Boy, is social media full of judgement these days. Between the political posts and the constant lamenting on the absurdity of the millennial generation (ahem, my generation), I feel pretty much like a loser and a failure on a daily basis. And no more so than when it’s my parenting in the hot seat. Helicopter Parents. That’s what the proverbial “they” call us. A bunch of hyper-vigilant, over protective nut jobs who are afraid to let our special little snowflakes ever suffer or struggle. Over the last couple of years I have been inundated with article after article, blog post after blog post, dedicated to demonstrating how childhood was so much better for those who grew up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, how much better off they are for having that kind of upbringing, and how lacking is the parenting of my generation.
I read a post a couple of days ago, written by a woman who appears to be an early Gen X’er, describing her 1970’s era childhood and how fantastic it was, all the while berating how different, and worse, things are now. A few gems she tossed out from the 70’s childhood:
– Her mother used to lock them out of the house every day to go play, unsupervised for hours, while she smoked cigarettes in the house and talked on the phone to her friends
– Her father used to drive their station wagon, beer in hand, with her standing in the front seat, no seat belt
– While playing unsupervised for hours on end, there was usually a kid bleeding from an injury and it was no big deal, nobody cared
– They got into all sorts of hijinks (read:illegal activity) that used to be just hilarious, and if they got caught a stern sheriff would give them a good talking to and they would be delivered home to their parents for punishment. Parents had no idea what they were up to, they had the freedom to learn life lessons on their own
I could go on but I think you get the gist of her argument here- the 70’s were a kid’s and parent’s dream alike because it was unsupervised, unregulated, freedom incarnate. Us crazy, neurotic millenials would really want to take a lesson because it was just the best. OK, wow. Where do I even start with this? I’ll take it point by point.
First, locking kids outside to smoke and blab the day away: Are you freakin’ kidding me? Smoking in the house? In 2017? I may as well put liquid crack in my kid’s sippy cup for how well that would be received. That is not only frowned upon, it’s now considered borderline abusive. Locking my kids outside for hours? Yeah, that’s considered neglectful these days; there is hardly a soul alive that would think I was an awesome parent for doing that. I would probably get the police called on me for such a thing.
Second, dad boozing it up in the car with an unrestrained child: Do you have any idea what would happen to me if I got caught pulling a stunt like that? Driving while intoxicated, driving with an open container, child not in the recommended safety harness or booster seat, child endangerment. I would go to jail and my kids would be put in state custody. I CAN NOT DO THIS! It can not happen; the consequences of this would be dire. Yes, the booster seat thing is annoying and getting over the top (seriously, I’m waiting for the day that kids aren’t allowed in moving vehicles at all, I swear that’s where it’s headed) but it’s the law. I didn’t make the law, I just have to obey it. Hell, we all do- seat belts are the law for everyone now.
Third, kids getting injured without supervision: This can get your ass in some serious shit in the new millenium. An acquaintance of mine let her children go up the street to play a couple of years ago, in a backyard, with no parents physically outside supervising. Long story short, an accident occurred and her son needed stitches. In the E.R. she admitted she didn’t know exactly what had happened because she wasn’t there and neither was the other parent. A short time later she got a visit from a social worker who grilled her about the incident; apparently these days when a kid gets hurt in an unsupervised setting it’s not fine, it’s suspicious, and something to be looked into. She was asked questions like: how often did her children spend time by themselves? Did they often play where there are no adults supervising? What safety measures has she taken in and around her home? So on and so forth. Ridiculous? Maybe. But it’s no joke; this woman was terrified about this situation, she was honestly afraid she was going to be in serious trouble. When kids get hurt in the 2010’s, trust me, people care.
And finally, in regard to the harmless childhood antics: That stuff is called crime these days. All of it. And there are charges pressed against teenagers; no one is going to get a shaken finger and “dad justice”. Kids now have real consequences, and parents can, too, depending on the situation. The older generation might laugh about stealing their parents whiskey and getting caught drinking in high school; no one laughs about that today. Your kid gets in actual legal trouble and as a parent you better get comfortable with the idea of jail, yet again, because you can wind up with charges, too. Modern parents better know where their teenagers are and exactly what they are up to, because there are no harmless teenage hijinks anymore; it’s all criminal, punishable, and consequential.
I have to wonder, and with all due respect, ask a question- members of the older generations, if your childhood was so awesome, why did you get rid of it? Your generation are the law makers, the legislators, the policy makers, the ones who have been in charge. If that was a great way to raise kids, why did you legislate it away? Because what was kosher for you or your parents to do sure as hell isn’t OK for us, and you all made it that way. Your childhood is essentially now impossible for my children to have. And it doesn’t stop with laws and legal system heavily influencing the change in parenting; the entire system we live under is different.
Hey Baby Boomer parents, did you ever have to deal with the tortuous and judge-y hell that is the Well Child Visit at the pediatricians office? Those appointments basically function under the Forced Over-Parenting Playbook. Were any of you older parents ever expected to know exactly, to the ounce, how much liquid your child drinks every day? How about exactly how many ounces of fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc? Were you ever expected to be able to tell a doctor exactly how many minutes of physical activity your child engages in each day? Exactly how much T.V. they watch, how long they brush their teeth for, how many times a day they hit the ol’ toilet? Because millenial parents are expected to track all of that and report back to the powers that be once a year. Every year. It probably would have been impossible to know those things back when your kid disappeared from your sight from sunrise to sunset. Parents like me have to have these answers because if you don’t, it’s not good; there’s lots of pursed lips, raised eyebrows, and scribbling in files if you say you don’t know. I assume the file goes into the Bad Parent drawer but I don’t know for sure.
Oh, and about all those modern parents who are waaaaay too involved with their children’s schoolwork and grades? That is expected now, too; schools actively work to get parents more involved. Each of my children’s teachers communicate with me on a daily basis via apps on my smartphone. If your child is not up to par in school the teachers want you to know- in today’s school system they can’t educate your kid alone, they need your help. The name of the game is Standardized Tests and every child has to nail those….or else. If a child is not where the state says they should be it’s your fault as a parent just as much as they fault the teachers, and we are never doing enough. Today, kids don’t fail; adults fail them. Your kid fails, you fail, too. It’s hard not to get all wrapped up in that, and feeling like you didn’t do enough to help your child succeed feels like shit.
Which reminds me- have parents of the past ever heard of sensory stimulation activities? Were you ever asked to do those with your kids? My son has a weak pincer grasp, it’s affecting his ability to write his ABC’s in preschool. I have to actually construct learning activities for him to get that fixed, and pronto- otherwise, he might have issues getting into Kindergarten. I’d love to send him outside all day for hijinks and unattended bleeding, but I can’t, because I need him to roll pieces of Play-Doh between his fingers and have crayon holding seminars, lest he fail preschool. Can’t have a Kindergarten flunky on my hands, oh, the judgement that would bring.
Child safety also has to be a huge part of my day because the news reminds us every day that constant danger is rampant and real, waiting to strike down our children. You really think I’m going to be cool letting my kids run around alone when my Facebook feed is full of stories about pedophiles and kidnappings every day? It’s persistently in my face; anytime a child is abducted the entire country knows about it, and posts about it. Don’t get me started on how scary it is when people post the websites that actually show you how many sex offenders live in your community, and which neighborhoods they live in. There is a veritable hot spot of them less than a mile from my home and people want me to know about it, but not worry about it. No problem kids, run along all by yourselves near Pervert Lane, I’m sure you’ll be fine! I mean, c’mon, I can only take so much information before it really starts to get into my head.
It was different for parents in the ’70’s and earlier; the news media wasn’t what it is today. If a kid got taken or sexually assaulted in another town, or state, or country you didn’t hear about it. It still happened, but you weren’t bombarded with it- not like we are. Now it’s pretty much a daily thing you are told about, and there are tons of media warning us parents to be careful, be vigilant, know the dangers! Even kids doing something simple like going to the swimming pool is something to freak out about. Every May, here they come: the dangers of drowning articles. You’ve seen them, the ones with the scary headlines and the dire warnings, shouting from the pages about how children drown in front of adults ALL. THE. TIME! Drowning is silent, never take your eyes of your children or they can die right in front of you, neglectful parents! The message they are trying to send couldn’t be more clear- take your eyes off your child, relax your guard too much, and they will most certainly meet a horrible fate. And worse, if something does happen to a child, the first questions from the peanut gallery are where were the parents? Why weren’t they watching? The saying used to be “accidents happen”, but nowadays the general consensus appears to be “All accidents can be prevented and if they aren’t, you’re a screw up.” But we are all idiots and assholes because we are watchful? Right.
Can you see how maddening all of this can be? We are simultaneously told to more and less, all at the same time. The line between enough and too much feels razor thin and is difficult to tread. I know, I know, some parents are taking things too far, I get it. But let me tell you, it’s hard to know when you are crossing the line from responsible parent into control freak territory. It’s blurry and the line is different depending on who you are talking to. Everyone has an opinion on the subject and they are rarely the same from person to person. I know that I, for one, am just doing the best I can to raise my kids to be the best they can be, to give them what freedom I legally and socially acceptably can, and to keep them off the pipe and the pole. I don’t have all the answers, I’m definitely making mistakes, but I’m doing what I can in the current day and age. Parents of my generation could use a bit less judgement and a little more understanding- life is just different in ol’ 2017, and that is not solely our blame. I’ll try not to suck if you’ll stop posting articles about how much I suck. And if it makes you happy, I’ll let my kids drink out of the damned garden hose- ya’ll are really big on that one. I mean, I pay money for expensive, more sanitary R.O. water for them to drink, but it’s whatever, I’ll meet you half way, OK?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make my son pick up a bunch of cotton balls with a pair of tweezers….damn that weak pincer grasp.