Mothering is different today than it was when we were on the being-mothered end of the arrangement. The introduction of social media, the increase in mothers working outside the home, and the competitive climate of parenting were not around as much when we were kids. Because of this altered world we’re raising our kids in, there are many choices we make that are things our moms would never have done. Not because we weren’t loved, but because it was a different world then.
My mom never set up a schedule of play dates for me. I had the girl that lived down the street to play with. So if the girl down the street and I got into an argument, I was SOL on friends to play with until we figured it out. Occasionally we would go over to someone’s house, but more so the moms could have a cup of coffee and talk, and less for the social interaction of the kiddos, and I may or may not have liked the child.
Today, part of my weekly organizing includes filling out the family calendar with as much scheduled for the kids, as for adults or the family. I get texts, emails, and slips of papers with a parent’s name and number and a note about setting up a play date for my child and hers. My kids ask me to schedule play dates with this friend or that. I never even heard that term until I was a parent.
My mom rarely fed me fast food and processed food. I don’t remember getting whole collections of happy meal toys. Although, we had a friend who managed an Arby’s, so we did have the entire collection of whatever glassware was being offered – Smurfs, Chipmunks, Muppets, etc. I rarely saw my mom make something frozen that was just popped in the oven. She made lasagna, and fried fish, and cooked macaroni and cheese from scratch.
Today, I aim for fast food less than once a week. I give in and try to buy the least processed individual packs of snacks to toss in backpacks and lunch bags. I’ve gone back to making many meals from scratch, but only to balance the fact that at times I have to resort to processed convenience foods because our schedules just don’t allow home cooking. Add to it, there are aisles of frozen meals at the grocery store and a half dozen fast food choices in town and the pull can be downright seducing to exhausted and overextended parents.
My mom didn’t make elaborate treat bags and goodies for snack days and class parties. She brought in chocolate chip cookies she baked, or cupcakes she made at home with no fancy cartoon rings or plastic toys on top. She didn’t make bags of treats for Valentine’s parties or first days of schools with catchy slogans stapled on them. At class parties we had pretzels, cookies, and Dixie cups half filled with juice.
Today, there are seven treat choices, most of which have required three different snack items, google eyes and craft paper to prepare. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest and the ideas to be found there, but a classroom holiday party has started to look like Pinterest exploded in the room. And besides just the snacks, there are treat bags to go home from not just the teacher, but from classmates as well.
My mom never felt guilty about missing a sports practice or a field trip. She dropped me off at practice and picked me up when it was done. Or she dropped me and a teammate off, and the other child’s mom picked us up and took me home at the end of practice. She took her turn chaperoning field trips, and let other moms take their turns as well.
Today, there are often as many parents at the practice as there are kids. A baseball practice requires packing a lawnchair, a water bottle, and a snack – for the parents! Classrooms are packed full at every party and field trip because no parent wants to miss the special day. Planning a birthday party for your child now requires factoring every parent into the head count, not just the couple that you are close friends with.
This culture shift in parenting can be exhausting. Back when we were kids, parents were not constantly comparing one another on Facebook, and striving to be the mom who brings the cutest snack. Back in the day, parents weren’t so afraid to miss a single moment of their child’s experience growing up. Moms didn’t feel pressured into going on the field trips, and sitting at the practices, and staying up half the night making the treats and the goody bags.
Some of these things I have found I enjoy. When the weather is nice, I don’t mind sitting outside at my son’s flag football practice and watching him learn the game we love, or simply soaking up the sunshine and scrolling through my email while he plays. And birthday parties for my kids are my thing. I get into picking a theme and decorating and going all out just as much as they do. I love giving that gift of a completely special day to them. But a lot of the rest, I grumble and go along with it. Or sometimes I say f-it and just send in a box of plain old individually bagged Goldfish crackers for snack and don’t apologize one bit.
I wonder how long this cultural shift can continue to move along the scale of over the top and excessive parenting. Today it’s practices and party food; tomorrow will we feel compelled to follow them into the locker room and compete for making the cutest lunch every. single. day? I hope not, because I don’t have the energy for that. I am often asked by aunts or friends my mom’s age, “How do you do everything you do?” I usually shrug it off. But lately I want to tell them I have no freaking idea and I wish I could stop.
So seriously, can we all just pick one or two over-the-top parenting things we love to do, and leave all the rest to someone else? Because then we can all slack a bit. We can all miss some practices, and send in some crappy snacks, and get some rest the night before a school party. Thanks for your cooperation.
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