In the 1960s, as part of an overall, culture-wide paradigm shift, a sea-change took place concerning our collective understandings concerning the rearing of children. The two fundamental questions in that regard are and have always been: (1) What is the nature of a child? and (2) What constitute parent responsibilities toward a child? In the 1950s and before, those questions were answered in one way; since the 1960s, they have been answered in quite another way.
One parenting point of view was replaced with another. As I say in my latest book, Grandma Was Right After All!, the traditional point of view was represented by a set of parenting aphorisms that all but disappeared as the new, postmodern psychological view took over. For example, I am a member of the last generation of American children to be corrected when one of us acted too big for our britches. But then, our parents understood the commonsense of not sanctioning high self esteem.
In the good old days (when according to reliable statistics the mental health of children was lots and lots better than it is today), children were to be seen and not heard. In more direct terms, when adults were talking, children were to listen. They were not to interrupt. This assisted in maintaining a healthy boundary between adults and children. That boundary caused them to “look up,” to aspire to become adults (because they were not treated as if they already were adults, only shorter).
In the good old days, children lay in the beds they made. One’s parents made clear, early on, that one was responsible for the choices he/she had made. Today’s parents lie in the beds their children make. They also complain that child rearing is stressful. Get it?
In the good old days, parents told children to stew in their own juices. The parent was not going to be swayed by a child’s emotional outbursts. Today’s parents feel their children’s pain. When they make decisions that cause children emotional pain, they actually think their children’s pain (expressed as crying, shouting, screaming, and so on) is indication their decisions should be revisited. Lots of today’s parents complain to me that their kids are manipulative. Duh!
Once upon a time, money did not grow on trees. It still doesn’t. Today, it magically appears when a parent swipes a plastic card at an ATM. I wish I had some ATM money for every time a parent has said to me that her child acts entitled.
Baby boomers ate what parents put on their plates because there were starving children in the world. I credit unfortunate children in Europe, Africa, and China for why I enjoy eating stuff some people can’t even pronounce—borsht, for example. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen parents bring a plastic container of the only food their child will eat to group meals. Proper parenting is hard, or so I’m told.
Nearly every child raised in the 1950s was told he was just a little fish in a big pond. That’s a good thing for anyone to keep in mind. Humility, after all, is weightless. It must be a terrible burden to think of oneself as a big fish.
The burden is all the worse if the big fish in question is four or five years old.