My kids are coddled like every other child on the planet. They get participation trophies. They have gigantic water bottles so that they won’t ever dehydrate. They get stickers at Target for being in the cart, even though their behavior is so deplorable I often threaten to leave a few behind. That is the way of our world. We as parents have become soft. The second you attempt to assert tough love you are labeled an a-hole parent by the rest of the pearl-clutching mothers at pick up.
We thirty-something moms were raised by a different pack of wolves. If we didn’t follow the rules, it wasn’t about a gentle consequence like losing a marble from the good girl jar. Our parents pulled out the big guns. Today’s sweet and loving Grannies and Grandpas, whose grand babies can do no wrong, were not kidding around thirty years ago. They taught us lessons that we will never forget.
I am a mother of three boys and one girl, a mirror image of the family that I grew up in. Having four kids is often chaotic, but I guess because I am from a large family it isn’t the ginormous challenge that the world assumes it is. Having said that, I certainly have my fair share of, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” days. But when I am at my worst, it is comforting to know that my mom was in the exact same place and somehow she made it through. I will often reflect on my own childhood experiences and think how lucky I was to have been raised in a loving family in the 1980s because if I pulled any of my parents’ OG child-rearing hacks today, I’d be in jail. Or at the very least, the confessional.….
Clean up, or else
Today’s child has a chore chart on the wall outlining their daily responsibilities with a corresponding magnet that they can move from one side to the other so as to earn their daily sticker and, ultimately, a prize at the end of the week. In the 1980s you had the, “I swear to God if you don’t clean up this room, I am throwing all of your crap out the window,” method. Parents didn’t just threaten, they followed through. The entire contents of my brothers’ bedroom went flying from a second story window and when my mom said she wouldn’t pick one thing up, she meant it. No,the family’s dirty little secret was never shared with anyone; but the lesson was learned and nothing took flight again. Today, the neighbors would whip out their iPhones to capture video, post it on Facebook and my mom would end up on Dr. Phil defending her boot camp-style parenting.
If you want to leave, go
If a child today threatened to run away, parents would have a mental breakdown. Why are you unhappy? What can I do better? Is there something that we can do to improve your living conditions? When I was a kid if you wanted to move out, your mother would help you pack. As a matter of fact, if you were lucky, she’d grab the gigantic Samsonite from the basement. There were no wheels of course, but it was nice and hard and made a great seat when you needed a rest. She’d pack up all of your clothes, something fancy for church on Sunday, perhaps a swimming suit in the summer, and you’d be on your way. It’s unlikely that you’d make it too far past the front stoop carrying all of your worldly possessions. However, you’d have plenty of time to think the plan through, just as your mother had intended.
You will eat this or starve
If you were a kid in the 1980s you probably had the pleasure of culinary delights like Chicken Tonight, Manwich or if it was a special occasion Bagel Bites and Totino’s Pizza Rolls. No matter what was placed on the table, that was the only option. No one was concerned that you didn’t like the way it looked, smelled or how it felt in your mouth. Dinner was served. And if you were hungry, you would eat it. If you refused, you would be forced to sit with your cold chicken and dumplings, under dimmed lighting, while the rest of the family went to watch ALF without you. If you didn’t eat said dumplings, there would be no other food offered until breakfast. You would legit go to bed hungry and live to tell the tale the next day
Do as I say, not as I do
Going out to dinner was a luxury when I was a kid. Sure there were plenty of fast food joints with outdoor play places that caused permanent scarring from their metal joy rides, but a sit-down meal was a treat. When dining out, party manners were expected, and so help me God; you had better never let anyone know how old you were. Even if it meant keeping your coat on for the entire meal to hide your blossoming chest or ducking down really low in your seat, under no circumstances should the establishment ever question whether or not you were 10 and under. There was no kids eat free with an eligible adult in the good old days. Everyone had to pay their own way, but fathers in the know had a plan. Children were prepped in the car. You are never older than the age limit for a kid’s meal. Is that clear? You will graciously accept a kid’s menu. Do you understand? Only water and soda have free refills. Don’t even think about ordering chocolate milk. Got it? Once you were clearly too old, your father became “Mr. I look so young for my old age” and would start ordering off the senior citizen’s menu to balance things out.
Don’t make me turn this car around
Vacation was a time for the whole family to pack into the station wagon and hit the open road while your mom yelled directions from that, “damn Rand McNally,” she could never fold, while your dad took long angry drags from his Salems. There were no five point harness personal utopia’s containing tablets preloaded with educational videos and apps. You played the license plate game and beat the hell out of one another for a window seat. You’d hope for a quick nap in the car before you checked in to the hotel and spent the next six nights sharing a double bed with all five of your siblings. Vacation came with no itinerary, no day trips or jaunts. Your trip consisted of the hotel pool, third-degree sunburns, bee stings and you cried when you left because you couldn’t wait for next summer.
It was a simpler time with fewer distractions. Families were big and weird and so many of them were unbelievably happy. And aside from that one summer when my brother fell from the brand new swing set and probably broke his foot, but we’ll never know because it was the 4th of July and no one was going to the ER because, “it would be loaded with idiots who’d burned themselves with firecrackers!” I think that my parents and the rest of the neighborhood moms and dads were really on to something.……
(This post originally ran on Come On Colleen)
About the author: Colleen Dilthey Thomas is a sister to three brothers, a mother to three sons, a wife to one husband and an expert on absolutely nothing to do with boys. She also has a baby girl, she’s not quite sure what to do with her either. Colleen is a Listen To Your Mother St. Louis Alum and her writing has appeared on BLUNTmoms, PopSugar and Scary Mommy. She chronicles the wise words of her sons, the Handsomes, and her own misadventures on her blog, Come On Colleen. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram to join the crazy.