Ah, the things we did as parents. And the things our parents did to us!
Criminal behavior, all of it, right?
And yet, some old-fashioned parenting practices don’t seem half bad at all. Letting your child play baseball and basketball spontaneously with a cursory, “Be home when the streetlights come on,” used to be the norm. Now everything is organized. And supervised. But is giving a child a little independence (“You’re 10. Yes, you can walk to your friend’s house”) really so horrible?
Some things we did as parents would land us in trouble with the authorities if we did them today. And many a thing should. But a few of these items below are so right-on perfect parenting that wouldn’t we love to see them make a comeback?
1. Doing activities without parents
I went skating with just my friends, alone. My kids went skating with just their friends, alone. I got myself dressed and walked to the pond. They got themselves dressed and walked to the pond. I stayed home alone for a few hours after school when I was in sixth grade. I walked to the movies with my best friend every Saturday. I was babysitting when I was 11. This is how children learn to be independent.
2. Buying toy guns
My father bought me a cowgirl outfit when I was six. It included a holster, caps, and a gun. I practiced being a sharpshooter like Annie Oakley. Sometimes I just banged the caps with a rock. I liked the sound they made. I bought my kids cowboy outfits, too. They liked the smell of the caps. Does this create children who are more violent or prone to guns? Few kids play with toy guns today. Instead they play video games, which simulate shooting people. Aren’t toy guns benign next to this?
3. Leaving kids in the car
Hard to believe but sleeping babies used to be left outside in their prams while their mothers waited in line at the butcher or baker, or sat, (always with a view of the baby, of course) nursing a cup of coffee and a cigarette? Ditto for sleeping babies left in cars while their mothers dashed into a store for milk or bread or a pack of cigarettes. But no one ever thought, someone might take my baby. This is unsafe. Today, the police would be called in seconds.
4. Buying candy cigarettes
It sounds bad but my mother used to buy me candy cigarettes. While she smoked the real thing, (this is bad, too) I puffed on fake ones. There were three kinds: chocolate, sugar, and the penultimate, sugar cigarettes that blew what looked like real smoke. I liked those the best. My mother sat in the driver’s seat, I sat in the passenger seat, both of us blowing smoke out our windows. A head-shaking offense, but hardly criminal.
5. Eating processed foods
Before yogurt and gluten-free snacks and organic coconut milk, there was bologna, processed American cheese, and Wonder Bread. It was my school-day lunch. It was my kids’ school lunch, too. I had Snowballs (remember those pink, foamy confections sprinkled with coconut on the outside and chocolate cake on the inside?) for dessert. My kids had Ring Dings. Maybe it’s nutritionally smart that that we’ve moved on to healthy grains and raw vegetable as a culture. But bologna and cheese? Yum.
6. Playing on cement
We hung from monkey bars, climbed metal slides, see-sawed and pumped and spun until we were dizzy with no ground cushions! Crazy? Yes! Cushioned playgrounds have saved many a child’s bones. But children played tag and dodge ball and roller skated, too. And ran everywhere. Now children run and play only when they are padded and protected. Is our culture maybe just a little too obsessed with safety?
7. Driving without seatbelts
Kids in cars, sitting in the front seat unbuckled, sitting in the back of a station wagon being tossed around like loose change. This was a big mistake. But there were no seat belts in cars for decades and no laws mandating them. Now we protect our kids because we know that seat belts and safety seats save lives.
Beverly Beckham writes for The Boston Globe. Bev’s e-book The Best of Bev Beckham is currently available for free to Globe subscribers if you click here.