Of the many millennial parenting styles (and there seems to be a new one every day), nostalgia parenting is having its day in the sun. I’m not naive enough to think that every mom was June Cleaver in a fit-and-flare dress, and I definitely think we’ve got it right with current practices involving feeding our kids and keeping them safe. But if we were to lean more toward vintage child-rearing in other aspects, I don’t think that would be such a bad thing. There are actually quite a few things that parents did in the ’50s that millennial parents should consider bringing back, myself included.
Obviously, I wasn’t alive in the ’50s, but my grandma was, and she raised three kids in that era. Gram was always more of an enlightened parent, and she was the only woman she knew who breastfed her babies. In other ways, however, she was a product of the times. For example, she didn’t learn how to drive until 1965. Compared to my daughter’s playdates, dance classes, and Spanish pre-school, my uncles and mom had a simple, yet joyful childhood. In a lot of ways, I think they were better off than the kids of today. And of course, it’s worth mentioning that when I say ’50s parents, I’m referring to white middle-class parents. Truth be told, and according to a history that’s rarely taught in schools, this particular time period was vastly different for people of color.
And I’m not saying that we should go back to spanking, smoking, blindly conforming to gender roles, and blaming moms for everything while simultaneously requiring them to shoulder the full burden of raising children, either. There are more than a few parenting philosophies I’m glad we’ve, as a culture, left behind. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from parents like my grandma. This common-sense ’50s parenting practices might be just what this generation of children needs:
They Paid More Attention To Each Other
In the 1950s, children weren’t the center of the family universe the way they are now. Parents were the most essential pieces of the family unit, and although it wasn’t necessarily equitable (read: at all), the marriage was the central relationship.
Honestly, prioritizing my husband (and myself) is something I have a hard time doing now that I’m a mother. I’ve realized, though, that it’s really good for my daughter to learn that when I’m talking to her father, she has to wait. Not allowing everything to revolve around our tiny, tyrannical toddler is good for our marriage, too.
They Trusted Their Children
People refer to permissive parenting like it’s a bad thing, but it’s essentially a child-rearing practice rooted in trust. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to send my kid to the store for a carton of eggs, but I probably don’t need to stand so close to her when she goes down the slide.
When parents give their children responsibilities, they send the message that they trust in their abilities to make good decisions. Many of our children walk in such insecurity exactly because of our hyper-vigilance. A little trust goes a long way toward building self-confidence.
They Taught Manners
I can’t tell you how many second and fourth graders I’ve had to teach common courtesies to. Turns out, they’re not all that common. They used to be, though, or at least we’re told they used to be “back in the day” by our parents and grandparents, who are as impacted by nostalgia as the rest of us. Still, I’ve been told a time or two that ’50s kids would never dream of saying, “I want.” No, sir. “I would like…” (not to mention “please” and “thank you”) were the order of the day.
I don’t think it’s old-fashioned or authoritarian to require politeness. Manners are a way of showing respect and help create positive impressions. It was a mountain I was willing to die on, and I now have a daughter who says, “Thank you, Mommy” to anyone who gives her food.
They Kept It Simple
According to family psychologist John Rosemond, 1950s parents gave very conservatively. They didn’t indulge their kids’ whims or inundate them with things. Likewise, they didn’t plan their activities. Children not only learned to be grateful for what they had and take care of it (bike broke? Guess you’ll figure out how to fix it), they also learned how to entertain themselves. I think we millennial parents need to take a note here. Not only do we not need to replace our kid’s iPad that cracked when they dropped it — maybe they don’t need it in the first place. They might have just as much fun with sticks and boxes if we weren’t constantly plying them with $200.00 pint-size motorized vehicles, Nerf guns, and Barbie dream houses (and not expecting that kind of stuff can only be to the good).
They Made Kids Play Outside
My mom likes to tell about the summers she and her brothers spent at the swimming pool. The kids would walk to the community pool in the morning, swim all morning, come back for lunch, go back and swim all afternoon, and be home for dinner. They rode bicycles, made mud pies, and generally had free reign of the neighborhood.
According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends four to seven minutes a day engaged in unstructured outdoor play. We have to get our kids out from under their screens. Nature is good for kids in so many ways, and when they spend all their time indoors, they miss out on opportunities to build confidence, creativity, and imagination, not to mention physical exercise. Gram wasn’t wrong when she said, “Go outside and play!”
They Had Family Dinners
Sitting down to eat dinner as a family was an expectation rather than a special occasion in most white, middle-class 1950s households. In some homes, children were expected to be seen and not heard, but in my mom’s family dinner was a time to talk about your day. I’m not saying it was a Leave It To Beaver conversation about whose day was more pleasant than whose, but it was an important and valued daily ritual.
In the hustle and bustle of modern millennial life, we tend to sacrifice family dinners for extra-curricular activities, and it’s to our detriment. According to The Family Dinner Project, shared mealtimes promote academic success, resilience, and self-esteem.
They Hosted Birthday Parties At Home
Here’s what a 1950s birthday party looked like: a homemade cake, candles, and a rousing game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. That’s it. Nary a Chuck E. Cheese, fondant-covered cake, or photo booth in sight.
As millennials, we can be a little extra (*guilty*). There’s pressure to host birthday parties at locations like bowling alleys, trampoline palaces, and play gyms. My husband and I have decided to go retro and do our kid’s birthdays at home. Still, I answer the call of the Pinterest siren, and I know there’s no way my grandma would have wasted her time making fairy pretzel wands.
They Made Their Kids Do Chores
My mom claims she did dishes, set the table, and made her bed every day by the time she was in first grade. She started cooking, doing laundry, and dusting and vacuuming by the time she was 10 years old. At 13, she did everything Grandma did. Her brothers mowed the lawn and helped maintain the family car. It was gender-stereotypical, yes, but everyone contributed.
According to The Observer, modern day children are required to take on only the most trivial of responsibilities. Kids who do chores are more grounded and likely to develop a caring attitude. So even though letting my 2-year-old toddler “help” results in more work for me for the moment, I don’t want to discourage her. She feeds the kitty, puts dirty laundry in the hamper, and pushes dirt around with a broom. As she gets older, I plan on increasing her responsibilities.
They Didn’t Push Academics
Ask anyone who grew up in the “good old days” if their parents used flashcards with them. I doubt you’ll find even one. To hear them tell it, most of them didn’t know their ABCs prior to starting first grade, and they did just fine.
As a former teacher, I’m totally on board with this parenting tactic. I think pre-school is a place to learn to follow directions, cooperate, and make friends. Letters and numbers shouldn’t take the place of this more important learning. A lot of 5-year-olds aren’t developmentally ready to read, and by pushing it, we just make them hate school. And that’s not good for anybody.
They Allowed For Failure & Disappointment
Don’t hurt me, but I’m going to go ahead and say that ’50s parent did a better job of preparing their kids for the real world. That’s just my personal opinion, of course, and it’s a pretty difficult belief to back up with facts. But I don’t think parents of the “olden days” spent a significant amount of time attempting to shield their children from the natural consequences of their actions. Likewise, they didn’t think it was such a terrible thing if their kid wasn’t the best at everything. After all, a little humility never hurt anybody.
When we shield our children from consequences, jump to their rescue, and micromanage them, we rob them of the chance to build self-confidence from solving a problem on their own. We become a crutch for our kids. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the mom e-mailing the college professor because my daughter failed her exam.
They Disciplined Each Other’s Children
1950s parents really believed that it “takes a village,” and they were much more involved in their communities than we are now. (Do you know your neighbors? I don’t.) My mom says there was an understanding of any mom on the block was allowed to spank you.
I don’t think we need to go back to the days of constant corporal punishment, but would it be such a bad thing if kids were accountable to more adults? As it stands, I don’t really speak up at the park when a kid is playing to rough or using foul language, because I’m afraid the parents will scream at me.
They Conveyed Confidence
1950s parents knew who was in charge. They were the “big people,” and they made the “big people” decisions. Honestly, it’s a bit authoritarian for me (the whole “because I said so” thing), but I’m all for authoritative parenting. Kids need to be given choices (within limits) and have a voice, but there are certain things that we decide because we know better (buckling up, for example).
There’s quite a bit of cajoling that goes on in modern parenting, and it makes me uncomfortable. I get it — we don’t want to crush their independent spirits, but I shouldn’t have to beg my kid to throw away her trash. When I ask her to do something, I usually say “thank you” before it’s done because I think it sets the expectation that requests will be complied with.