My father-in-law, Howard Fournet, grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. The farmhouse was on Johnston St. (a gravel road then) in Lafayette, where the Albertson’s now stands. The University of Louisiana’s athletic fields were the Fournet’s cow pastures. It was hard living: the boys woke before dawn to milk cows, shared one bathtub’s water for ten, shared beds, and ate what they grew. One year the boys all failed school because of sleep-deprivation, when times got so bad they had to let the hired hands go and do all the work themselves.
For Howard, going to Army Boot Camp in World War II was a vacation. He got to sleep all the way to 6 am! Three meals per day, daily showers, clean clothes, his own bed! And “work” was playing soldier all day. He had never had it so easy.
As Billy Joel sings, the good ole days weren’t always good. As far as health goes, there were fewer vaccines, so kids got more bad infections- more meningitis, blood infections, pneumonias. Cars were less safe- no car seats or even seat belts, so kids got more horrific injuries in crashes.
While it wasn’t heaven when I was a kid either, many things were healthier. With fewer TVs and only a few channels, we spent lots more time outside playing. We had more recess and P.E. at school, more art, more music, less homework. We had more freedom to explore by foot and bike- the world was less crowded and our parents weren’t afraid of kidnapping. Eating was healthier- more home-cooking, and less junk food and prepared food. With all that exercise and good food, there was much less obesity.
In the old days there were some good child-rearing choices and some bad ones. This raises the question- what choices do we make now when it comes to diet, exercise, and other facets of child-rearing? What’s good, what’s bad, and what don’t we know yet?
When my friends complain about how hard we had it as kids, I think of the Monty Python skit about four guys who trade stories about their childhoods, trying to one-up each other about how rough it was. In Python style, the tales get progressively more absurd, until they are saying things like “We lived in a brown paper bag in a septic tank,” getting up at 3 am to clean the bag, eat “a handful of cold gravel” for breakfast, go to work at the mill for 14 hours per day, and once back home “Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!”
I didn’t have it quite that bad growing up, but like we mentioned above, many things are better for kids today than in the “good ole days.” There are more vaccines to protect kids from deadly diseases. Cars are safer and car seats protect kids better. We know more about healthy diets: cooking with less fat, high-fiber foods, buying foods grown locally, and eating less processed food.
However, we are unsure of some new things in child-rearing. One is organized sports. When I was growing up there was little league baseball and football, but most of our exercise was running and biking the neighborhood. Today kids spend way more time in super-organized sports- select soccer, baseball, volleyball, softball. Those kids are getting lots of exercise, but we don’t know if the injury toll from repetitive practices and increased intensity is worth it.
Another unknown is the price of kids having phones. It’s easier to stay connected with kids when they are away, and they can access lots of information from the net. But all that time texting and talking instead of experiencing the world around them- is that bad? And if they’re less bored because there’s always a phone game to fill idle time, is that good? Or is some boredom maybe better, forcing kids to play and think creatively, rather than playing the phone?
These are important questions for we parents as we raise kids. Choosing foods and vaccines and car seats is easy; life-style choices like sports and phones are harder. These are the Advanced Parenting choices not available in the Good Ole Days.