The following article was written by Lynn Shattuck of Writing the Waves…Again
I am seven years old. I roam our neighborhood alone on my Schwinn 10-speed. No helmet encumbers my Dorothy Hamill haircut. My summer skin is brown and smooth. Later, my friend and I will pick blueberries in the pocket of woods down the street. We’ll bring them home to our moms, our fingers and chins stained purple.
Recently a friend and I were chatting while our kids screeched around the playground. We hovered near our toddlers while our preschoolers alternately hugged each other, climbed and fought. In between blasting our kids with messages about safety and kindness and taking turns, the subject of our own childhoods in the 1970s and ‘80s came up.
When our moms were pregnant with us, they may well have had a cigarette in one hand and a wine cooler in the other. They didn’t freak out over ingesting a little soft cheese. When we were babies, we slept on our bellies in cribs with blankets. Many of us were formula fed; none of my mom’s close friends breastfed their babies in the 1970s.
When we were older, we ate bologna sandwiches and fruit roll-ups and drank Kool Aid. We didn’t wear sunscreen.
And when our moms wanted to learn about parenting theories, they schlepped on down to the bookstore and bought a book by Penelope Leach or Dr. Barry Brazelton, or their mothers handed them a dog-eared text from Dr. Spock.
Most of us survived.
Guilt and doubt seem to be hardwired into our mother brains. I’m sure our 1980s moms doubted themselves. They had to worry about stranger danger and AIDS and whether they would become casualties of ascending divorce rates.
But they didn’t have the information overload that mothers today have, the dozens of conflicting theories on parenting. Attachment parenting, positive parenting, free-range parenting, French parenting. The hovering helicopter parenting that so many of us fall into.
And it seems to me that mothers in the 70s and 80s didn’t make things quite so hard on themselves. Sometimes they gave us spankings instead of trying to talk every little thing out using gender-neutral, politically correct dialogue. They weren’t so afraid to leave us in the car while they grabbed some groceries, or in the playpen while they read a magazine. My parents often hired teenage babysitters who tried to mimic Kim Carnes’ husky voice belting out “Betty Davis Eyes” while our parents enjoyed drinks with friends or caught a movie. My mom didn’t lug me to music lessons and baby sign classes and gymnastics while I was still in diapers.
But the biggest difference I see between parenting now and in the 70s and 80s is that our parents didn’t have the internet.
Sure, I can now find out the real lyrics to Billy Jean and what to do when my baby gets croup. But I can also instantly find 350,000 ways in which I’m parenting all wrong. I can feel less than because I don’t harvest my own pumpkins and make homemade agave-sweetened muffins from their pulp before I carve a Pinterest-perfect dollhouse from the hollowed out gourd. I can drive myself crazy reading about the pros and cons of circumcision and vaccinations. All the information about BPAs and GMOs does not help my OCD.
When I listen to all those different opinions and childrearing strategies, I get tangled up. The interwebs become a spider web, and I am dazed and constricted.
When I listen to all those different opinions, I can’t hear my own.
While spanking your kids, smoking during pregnancy and wearing parachute pants can be happily left in the past, our 1970s and 80s mama sisters (and the Eagles) could teach us something about taking it easy.
I don’t subscribe to pumpkincraftmama.com. I am learning to trust that if I need important information pertaining to my parenting, it will find me—just like my mom always did at dinner time.
I need to give myself—and my kids—a little space. From all the opinions. From all the information and hovering and overscheduling.
I’m trying to harness that freedom and spaciousness my little girl self had when she rode her bike around all by herself. Her culotte-clad legs so strong and dark. The whole street is hers. She takes a big breath, and her lungs fill up with sky. She knows just where to go, just what to do next.
Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit and truth telling at Writing the Waves…Again and her work has recently been featured in elephant journal.