As a new mom, I constantly catch myself thinking, “I couldn’t live without a playpen.” Or, “I couldn’t make it through the day if it weren’t for the baby bullet food blender.” Then I think of how silly that really is. Of course I could make it without those things. People have raised children since the dawn of time without those products. This made me think of the way parenting has changed just in the last 50 years.
50 years ago, when my grandmothers were raising their babies, there were no disposable diapers. This is a foreign concept to me. I know many people choose to cloth diaper these days, and that’s a great way to save money and be friendly to mother Earth, but it’s such a foreign concept to me to consider that in yesteryear that was the only option. The thought of diapers that you could just throw away each time would have baffled our grandmothers. Mothers had to place their hands down inside the diaper and pin it shut while trying to shield the baby from being stuck. When I’m trying to wrangle my 9 month old into her diaper while she’s flipping and trying to crawl away from me, I can’t possibly imagine trying to cloth diaper her and not stick her.
My grandmother has told me many times that she remembers her mother sitting babies on the floor and then lifting the corner of a bed post and sitting it on the baby’s dress tail in order to keep the baby safe and in one place so she could get some work done. That sounds crazy to me, but I have a baby swing, a play pen, a jumperoo, and a walk around activity table. My great grandmother had none of those things. What she did have was many mouths to feed, so she had to get some things done. I’m certain if she had had the luxury of the products we have today she would have used them, but she did not. She had to make do with what she had.
Another big difference in parenthood today and then are all of the restrictions and laws protecting children that are now in place that were not then. For example, my grandmother has told me many times of traveling cross country with her family when my grandpa was in the Army. They’d pack up the wagon with the older kids sitting in the back area and in the floor while the baby slept on the seat between them. There were no seat belt laws and there were no car seat requirements. Also, toys and cribs were covered in lead based paint and who knows what else. I’m thankful for the laws that are now in place, governing these sorts of things in an effort to keep our kids safe.
We know a lot more today than we did 50 years ago about proper nutrition for baby. Fifty years ago, there was an alarming trend among mothers to believe that breastfeeding was for the less wealthy, so many mothers chose not to do so for fear of being looked down upon. Unfortunately, formula had not been invented yet either, so women generally fed their babies cow’s cream. That dairy created many issues for young babies as their guts were not designed to tolerate it. Thankfully, now we are more educated and know the benefits of breastfeeding our young and as a replacement for that we also have formula that has been made to supply baby’s nutrients. We also know more about feeding our babies and older children a more balanced diet than in the past.
Mothers these days face a lot more judgment than mothers of the past. I think this is mostly due to the invention of the internet and a society that’s always looking for reasons to fault someone. In a time when information is so readily available around every corner, all parents are expected to educate themselves on every single topic in order to make the best decisions for their kids. In the past, people minded their own business more and practiced more of a live and let live lifestyle. Parents were generally free to make decisions for their children without someone else constantly looking over their shoulder. The desire for perfection in parenting these days leaves many people feeling inadequate.
I think for the most part parents these days have an easier time in terms of having access to items that make our lives easier. However, parents of the past likely had a more enjoyable parenting experience because they were more relaxed and not living in such a fast paced world that demanded their children read by the age of 3. Overall though, I think whether you raised your kids 50 years ago or are doing it now, we can all agree that it’s the hardest job on earth. In fifty more years, I am sure that there will be new products and ideas that baffle my mind and I’ll think, “We didn’t have anything like that when I was raising mine. Must be nice.” But, people have a way of thriving with what they have, they always have, and probably always will.