August 18, 2013

Parental Overload: A Parenting Lesson from the 1980’s. ~ Lynn Shattuck

I am seven. I roam the streets alone on my Schwinn 10-speed. No helmet squeezes 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 from our houses. We’ll bring small piles of berries home to our moms, who will tell us to scrub the purple stains from our fingertips and chins.

I scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook: Why Cultural Gender Roles Messages Matter. Ten Ways to Improve your Child’s Self-Esteem. The Truth about Vaccinations.

As I read the titles of these must-read articles, my shoulders hunch. I hold my breath; the energy seeps out of my body.

Clearly, I have much to learn about parenting.

Recently, a friend and I chatted about how different times were in the 1970’s and 1980’s. 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 1970’s.

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 T. Berry 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 1980’s 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 70’s and 80’s 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 language classes and gymnastics while I was still in diapers.

But, the biggest difference I see between parenting now and in the 70’s and 80’s 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 BPA’s and GMO’s 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 1970’s and 80’s mama sisters (and the Eagles) could teach us something about taking it easy.

I don’t subscribe to pumpkincraftmama.com. Slowly, I’m learning to trust that if I need important information pertaining to my parenting, it will find me­—just like my mom always did at dinnertime, without a cell phone.

I need to give myself and my kids, a little space from all the opinions, information, hovering and over-scheduling.

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, 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.



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Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas/Ed: Bryonie Wise



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