I’m a Grandma of three – soon to be four. Like many baby boomers, I’m amazed at how raising children has changed so drastically over the years.
Oh, how I wish we had some of the modern conveniences like iPads that keep children so pleasantly quiet at restaurants and rides in cars with endless games and access to Netflix? After lugging Gameboys with all the games and heavy batteries during our trip to Europe in the early 80s so the kids would be entertained on trains, I’m jealous.
Still, the question begs to be answered. Is it easier or harder these days to raise kids?
Meals Were Not As Complicated
Feeding our kids sure seemed simpler. Back in the day, we baby boomers didn’t cater to picky eaters with a kitchen that resembled a 24/7 restaurant devoted to each child’s preference. We didn’t spend endless hours trying to convince our kids to eat foods they may not like. In fact, if our kids didn’t like what we served up, too bad. They ate every bite thinking of those starving kids in Africa and said thank-you after finishing. If not, they could just go to their rooms and be hungry! No child ever starved to my knowledge.
We didn’t spend each waking moment worrying if our food was gluten-free or organic. We blissfully poured Lucky Charms into our kids’ bowls before “sugar” was a nasty word. We nuked TV dinners in our avocado green and harvest gold kitchens and packed their little metal lunchboxes full of Twinkies. If we worried at all about our kids getting enough nutrition, we popped a Flintstones vitamin into their mouths full of glucose syrup and color additives. Somehow our kids survived.
Some parents today agree that in many ways baby boomers had it easier raising kids. Writer Erica June wrote in her article published by HuffPost, “How Parents in the ’70s And ’80s Had It Made:”
“Nowadays, moms know too much. We have to grind our own flax seeds, make our own organic vegetable purees and grow our own lettuce in order to avoid diseases, mutant strains of listeria and arteries so coated with hydrogenated oils that you could bobsled in them. Reading labels and learning all the different words that mean ‘genetically altered corn and soy’ is a full time job in itself.”
The stressed out mom and author of the book Toddlers Are A**holes: It’s Not Your Fault, Bunmi Laditan, took to Facebook to vent her frustrations. “Being a modern parent is terrible,” she wrote. “I’d give my left kneecap to have parented in the 70s or 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. I’m not cut out for this. Do you know what I’ve been doing this morning? VITAMIN SHOPPING. For 45 minutes I’ve been comparing children’s vitamins, reading online reviews, and, inflammatory blog posts backed by no science that I both fear and respect.”
She also wrote about the fearsome and judgmental attitude these days about parenting. “I’ve seen the way some parents look at me when I give my son a juice box at the park. It’s juice, not Red Bull or margarita mix so calm down.”
Her Facebook post went viral so apparently a lot of parents today can relate. She makes a good point. I mean, God forbid you spank a child in public or even yell at your children at the grocery store these days. Big Brother might report you.
Modern Conveniences and Technology – Good or Bad?
Yes, modern conveniences are nice. But has it gone too far? I watch young Moms hoisting their industrial-sized car seats and hauling strollers the size of golf carts around. Their homes are so full of ginormous high chairs, exersaucers, gliders, pack and plays, bouncy seats, and God knows what else, they can hardly move around. Their houses are full of ‘stuff’ while their wallets are empty.
We baby boomers were happy with rickety but light car seats that doubled as carriers – before we knew of the dangers – and simple wooden highchairs did the trick. I bought my kids’ play clothes and toys at garage sales.
If we were really lucky we had one of those doorway jumpers. As June noted in her article: “The contraption girded up the baby’s crotch… induced bowlegged-ness and sterility, but it was unobtrusive. As long as no one forgot the baby was dangling there and decided to slam the door, that thing was world class.”
And yes, iPads, Smart phones, and computers are helpful – but just try and get kids off of them for two minutes. Then, there’s all the worries and concerns about the dangers of the Internet, social media, and child predators.
Catering to Children
Back in the day, we didn’t waste endless hours arguing with our children. “The look” did the trick most the time. If that didn’t work, we waved a wooden spoon in front of their faces. Today, parents seems to hang on every word their children utter while striving to accommodate their every wish.
Play dates? What was that? If our kids needed to find a playmate we sent them out into the neighborhood to see who was home. Of course, we reminded them that when the street lights came on to be sure and come home for dinner. Today, anxious Moms and Dads have these complicated, color-coated calendars on their iPhones that would confuse a rocket scientist chuck full of sport practices, music lessons, play dates, and private tutors.
Germs? Who cared? Our babies happily crawled and thrived in dusty shag carpets which were impossible to vacuum so the five-inch long strands were simply raked. Our kids would come home full of germs from playing in the mud digging for worms, but we didn’t blink an eye. If food dropped on the floor – hey, haven’t you heard about the five-second – or maybe even the five-day rule? We knew our kids would live to see another day and besides all those germs would build up their immune system.
Nowadays, germ-phobic parents bathe their kids in hand sanitizer. Everyone must take their shoes off when they enter the house. Shopping cart covers are suddenly a necessity. One cough in an enclosed room and mothers are ready to hook up their kid to an IV filled with the latest vitamins and supplements.
Did Baby Boomers Have it Easier Child-Rearing?
We certainly didn’t have to worry about school shootings back in the day. So maybe parents these days have a right to be more stressed. But, as I watch today’s anxious, striving-to-be-perfect parents, I want to tell them to loosen up a little.
I’m not alone. A self-confessed neurotic mother, Jancee Dunn, wrote in a Parents article that her mother tried to convince her to relax and enjoy the short period of parenthood that passes by way too fast. At first Jancee was a bit sarcastic. “Certainly, I had survived my mother’s more laissez-faire style of 1970s parenting,” she wrote. “Her idea of being protective was to throw her arm across me when we roared to a stop in the car, which would have been slightly more effective if I had been in the backseat or wearing a seat belt. But I have to give her credit: at least she glanced over to make sure the lighted cigarette she was holding didn’t set my hair on fire.”
But then she was forced to admit: “Still, my mother was right. There’s a fine line between vigilant and nuts, between besotted and berserk.”
Okay, okay. So we could have been a bit more vigilant in the day. By the way, not all us baby boomer parents smoked despite what the Millennials observe on Mad Men. I certainly didn’t! On the other hand, I do think young parents today can relax a bit.
But back to the question – easier or harder to raise children today? In the end, perhaps we can agree that raising children isn’t easy, no matter the decade.
We baby boomers certainly didn’t do everything right. Spam, really? Just because it was FDA approved didn’t mean it was actually meant to be consumed. And thank-goodness quality car seats and helmets make the world safer for our grandchildren.
But in a lot of ways, it was simpler to raise children back in the day. I sure worried a lot less and my two sons grew up just fine. So, I would say to you young parents, go easier on yourself. Quit trying to make your children’s lives perfect. They are going to be okay and so are you.
Julie Gorges is an author, freelance writer, and blogger. During the past 20 years of professional writing, she has authored three books, had hundreds of article published in national and regional magazines, and won three journalism awards.