Back when my daughter was 3-years-old, another parent criticized me for leaving a birthday party early because it was almost her naptime. She rolled her eyes and said, “Our parents didn’t drop everything so we could sleep and we turned out just fine,” as if “just fine” was something to aspire to. I politely told the woman that despite what our parents did (or didn’t do), I had no problem taking my daughter home so she could snooze. The encounter was annoying, but not the first time my parenting style was judged based on what “our” parents did. When I chose not to have any alcohol during my pregnancies, for example, certain friends said, “Our moms drank while they were pregnant and we turned out just fine.” Over and over I’ve heard about what “our” parents did — usually by another parent who seemed to want to justify her own parenting choices and was looking to generations behind her for back up.
Truthfully, I think there are plenty of things my mom and the moms of the generations before did incredibly well. There are plenty of things they did better than I do. My Mom has more patience than I do and didn’t spread herself as thin as I willingly do. She has, to this day, endless enthusiasm for her kids that I can only aspire to. But there are also some things I think she didn’t do as well, mostly because she had less information, less of a partner in parenting from my dad, and fewer choices when it came to her role as a mother.
If you’re like me, you feel lucky to have the mom that you did. But just because our moms seemed more relaxed about parenting than we do, doesn’t mean they were better mothers than we are. Like us, our moms were just trying to do the best job for their kids, but there are a few things that have improved about parenting with time.
1. Our parents gave us bottles made of glass. My Mom loves to tell the story of how I was such a relaxed baby that when I woke up in my crib surrounded by my glass bottle broken into a million sharp little pieces, I just giggled and sat in my crib. All I can think is, “Um, why was I sleeping with a glass anything, much less a glass bottle in my mouth?”
2. The car seats were flimsy (if we had car seats at all). I can still picture my childhood car seat. It was made of hard plastic, had a metal handle, and no seat belt. I repeat: It had no seat belt. I’m pretty sure it didn’t even clip into the car!
3. Drinking and smoking during pregnancy wasn’t frowned upon. It’s easy to say, “Our moms smoked and drank while pregnant and we turned out just fine,” but what about all the babies that didn’t turn out just fine because their moms smoked and drank? The fact that the moms of today take better care of themselves while pregnant is good for everyone, especially their children. Just ask a doctor!
4. I never had a bedtime. Some parents like a schedule, some don’t. I’m on Team Schedule, mostly because my kids function better with sleep and so do I. But as a kid, we were expected to sit through any meal or event, no matter how late it went. My parents did it because they didn’t have the financial freedom to get a sitter and having us tag along was the best they could do. Regardless, we were exhausted. And yes, we were cranky!
5. The evening news was on when we were in the room, no matter what. That’s just the way it was. Now, parents are generally more careful about what their kids see and hear. That’s a good thing! I was a well-informed kid, but it’s a little too scary to hear about murders and wars when you’re little. Trust me!
6. Emotions weren’t discussed. In fact, very little was actually talked about. When my best friend’s parents got divorced, for example, my parents never explained to me what happened. All I knew was Susie’s dad didn’t live at home anymore. Illnesses and any other taboo subjects weren’t discussed either. Now parents try to keep things age-appropriate, but we do acknowledge what’s happening in the world and try to help our kids understand it.
7. The world was not as open minded, and neither were our parents. Let’s face it: Our kids will grow up in a much more open-minded world than we did, when it comes to religion, gender equality, and more. How amazing is that?
It’s a parent’s job to do better than her parents, or at least try. My Mom’s shoes are hard to fill, but I’m thrilled that I get to try. And I’ll look forward to the time when my children grow up, look back on my parenting choices, and say, “Mom how could you?” I’ll smile, knowing that I did the best I could, and say, “At least I didn’t put you to bed with a glass bottle.”