isn’t fair.
My friend Lenore Skenazy started a movement called Free Range Kids in response to all of this. You may remember her as “America’s Worst Mom,” because she had the audacity to drop her 9-year-old off at Bloomingdales and let him take the subway home. You know, something that all city kids used to be expected to do, but now is seen as something that Child Protective Services should get involved in.
Again, kids these days are no more likely to get hurt or kidnapped than they ever were. In fact, they’re probably LESS likely.
But the piece starts off with the description of a playground in Wales that gives me hope.
The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. “Why are you rolling tires into the water?” my son asks. “Because we are,” the girl replies. It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires.
That sounds like my childhood. That sounds awesome.
Could something similar take hold in the States? Will their be a surge in self-reliant kids? Hahahahaha. No. Because little Tiffany is too precious. She might get took!
We’re all too scared these days–even those of us who claim we aren’t. You wouldn’t let your kid on that playground unsupervised. And neither would I.