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Have We Forgotten How to Be a Mommy?

Happy new year! I hope you all had a wonderfully relaxing Christmas and New Year's with your family. I know often it isn't that relaxing, but I have to say that I probably had the best of my life! We had such fun just relaxing, and I organized a ton, and I feel refreshed and rejuvenated (although I'm far too used to going to bed late at night and it was hard to get up this morning!)

Today I want to share some parenting thoughts I've been having lately, just to get them down and out of my brain. I may take these further later on, but let me start with a study I read.

Ohio State University did a study on childhood obesity, and found three things that were most correlated to protecting your child from obesity (ie. they don't get fat). They were: eating dinner together as a family; reducing the amount of time children spend watching TV; and making sure they get regular and adequate sleep.

It was the last one that was mildly surprising; I guessed the first two off the bat, but I would have thought family exercise was more important than sleep. But no, sleep won out.

But then I began to think, what if these three things weren't really the cause of less childhood obesity, but were instead the result of some other thing that they hadn't measured, and it was actually that thing that was the cause? It seems to me that a family that eats dinner together regularly, that does not let their children watch a ton of TV, and that enforces bedtime is one that puts emphasis on order, on family life, and on parenting. And few families do that today. And the family that does that will also be one that makes sure their children do not develop unhealthy habits.

Here's where my thoughts got really sad, though. Think about those three measures of good parenting: eating dinner together, limiting TV time, enforcing bedtime. Those are all rare today, but when I was a child, they were NORMAL. They were normal even for families one wouldn't consider that good.

I grew up in a lower middle class neighbourhood to a single mother. All around me were kids in similar situations, or kids whose parents were struggling to make ends meet. Many kids in my school lived in apartments, not in houses. And yet I remember one of the big topics of conversation in grade 3 was who had what bedtime. Everyone had a bedtime!

When I was 11, I distinctly remember preparing for a debate with my mother to extend my bedtime a half hour. It had been 8:30, but Little House on the Prairie had new episodes on Monday nights at 8, and I wanted to see the whole thing. So I thought I should now be allowed to stay up until 9. I spoke, she listened.

And we always ate dinner together; everybody did. Few people had televisions in the kitchen or dining room, and the TVs only got a few channels anyway, and at dinner it was all news. Nobody could afford restaurants very often, so we all ate at the table. It was normal.

It's like when you read the Ramona books by Beverley Cleary, which were largely written in the 1970s. They focus on a very lower middle class family in a small house who is struggling to get by. But the main focus in their family life is family meals, allowances, chores, discipline, and sharing bedrooms--all the things that we would call good parenting.

We seem to have this idea in our society that only the "rich" have time to parent well, and everyone else is just in chaos, but it was not always that way, and there is absolutely no reason for it to be so.

But something happened from the 1970s until now, and we have forgotten how to parent. Few people do even those basics anymore. They don't know how to discipline. They don't enforce bedtime. They don't eat together; few even cook! And then we have rapid increases in many childhood "diseases" like obesity, ADD, and defiant personality disorder.

I am not saying that life was perfect in the 1950s or the 1970s; but I do think there was this cultural pull to parent appropriately, and everyone seemed to share an idea of what appropriate looked like. It was really only the incredibly dysfunctional families who did not do bedtimes.

Today it is the norm. Few of the my children's friends had bedtimes when they were 8, even the kids at church. Few have chores. Few work for allowances. All the semblances of what would have at one time been considered normal are gone.

My husband grew up in a very blue collar family. His parents had grown up in rural eastern Canada, in large farm families, with no education. Yet my husband and his three brothers had bedtimes, family meals, and rules about the television.

What happened, though, was that although our generation grew up with that, we have not carried it on. We do not do it with our own kids, and what I want to know is, why? I have my theories, and here they are:

1. We parented well in the past as a residual of Christianity. We didn't have Christianity anymore, but it still impacted the culture. As religion has decreased in our society, so have these cultural factors.

2. Entertainment has taken over. We don't parent now because the purpose of life has changed. It is now to have fun and be entertained, and parents have bought into this. Parents spend just as much time trying to be entertained as children do.

3. Chaos is a factor in too many children's lives. When so many kids don't grow up with two parents, it's hard to carry on what is "normal" family life. And the fewer and fewer people do it, the more those who are in intact families also stop doing the basics, because they're no longer seen as basic.

I'm sure there are other things, but that's all I can think of right now. So let me ask you: what do you think happened? Why did these basic parenting skills become so comparatively rare? And what should we do about it? I'd love to know what you think, because I may write more on the subject, and I'm still mulling it around myself!

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At 9:41 AM , Blogger The Roberts Family said…

Wow, great post Sheila!! I think part of what has happened is also mere laziness and selfishness. It's much easier as a parent to just let the TV do the babysitting or the technology do the entertaining. Parenting is HARD work. When we face a challenging child the tendency is to just wimp out rather than to persevere and teach character.

We are living in a time now where couples just walk away from the marriage instead of fighting hard to KEEP the marriage. Kids noses are stuffed in their phones/computer rather than met face-to-face with a parent/mentor. We look around at today's youth (a large majority) and shake our heads and wonder what's happened. HELLO??!!! ... we are PART of that equation! That didn't "just happen".

It must start at home. We must be ready to work hard and fight hard for our families. Then we must reach out to others that are struggling and walk with them .. open our home to them ... open our hearts to them. That all will require us laying aside our selfish agenda, entertainment and pleasures.


At 11:30 AM , Blogger Tessa said…

Adam and I talk about this issue all the time. We figure that it's because our generation has been raised to be "independent" aka selfish. I think that people have forgotten that we need to raise or children to be interdependent instead. People, it seems, have a child to wear them as an accessory. They want parenting to be convenient. They want the child to fit into their current lifestyle and aren't willing to make sacrfices for the bettermet of the child. Then the child gets a little older and they figure "let's have another one to entertain the first so we don't have to anymore." It's so sad :(

And I too hate the comments about "what's wrong with the next generation?" because the people that are making those comments are the ones who raised them. I wish that being a SAHM didn't result in the question "that's all you do?" but instead people would start to think it as "you won't regret it. The sacrifices you make to be a SAHM will totally pay off."


At 11:36 AM , Blogger Karen (Canadian Soldier's Wife) said…

Look at an even bigger picture... not just this generation but the couple before it. Our grandparents worked hard to have very little, they had a strong ethic but in a material sense it didn't get them very far and their kids felt the pinch.

Our parents grew up with the idea of doing better than the previous generation, of having more, of making it, of making sure their kids had more than they did. And they did! And we had a LOT more than some of them. A quarter for a gumball was not a big deal to anyone born in the 70s and beyond, but it was a big deal a generation before that.

Now there is us... raising our kids. We were raised by a generation of parents who were more set on making sure we had a happy childhood and had all they things they didn't, and it contributed to a real sense of personal entitlement. We are used to getting what we want without having to work for it. It takes a whole lot of work to get over that mindset and set it aside when confronted with challenges, because really, most of us haven't HAD any real challenges before.

Also there was the shift where more and more of what parents used to teach became the responsibility of the school and Sunday School... except they couldn't do it as well. And credit cards got easier and easier to obtain, even for kids barely out of high school, so why bother waiting and saving for what's important?

So you have a generation of kids whose parents bought into the lies of self-esteem, entitlement, and extended adolescence... and we're trying to raise a new generation of kids, with most of us never having been taught how to do it, how to set aside self, how to organize ourselves, how to manage our money, how to delay gratification. It's hard. Most of us are fighting to learn lessons in our thirties that we should have learned when we were twelve. And a lot are checking out rather than bother to put in the effort, which is really sad. :(


At 1:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Hi Sheila, I love you article and strongly agree with your perspective. As the mother of a child with ADD I hope that you do not feel that that diagnosis is invalid as I noticed you referred to it as a "disease". I certainly feel that sometimes children are incorrectly diagnosed, and that a parent has a huge impact on whether or not these diagnoses will be made. Just remember sometimes it is a valid diagnosis, and a challenge for parents. We need to be supported, not questioned or looked down upon.


At 1:49 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Love these comments! If I didn't have a moral problem with plagiarism, I'd just copy and paste and make a column out of what you've all said!

And Anonymous, so sorry for any offense! I think I wrote that sentence too hastily about ADD, so let me try to explain my feelings a little more.

My husband's a pediatrician, so let me give you his perspective. He thinks that a minority of cases that are referred to him for ADD are real, actual, biological ADD, which is not a "disease", as you said, but instead a spectrum disorder. For these cases, there is no real environmental (ie. parenting) cause, though good parenting can make it more bearable and reduce its impacts.

I think that's probably what you're talking about with your child!

But, and you'd probably agree with me here, many instances where parents and/or teachers complain that a child "has ADD" are not true ADD. It's just simply a child who lives in chaos and can't calm down and is easily distractible. These are the cases that are increasing, and unfortunately, too often these children are medicated rather than dealing with the actual environmental/parenting causes.

The problem is that this second group is getting so large that people then start to blame parents for the first group (the true ADD), where parents are not to blame.

I'm afraid I conflated the two in my post, and I certainly didn't mean to!


At 2:01 PM , Blogger Amy Sullivan said…

I agree with a lot of what this post says, but the one statement that especially hit me was the part on entertainment.

Yes! People (kids and adults!) think they should be entertained 24/7. The TV, computer, wii, and countless classes. What ever happened to the idea of creating your own fun?


At 5:00 PM , Anonymous Pollyanna said…

And don't forget the two working parent households: race to work, race home, race to/through dinner, race to bed, only to get up the next morning and do it over again.

Cooking a "good" dinner like we grew up with in the 70s didn't happen in 30 minutes or less. Preparing dinner took time. Families don't have that time anymore if they don't get home from work/daycare until 6.

When you come home exhausted, which is easier: encourage your children to play without TV help, and spend time and energy breaking up the inevitable siblings fights (as you're trying to unwind from your day and make dinner for your family) or turn on the TV so you can have a few moments of quiet?

In the quest to have MORE! and BETTER! than previous generations, there is the belief that we have to give our children more and broader experiences: sports, dance, volunteering, etc. which eats into family time.

And we get home so late from work/school/activities that if we put our kids to bed at 8:30, we wouldn't actually get to see them.

And somewhere along the way "we" decided that parents should be less of an authority figure and more of a friend to our kids, so as not to hurt their fragile self-esteem (or some such crap).

As you said, there are many factors contributing to the change in parenting style many of us grew up with. Sadly, I don't think getting it back will be easy, or even possible.


At 9:10 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Wow, Pollyanna, great comment! I wish I could just copy and paste and use that as a column, too!

I think you're right about the dual income families. I didn't even put that one down, but it's so basic, isn't it?


At 8:57 AM , Blogger Brenda said…

Wow. Reading this just makes my head spin at how quickly it has all changed. You are right. What was basic in the 70s is not any longer. That's a really quick change to a society, dont' you think?
Your reasons are good and your explanation of ADD in the comments is true from my experience as a teacher as well.
I think the biggest thing to me is: God is a God of order, not confusion. So, shouldn't my home be orderly? I realize that line of thinking won't work for non-Christians, but it will work for this family. Who, because of our "old-fashioned values" are looking more and more weird. :)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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