Parenting Then and Now – Freedom

When I was a kid my parents often sent me and my brother to the store to buy cigarettes.  Nobody thought they were bad parents.  Now, all of them who haven’t died, have quit smoking and they’d poop their pants if anyone sent their grandkids to the store for milk and cookies.

My great-grandfather would sometimes want to stop at a bar* when he was out with his children.  Women didn’t often go to bars in those days and certainly little girls didn’t, so he’d leave them on the front step and bring  bags of potato chips out to them or give them a couple of nickels for ice cream.

This was not a scary thing for my grandmother any more than going to the store was for me.  We knew the neighborhood, we knew the neighbors.  More importantly, the neighbors knew us.  The man at the Superette knew me and my parents and he knew they smoked Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims.  If I had tried to buy Camel or Lucky Strike, I would have had a problem.

Some people say that kids don’t have enough freedom these days and that parents hover like helicopters.  Maybe that’s true.  But I’ve noticed that a lot of what might have been called “freedom” was borne out of parental laziness, or sometimes parental need, rather than a philosophical belief in a child’s need for independence.

I’ve heard that, statistically, crimes against children are fewer now than they were when I was a child.  But maybe that’s because we don’t send them out alone to buy cigarettes.  What do I know – I haven’t read the studies.

So, do I say “our parents did it and we turned out of OK” as if turning out OK is any thing to brag about?  Do I say that kids aren’t missing out on some wonderful things that can only come from navigating their little worlds without adult interference?  The truth is I straddle this line and pick my way through one step at a time just like generations of parents before me.  And I hope I’m doing right.

Luckily I don’t smoke.

*Apparently, Neir’s is having something of a renaissance these days.

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6 thoughts on “Parenting Then and Now – Freedom

  1. anitvan says:

    The neighbours knew you. Bingo. Same here. We had a lot of freedom to “run wild” but you could always count on a neighbour to keep things in check.

  2. Sara McDaren says:

    Yeah, and there were usually people at home. Someone peeping out the window or sitting on the stoop.
    We took up collections and got permits to have block parties. We’d get a sprinkler cap from the police station to put on fire hydrants in summer – and the grown ups all stood around while we ran in and out through the street. Do people still do this grass roots cooperative stuff? Or is everything ultra-organized.

  3. George says:

    Interesting perspective I haven’t heard or thought of before. Years ago we had a great extended neighborhood in ways that are different today. Maybe families were home more often together back then and we’re more rushed, detached and busy in our lives to notice. I don’t know, but it’s an interesting thought.

  4. Julie says:

    Oh boy, that’s a challenge, isn’t it – to give our kids appropriate freedom in whatever context we live in today! We’re lucky to be in a fairly “safe” neighborhood – we know most of the neighbors, and there are a group of families we’re comfortable with, so our kids could kind of all “run in a pack”. But it’s just so different than when my folks were growing up, or even than when I was a kid (the 60s), and I think the biggest difference is people – usually moms – not being home anymore.

    Great story, though… there’s a corner store about a quarter mile away. We’d let the boys go down there on their own (especially in a group) to buy treats, or occasionally rent a video. Well, Kerry had told them they could rent something PG-13, but none of them were 13 yet. The very friendly East Indian man actually CALLED US to make sure it was okay to let them have it! Awesome.

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