My 90-year-old grandmother had her first daughter over 60 years ago. She tells a story of when my aunt was an infant and was frequently fussy and irritable, and calm only when held. My grandmother, whom we lovingly refer to as mema, took her to the doctor. After a thorough examination the doctor told her quite matter-of-factly that my aunt had a case of the “mommies.” “Quit holding her so much and it’ll sort itself out.” And wouldn’t you know… it did.
If a doctor said that type of thing today he’d have his office nanny-cammed for some type of expose dubbing him a “child hating pediatrician” resulting in the loss of his licence. Okay, maybe not, but I’d be very shocked to hear a doctor say that today.
Today mothers can literally drive themselves to the brink of insanity with the lengths they will go to for their babies, and it still feels like not enough. There’s tremendous guilt. There’s an expectation that we mothers must intuitively know every single need of our baby, meet it before it’s felt, never stop nursing, never stop rocking, and never stop carrying. Years ago, you simply did what was necessary for everyone to survive and mothers’ choices weren’t anywhere near as visible or vocal as they are today.
I think there are some great things from the past and some great things from the present, and hope I can try to keep an eye on both as I mother over the years. The following are from my opinion and perspective, obviously. I know progress and technology are great, but sometimes, we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. With new cultural shifts, I believe some aspects of motherhood are now far more isolating than in years past (source).
Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories. John Wilmot
- household appliances (microwave, washing machine, and dishwasher)
- conveniences of food and transport
- access to tons of parenting resources
- easier access to healthcare
- more emphasis on kids’ emotional needs
- healthcare advances such as vaccinations, antibiotics, etc.
Our ideas of what is appropriate parenting are affected not only by broad beliefs about childhood, but also by our understanding of the psychology of the growing child. At the turn of the last century, there was little interest in this topic, whereas now it is a burgeoning field of research both in psychology and education (source).
- culturally, less respect for elders
- less focus on developing resilience in children
- over-protection and sheltering of children
- societal pressure resulting in guilt for mothers
- fear of hurting children’s feelings
- over-emphasis on making children happy
Better a snotty child than his nose wiped off. – English proverb.
- shift of focus from familial duty to self-esteem
- working children too hard to not giving many responsibilities
- large families to only children
- forced independence to dependence through early adulthood
There are three ways to get something done: do it yourself, employ someone, or forbid your children to do it. Manta Crane
I’m surely not saying that parenting 100 years ago would have been easier, or that motherhood today is worse. Times, technology and our world has changed so really it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Still, there have been some definite changes and shifts, and many drastic.
I think a much greater emphasis, in general, was placed on respect for elders. Also, more people had each other’s backs – if you got sent to the principal’s office, you got it at home! Now, you get sent to the principal’s office and Mommy or Daddy come out to school and try and wrangle with the school.*
The rise (or exposure) of postpartum depression
(Update: As a reader pointed out, many cases of PPD are due to chemical imbalance and not their circumstances, in these cases the below would not be triggers of PPD, but simply exacerbate the issue. Many cases of PPD, however, arise from lack of support, exhaustion, and difficulties in adjustment. I’d never mean to invalidate someone’s PPD experience by saying it’s all situational as sometimes it most definitely is not)
I don’t know whether postnatal depression has always been around, but just never referred to, or whether the sudden rise in exposure of PND is just revealing a problem that’s always existed. Some research shows that postnatal depression prevalent in industrialized countries and virtually non-existent in underdeveloped ones (Stern and Kruckman, 1983).
My personal opinion is that today, in our culture, the lifestyle change from maiden to mother is drastic. Pre-motherhood women are often working a full-time job with loads of free time to travel, do their hobbies, and spend time with loved ones. Post-motherhood, this changes to staying at home (for however long) or working full-time only to still be up half the night, no longer have time for others, and forget they ever had hobbies. Any major life changes require time to process and recoup, and motherhood doesn’t often give that space.
In contrast, even just 50 years ago, women were often centered around the home from the time they were married. Pre-motherhood at home involved cooking, cleaning, volunteering, and however else they wanted to fill their time. Personally, I think this would be an easier transition to motherhood since your environment hadn’t changed.
Adjusting to motherhood will always take time, but in our culture today, the change can be such a drastic one it takes years to recover.
Extended families are farther away
A friend recently posted on social media the article, I miss the village. In today’s world we are often isolated from those we love. Family and friends usually lives miles (if not states or countries) away, and support and camaraderie with neighbours isn’t as common. I don’t know if I’m the only one who loves reading Amish fiction (it’s a sickness), but if so you’d notice they embrace the opposite. They do life together.
Few would argue that the transition into motherhood (particularly those first few early years which are so demanding) is made easier when we’re supported. Years ago, streets were like families. You knew your neighbors, swapped babysitting, and found friendship and help nearby. Families used to live near each other. Growing up I lived less than half a mile from my grandmother’s house and I was constantly walking or riding my bike between the houses. Okay… it was downhill to my grandmother’s so I rode my bike there and caught a ride home.
Now, we spend more time with our friends online than in real life. We meet sporadically for play groups, church, or bible studies, but it’s far less common to have a day to day support network you can rely on in a jam.
Sadly, the old African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” feels less applicable.
We are scared of hurting our children’s feelings
There was a better refined line between a parent and a child where the parent was authority figure and not an oversized friend for the child afraid of upsetting and hurting his feelings.*
Have you read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom? Definitely not a “how to” book, it contrasts how the stereotypical Asian family raises a child with the stereotypical Western family. One of her claims is that, in the Western mothers’ pursuit of building and nurturing self-esteem, we actually mollycoddle our children. A practice that, in itself, prevents development of healthy self-esteem.
I’ve written many posts on the importance of nurturing our children’s spirits and emotions, so obviously I’m not against nurturing. However, I do think it’s important we don’t become so focused on protecting our children’s feelings that we abdicate our proper authority. Being told we’re wrong, we can’t have something we want, or that we must wait can even hurt an adult’s feelings. But that is life. Part of being a mother is helping our children learn to deal with disappointments and hurts, and if we orient our decisions based on their happiness, it will backfire.
The extremes of “children should be seen and not heard” to mollycoddling should both be avoided.
Things are considered “rights” as opposed to “privileges”
My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. Things weren’t taken for granted then. It was a period that etched deep beliefs, values, and truths into the hearts of those who went through it. They didn’t expect to be rich, think that good times are a given, or take prosperity for granted. Although everyone has probably experienced suffering and hardships to some degree, our culture and generation almost expect comfort and a high quality of life as a right.
I believe that we (myself first and foremost) have high expectations of being happy, content, and fulfilled. I find it difficult to adjust when life throws hurdles. I overcome, adapt and survive, but it takes its toll. When we live with the attitude that we are entitled to things (as opposed to earning them) it puts a whole new spin on parenting. If parents feel entitled, just imagine how entitled their children will be?
Expecting hard work and obstacles are slowly being replaced by expecting nice things and comfort with little work.
Each decade had its own struggles, and so many things are easier today than they were for our families before us. I hope that in the quest for progress and with our ever-evolving research we don’t make it even harder for mothers to get on with their job. One thing is true, more convenience doesn’t always equal an easier life. More convenience and more technology can also mean more isolation and more feelings of inadequacy.
The more people have studied different methods of bring up children the more they have come to the conclusion that what good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is the best after all. – Benjamin Spock
I’ve always felt like an old soul and fairly”old-fashioned.” I know I’m blessed to be alive today with the many conveniences and advances we have. So many diseases eradicated, medical technology that increases life expectancy, and the ability to go and see and do. And isn’t the best part of family that we can pass down what we know from generation to generation?
Ha! Would you consider yourself an old-fashioned or modern parent? Why?
*quotes from this thread on parenting changes