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Parenting ‘80’s Style

Parenting ‘80’s Style

| Sande Caplin |

Just for one day I’d like to be a parent to my children in the exact same manner my parents were to me, ‘80’s style, where feelings were rarely considered before harsh conversations were had.  There were days that if you couldn’t fend for yourself from sun up to sun down if need be, then you’d better be prepared to work with the adults in some capacity.  I hardly think my kids could exist in that kind of environment.  I wonder if it is the decline of morality and the rise of child predators that has caused the last few decades of well-meaning parents to become overly protective and borderline paranoid?  Or, is it that we just don’t expect as much out of our kids?

Did our parents feel exactly as we do, pondering over life’s dilemmas that we faced thinking how different it was versus the generation that came before them?   I’d love to hear my parent’s thoughts on the hot topic issues we parents face today.  Given that my dad (cross between Archie Bunker and Norm from Cheers) and my mom (sweetest, smartest, obviously the most patient woman on the planet) are no longer with us, I can only speculate on what they might say, but I think these might be some of the differences we would discuss.

Cell phones.  When you think back to the ‘80s did you ever envision, as a child, having your own cell phone?  No, me either.   Fortunately for me, my children will only settle for an expensive phone that I can’t afford and would not buy even if I could.  They scoff at the flip phones I hand them to use in case of an emergency, indignant that they’d use such a thing or gasp, make a call!  So, they don’t have phones.  In that sense, I’m similar to my parents because I don’t give in.  

Fending for themselves.  Now, I don’t mean spending the entire day on their own, choosing their own clothes, making their own meals, and finding ways to pass the time.  Actually, on second thought, that’s exactly what I mean.  My ‘80’s parents never thought twice about entertaining me on a day off from school or during the summer, it was never an option.  Lacking the internet, online games, Netflix, Roku, Redbox and the like, we were expected to fill our days (or not) with actual games, face-to-face time with friends, reading books, or just being bored.  My kids begin each weekend by asking me which parties we’re going to attend and what we’ll be doing during the non-party times.  I am their travel agent and party planner, all in one.  The thought of sending them out in the morning like my parents did with me, with no expectation of seeing them until lunchtime, and a quick command of “go play” seems absurd to me.  Back then, it was a natural expectation and one that I loved, to just get outside and be active.  Now, I have to give my kids an ending time, which is usually 15 minutes, when they can come back in or I can never get them out of the door in the first place.

Latchkey Kids end up o.k.  I know this one well, because I was the quintessential latchkey kid, arriving home on the bus every day without anybody there for a full two hours.  I got my snack, watched some television, and had the good sense to get the house cleaned up before my parents returned from work, and I was probably 9 years old at the time.  I’ve thought about testing the waters and leaving my son alone and have even tried it for a quick trip to the store.  But on my return I found him heating leftovers in the microwave, watching the sparks from the fork he left in there like it was the 4th of July fireworks.  At that point I decided my 2016 child had none of the common sense survival skills my 1980’s self had.  No more leaving that one alone.

Could my kids survive a 1980’s lifestyle?

Chores and punishments.  As an ‘80’s kid, I was expected to help out around the house with the same vigor as a full-time maid.  I got it, my parents worked so of course us kids were raised to clean, cook, and be fully-functioning members of the team.  Did I get paid for any of it?  Hell no!  I think my kids might belong to a secret kid’s union that I’m not aware of because the perplexed look of “you want me to do what?” is almost always followed by “how much money will I make for doing this?”  The other day my son said, “mom, I’m not your personal servant.”  I love to remind them that before we had television remotes, I was the remote for my father, getting up to change the channel, volume, or anything else he might need.  That concept completely boggles their minds.  And punishments?  Time outs?  My parents would laugh at the idea of sending me to my room for a few minutes of quiet reflection before continuing a conversation.  My favorite punishment I received from my dad?  The time he made me separate the black and white rocks that lined our entire house.  It took me every weekend for an entire month to do it.  I can’t remember the crime, but I remember the time I spent with those ridiculous pebbles and now I laugh that my dad even came up with that one.

Could my kids survive a 1980’s lifestyle?  Probably not, and they don’t have to.  Society, the internet, political correctness, a world that’s more corrupt, and technology require today’s parents to do things in a different way.  Still, it’s fun to think back on the old days and to feel somewhat accomplished for surviving that time as a kid.  It puts perspective on my parenting techniques and truly allows me to see that my parents weren’t crazy after all.  All the time I spent alone?  It allowed me to get to know myself apart from what other people thought of me.  Crazy punishments?  I learned there were consequences to every action.  Helping out?  I learned my mother wasn’t a short order cook and that good kids clean up, especially if the parents are away working.  The lessons from the 1980s, apart from big hair, Reagonomics, the Cold War, and what it means to be preppie, are invaluable.  I’m so grateful to have grown up as a 1980’s kid.  Thanks Mom and Dad!  Now kids, go out and play for 15 minutes, okay 10, then you can come back in.

Photos:  Good Hair Day by Enokson on Flickr, commercial use allowed.
Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981 by Matthew Yglesias on Flickr, commercial use allowed.

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