How many times have you heard this (or how many times have you said this yourself): “My parents used to [fill in the blank with bad thing here] and I turned out ok.” It could have been: “let me drink pop with every meal”, “let me eat a Twinkie every day”, “packed Chef Boyardee pasta for my lunch every day”.
Or “When I was growing up, I [fill in the blank with unimaginable thing today], and I turned out ok.” It could have been: “ride in the front seat when I was four years old”, “sit in the back of the station wagon – no seat belts”, “walk to school on my own when I was five”.
It’s true, parenting has changed. As with most things, the Internet is largely responsible. We have so much access to so much information that we almost know too much. And because everyone pretty much has equal access to the same information, it seems to give us all permission to judge other parents. Did our parents parent out of sheer ignorance then? Did we really need to know as much as we do today? Does all this information beget paranoia? Would we be better off not knowing so much?
I’m of two minds on this one.
On the one hand, I do feel that today’s parents are in many ways too rigid, too black and white. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything where it concerns your child. That’s really hard for parents. I remember when DQ was a newborn and soothing this child to sleep was not the easiest task in the world. After reading a sleep training book that was so regimented about how “you MUST do it this way”, I felt like such a failure when DQ did not comply with what I thought was the Magic Bullet for sleeping. When I was a baby, I’ve no doubt my mother just let me sleep whenever I wanted to sleep; and I turned out ok.
On the other hand, with the passage of time, there is a great thing called “progress”. Yes, it’s true I never wore a seat belt when I was a kid, and my mom carried me in her lap in the car when I was a baby. Yes, I turned out ok. But really, I could just as easily have died. Seat belts and infant car seats are modern inventions meant to protect and save lives. If you can improve the chances of surviving while driving to the grocery store, wouldn’t you want to?
I’m also certain my father smoked when I was in the room as a baby and child. I’m ok now, but there’s still a chance I will die of second-hand smoke. Some scientific discoveries – such as “smoking kills” – will help many but be too late for others. But that’s the nature of progress.
I am most conflicted when it comes to stranger danger. The facts seem to indicate that most child abductions are by family members, and that child abductions may have actually gone down in the past several years. So why do we have such fear of leaving our children to play on their own in the playground? It’s simply because when a child does get abducted, it obliterates all other news stories of the day. It’s right to make people aware and spread the news, because it increases the chances of finding the child quickly. But it also breeds fear and paranoia and exacerbates an issue that really isn’t a bigger societal problem.
While I feel like I should be able to leave DQ to play at the park on her own, what I fear more than her being approached by a stranger is my being judged by other parents who see her alone. “What kind of parents would leave their child alone to play in the park? Do they have any idea what could happen to her?!” I can already hear all the mean whisperings. I walked to the local swimming pool on my own every day in the summer, starting at the age of seven. I always made it home unharmed and was never once approached by any strangers. Yes, I turned out ok. I know DQ would as well. And yet, I cannot let go, just yet.
What did your parents do that would be unheard of today? Did you turn out ok? I’m guessing the answer is “yes”.