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Tammy Swift, Published October 26 2013

Swift: Concerns big and small loom around parenting

Parenting has become so complicated.

I often feel sorry for today’s parents, who have to tiptoe through a veritable landmine of decisions from the moment they start planning for a child. Natural childbirth or not? Breastfeeding or bottle? Teach your infant sign language or just let him coo and babble?

Later, the responsibilities grow even bigger. How do you dole out positive reinforcement without raising a kid who expects a Nobel Peace Prize for his fifth-grade beetle collection? How do you give your child unconditional support without allowing him to live in your basement until he’s 43?

It just seems like things were easier when we were kids. Many parents of my generation weren’t so much helicopter parents as they were drone parents (content to sit in another county, parenting by long distance). By high school, we were pretty independent. No one texted or checked in with a parent 30 times a day.

My sisters and I were recently discussing what we thought were our parents’ biggest fears. Oh sure, Mom and Dad worried about some of the issues that parents worry about today: Will she hang out with a wild crowd? Will she ever outgrow her need to dress like Joan Jett? Will she someday be able to back out of the garage without scraping the passenger door?

But based on what my parents harped on most, their concerns seemed relatively mild. So here it is: My Unofficial Top 10 list for What My Parents Worried about Most in the 1970s and ’80s:

10. That we would eat watermelon in the house. Seriously, my mother hated watermelon juice the way that Joan Crawford hated wire hangers. “It gets on the floor and gets sticky and it takes forever to get the floor clean!” she used to lament. Due to this, we ALWAYS had to eat watermelon out in the yard. I remember visiting friends who blatantly and nonchalantly ate watermelon in the middle of the kitchen, RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR PARENTS. What? Why didn’t they just crack open a beer and light up a cigarette? Was this some kind of mystical, magical dream land?

9. That we would read in dim light and go blind. This was a huge concern from both my parents, who would sweep into the room, switch on the nearest lamp and huff: “Do you want to go blind?” The irony is that the need for bright reading light completely contradicted another one of my Dad’s great fears: That we would think money grew on trees, thus leaving on every light in the house.

8. That we would tickle our brother until he stuttered. I don’t know where this bizarre wives’ tale came from, but we heard it at least once a week. I think it was just a convenient way to get us to stop picking on our brother.

7. That we would roughhouse in the living room until someone gets hurt. This mantra always accompanied any outbursts of boisterous behavior. So did: “It’s always fun till someone pokes an eye out,” and “The kids are acting up; it’s going to storm.”

7. That we would do something that landed on our “permanent records.” This was a constant threat, although – to this day – I have no idea what a permanent record is, who keeps track of it or where it’s actually kept.

6. That you will watch PG movies. Before they invented the “PG-13” rating, a PG movie could still be pretty violent and/or racy. Parents seemed to live in fear that we were hopelessly impressionable and might watch “Friday the 13th watch “Xanadu,” and want to star in a bad rollerskating movie.

5. That you will miss church. Actually, my mother still worries about this, even though I’m 48. Dad’s concerns, on the other hand, weren’t really about his daughters, who he considered to be baffling, illogical and unpredictable creatures. For the most part, he focused on what he could control – like the cars we drove. Among Dad’s fears:

4. That you will shift the automatic into drive before the car is completely stopped, thus shortening the life of the transmission and convincing everyone that you are a fool who doesn’t respect machinery.

3. That he will send you into town for a tractor part, and the clowns at the dealership will send you home with something ridiculous, like a “muffler belt,” or a “Johnson rod.”

2. That you will date someone who prefers Fords.

1. That you will never get married and he will have to give away cattle to entice someone to marry you.

And when you finally do get hitched, who knows who you’ll find?

Probably some joker who drives a Ford, reads in the dark and eats watermelon in the kitchen.