September 13, 2017
PARENTING LESSONS FROM ONE MOM’S 80’s ERA PARENTS
We feel it, you feel it. Those pangs of parenting guilt; that somehow we’re failing our kids if we don’t get them that pair of shoes or the latest, greatest must-have device, don’t sign them up for travel soccer, don’t take them to the trampoline park at least once a week, don’t put on our suits to splash around in the pool with them all afternoon.
The pressure to be a perfect parent is real, we are haunted by pictures of Pinterest perfection, and our own failures. We’re bombarded with images in reality TV and on social media of over-the-top tot parties. Or our kiddos come home with the all-too-familiar, “well, Sally’s mom got her one…”
Then, every once in awhile, one of us gets real, and puts our pursuit of perfection into perspective. Thank you, Carrie Lehman, for reminding us that kids don’t need all these things and expensive experiences to grow up feeling fulfilled; that they need the hard lessons to balance out the good stuff; and for taking us back to what seems like a simpler time, with great memories we made ourselves as kids, while our moms watched soaps and ironed.
Laziness and neglect are two of the most underrated parenting techniques.
I had a good childhood. At least that’s what I was told and I think it’s true because I don’t remember anything bad happening — if you don’t count a neighbor getting her Malibu Barbie confused with my Malibu Barbie and taking mine which was newer and nicer and not as scuffed up. That b**ch! I cut the hair right off of her Malibu Barbie which was now my Malibu Barbie and taught no one a lesson. But it felt amazing.
The greatest part of childhood was summer. We only had one car so we couldn’t really go anywhere too exciting. My dad took the car to work. So unless our neighbors let us borrow their powder blue VW bug with the seats that stuck to our legs and melted our skin, we weren’t doing shit. This meant that our days were long. We woke up early and we stayed out late. We had hours and hours of unaccountability and it was great. In the morning I would ride my electric blue hand-me-down banana seat Huffy bicycle until lunch. I stopped home for a bologna sandwich with Velveeta and bright orange cheese curls and took off again with white bread still stuck to my teeth and gums. In the dark we collected fireflies in margarine containers with a handful of grass. I can smell all of it. The oil of my bike chain. The lighting bug stink when we would smear their glow on our faces and fresh grass we pulled from the earth.
I remember very little screen time. Nanny and the professor and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, maybe. Some Casper and some Great Space Coaster but overall it was a screen-free time. At least for us kids. With only one TV set no one was gonna get in the way of my mom and General Hospital. She watched soap operas and ironed all day long. What was she ironing? My dads gold toed socks? No seriously, what was she ironing? She still irons. Never met someone who ironed so much. So we didn’t have the option of going to another room to watch tv or play video games or play on an iPad or play on an iPod or play on an iPhone. We used our imagination to create worlds that we got lost in.
I remember setting up a pine cone hospital to treat broken pine cones. I pretended I was a nurse. I mashed up concoctions of branches and leaves in my homemade mortar and pestle to remedy the pinecones. I nurtured them. I pretended I was Laura Ingalls Wilder as I played on a round split-rail fence my dad put up in the backyard. Yes, I got many many splinters. My dad would turn on the stove burner and put a needle to the flame and then to my skin to remove the tiny piece of wood that inflicted so much hurt. But splinters didn’t seem like a big deal back then. More like a painful reminder of summer. Like sunburns and bee stings. Skinned knees, stubbed toes and dirty calloused bare feet. In order to make the most out of summer, our bodies had to be sacrificed a bit. And everyone was ok with that. My mom would rub my sunburned skin with Noxema and while I liked the smell I felt little to no relief from burns.
My mom rang a cow bell when we were supposed to come home. She didn’t have to call our cell phones or group text the neighborhood. She rang a bell and like trained animals…we walked home. Despite the bell, we still had a large roaming radius. Or maybe it just felt big because we were small. Will my kids look back and think that small things were bigger? Will they be shocked to see the world is far different than they perceive it now? Or are there no surprises left for them to discover?
We had lemonade stands (without paleo or vegan options) and walked to the worlds greatest garage sale every year on Washington road. We bought junk and coveted it like treasure. Things were special. A garage sale seashell was something I would carry around in my pocket and name. If I told my mom I liked seashells, she didn’t drive me to the ocean that day to fetch seashells. She didn’t order seashells in bulk from Amazon prime and she didn’t throw me a seashell party so all my guests could gift me seashells and I could accumulate a heap quickly. She said, “that’s nice” and went back to watching Guiding Light. If I wanted to collect something, I collected it. She didn’t collect it for me. That’s what made it special.
Most kids, mine included, don’t understand delayed gratification. Everything is now. Everything is big. Everything is fast. Everything can be replaced, so everything holds no sentiment. If everything is expendable and meaningless, what has value? Even if we are strict in what possessions we provide our children they still have the immediacy of internet. It’s a different world we are raising kids in.
We had two phones and they were both attached to the wall; they had a rotary dial so you really had to like who you were calling to wait through all that swishing and annoying clicks. And then sometimes you would do all of that work and the line would be busy!! So what did we do? We went outside. We found friends. We played. We laughed. We learned. Real conversations. Real disagreements. Solutions to problems and days so long you forgot you were mad at the person earlier that morning.
What I see going on now in both kids AND adults is pathetic. Everyone is distracted. I am one of the worst. I will admit that. Now my mom was also distracted with As The World Turns and making tuna noodle casserole and Boston cream pie, and my dad worked and mowed the grass and listened to Jimi Hendrix…but they didn’t seem to feel guilty. I actually feel guilty. All. The. Time. And my defense mechanism for my guilt is to act like I don’t care when in fact I do care. A lot. My mom and dad were distracted because they were doing other things. Real-life things. They didn’t have their face lit up by a screen 24-7. My mom was modeling appropriate behavior and rules and self-help skills and domestic skills and management skills. My mom showed me common sense and common decency. My mom got stuff done. She was excellent at her job and she made it look easy. Which Is why I mostly remember her watching Days Of Our Lives and little else. My mom wasn’t under the premise that grown ups actually play with children. Parents provide 3 hots and a cot (as my husband would say), meaning 3 meals and a place to sleep. The necessities. My mom actually cleaned her own toilets and my dad mulched our yard. Our parents didn’t play with us. They didn’t outsource their cleaning, cooking and landscaping to spend more time with us! Hell to the no. So what did we do? We went outside and found people whose parents also didn’t give two hoots about them.
Parents back then didn’t center their lives around children. Children’s lives revolved around the parents. And often the parents didn’t have time nor want to entertain their kids. And this was a pact it seemed! So bodies on bikes and roller skates and the green machine roamed the neighborhood and ended up in someone’s yard. There were no phone calls made and notifications sent. Everyone just assumed the role of parenting everyone else’s kids. It was unspoken. They just did it. If a kid sat down for breakfast at their table, they just served up the Tang in a Looney Tunes glass and treated that kid like they were one of the family. If you are lucky enough to still live in a community like this, be thankful. Friends and neighbors who all “get it” is a gift from heaven. I do feel this way about my neighborhood. It feels old-fashioned in some ways, maybe even a bit overboard in others. (If someone’s hamster dies, you may find a tin pan of lasagna and two containers of wedding soup on their front stoop.) We try to take care of each other, but even that comes with guilt. Maybe your neighbor takes your kids more than you take theirs. Are we keeping score? Is it tit for tat? We are constantly made to feel that it’s not enough, we’re not enough; and on top of it we have problems and issues that weren’t present 3 decades ago and aren’t going away anytime soon.
The notion we have created in our own minds is that we don’t make enough time for our kids and we feel guilty about this. So in turn we must make it up to them by providing a comfortable, stress-free perfect world. Meanwhile we spend way too much time with our kids and as a result they unknowingly become the center of our universe in an unhealthy way. A lot of times I make choices out of guilt; it’s what other moms are doing so I should probably jump on the bandwagon with them; allowing my insecurities as a mother to dictate my choices despite that it goes against my real feelings. Or, how about this? Sometimes I just don’t want to be hassled! I don’t want to be bothered and I don’t want to feel bad about it! I can say that I don’t attend hockey games because I genuinely want to or enjoy watching my boys play at 6 am in a freezing cold rink, but instead because I feel like it’s what I am supposed to want to do.
I remember desiring things. Urgently. Passionately. A pair of Jordache jeans. A Benetton rugby. A Forenza pair of shorts. An Outback Red 10 button henley. A Swatch Watch and fun colorful sweaters by Esprit. I could beg and wish and hope that my parents would buy me these things; and sure plenty of kids did have parents that bought them those things, but they were “rich”. My parents never caved to that pressure or my whining. They didn’t care that I would never get things that I wanted. At least they appeared to not care. I learned to live in a constant state of disappointment and somehow that was ok. If any of my kids say they need new baseball cleats, or shorts, or even an Apple Watch…they know they are going to receive it. And most likely pretty quickly. It isn’t their fault. It’s mine. In the short-term, I relieve my children of wanting and despair, and in the long-term, I strip my children of ever knowing what deprivation or struggle feels like. In the short term they win. In the long- term they lose. Big time.
I do try and raise our kids with some old-fashioned values and give them a long leash to run free (so I can nap). But also with that time, I want them to discover. I want them to be bored. I want them to fall on gravel or get turf burn. I want them to hurt and bleed and try and fail and trip and fall and get back up. I want others to be mean to them sometimes. I want them to figure it out. I want them to climb a tree instead of looking at a meme of a tree. I want my kids to be kids. Not over-scheduled entitled little adults. My husband and I laugh when our kids say, “Can we get a treat?” A treat? You mean to tell me that the Gatorade and walking taco at the concession stand; the airheads, ring pop and nerds from the uptown candy shop; and the pizza at the pool weren’t treats? And they look at us like we are crazy. “Those weren’t treats!”, they say in unison — and they are right. Because a treat is “an event or an item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” Treats aren’t treats if they are given everyday or come to be expected. Treats aren’t treats if there isn’t some element of surprise. Basically everyday of their life they have been given and allowed what I would consider a treat, but they do not because by the sheer definition, what they get from us on a daily basis is no longer a treat. It’s a gosh-darned lifestyle. Facilitated by us.
I could rack my brain and beat my head against the wall trying to figure out how to go backwards. Get back to the basics. Maybe even swim upstream and be different yet truthful in our beliefs about what we feel in our gut is the the right way to raise our kids. At times I tell them I want to throw out every screen in the house, but I don’t. Sometimes I say I want to move away and start over, but we don’t. Sometimes I want to tell every PTA person and coach and manager and birthday party host to pop off, but I don’t (well maybe occasionally I do). Sometimes I just want to hop into a time machine and take my kids back to the 70s and 80s and raise them there, but I can’t. Sometimes I want to have the power to see my kids in the future through a crystal ball and be reassured that this is all going to be ok; and that while their childhood is far different than mine, that it was still good, and formative in a positive way. I sometimes reflect on my own experiences growing up and wonder if they are factually correct or just how I remember them. Maybe my parents recollect my childhood completely different. Maybe they too were wrought with worry due to the invasion of Atari and MTV and other things designed to make our “brains rot”. Maybe they too felt they were doing too much or not enough. Maybe they wanted to take a time machine to the 50s and 60s and raise us in that era. All I know is that I want my kids experiences to be earned and not given. I want them to work at being a kid. Kids who don’t get everything they want and hear the word “no” and have mean teachers and get blamed for things they didn’t do. Real-life experiences. This includes not always getting what they want and some hard times. I want to pop the bubble wrap I have so carefully handled them in and change the expectations. Basically, I want my parent style to be “intentional neglect”. Stop doing and creating perfect worlds for them to sleep in and let them screw themselves up the way we did. They are gonna be screwed up anyway…may as well be able to place the blame on them.
And maybe over time I have remembered what I have wanted to remember and that’s all the good stuff. And maybe when the time comes for my kids to be raising their kids, they will look at our parenting as nothing but good stuff and wish they could time travel back to the 2000’s and raise kids as we are doing right now, which is the best we know how given the circumstances and the world we live in. Maybe the pendulum will swing back and our kids will revert to the basics and shed all the fluff and frivolity. That would be my hope. But in the meantime, don’t be surprised if you see the Lehman family hanging out the windows of a VW bus, with flowers in our hair, saying “Peace out”.