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What happens when a modern mom parents like it’s the ’70s for a whole week

Independent play

If your kids are used to seeing you get down on the floor and create scenarios for their dolls, it may take some work getting them used to independent play. At first they may even think they’re being punished or tortured.
“What should I do?” my daughter asks after school.

“You can play.”

“With you?”

“No, by yourself… with all of the many toys you have.”

“But that’s no fun.”

“That’s what kids do. That’s what all of your friends from school are going home and doing right now.”

I don’t even believe my own words.

She settles down on the floor with LEGO. She creates a dance studio out of blocks and, five minutes later, asks me to provide the voice for one of her dolls. I sweetly explain that today she should make up her own voice.

“But I can’t! I need your voice!” 

She throws a tantrum.

Let’s try this again.

I suggest that she and her little brother, who was born with an independent streak, play together. They retreat into the playroom next door while I sit on my hands in the den and remind myself to not hover over them.

Three minutes later: “No, it’s MINE!” My son is trying to steal my daughter’s blanket.

My daughter is, from what I can hear, retaliating by snatching one of his action figures. He tries to take it back and ups the ante by swiping her Scooby Doo Mystery Machine. I can’t handle it anymore. I intervene and calmly tell them to return their possessions to their rightful owners. They do. I retreat to the den, and the Mystery Machine has been pilfered again. Someone is screaming.

“Mom, he has Velma!”

Me: “You’ve both got to figure it out.”

Five minutes later: I’m back in the playroom. Pages of my Jon Ronson book I’ve managed to read: one and a half.

Kids = 1. Me time = 0.

Lessons learned: 

  • My daughter cannot play alone. Maybe one day she’ll be that boss at a company who calls for countless meetings just so she can interact with people and suggest they bring in a potluck breakfast the next day to discuss more stuff that she could have just emailed them about. But I love her. And I’ll keep working on helping her play independently.

Adult TV time (aka “me time”)

I got myself into a bit of a pickle with one of my mom’s friends when I suggested all they did was watch soap operas all afternoon when we were kids.

“Not all afternoon,” she joked. “We had the occasional coffee klatsch too.”

The takeaway I got from this conversation was that it was OK to sit and watch an adult program in front of my kids once in a while, without caving into their demands for cartoons.

One afternoon while my toddler napped, I decided to put on my generation’s version of a soap opera: Sex and the City. My daughter, thrilled to be able to watch a “big girl show” with me, curls up next to me on the couch. Mind you, the last time I watched SATC, I didn’t have children, so I had forgotten that the show was less Erica Kane discovering the abortion she thought she had never really happened and more Samantha Jones dropping to her knees to perform fellatio on the Worldwide Express Guy.

“Look at this!” I throw a random piece of paper on my daughter’s lap just as Carrie is about to walk in on Samantha. I learned about open-mouth kissing watching Potsie and his girlfriends on Happy Days, but I wasn’t about to explain blow jobs to a preschooler.

She doesn’t even notice. A few minutes later, as Carrie and Berger (ugh) are enjoying their first date, she remarks, “They’re having a date, but you can’t have a date when you have school.” This is very true, I say.

Lessons learned:

  • Maybe kids won’t be traumatized by adult TV programming after all.
  • Maybe it’s not worth finding out, because modern-day adult TV programming is the equivalent of ’70s Cinemax porn.

Kids’ TV

Suspicious that all of their commercial-free television options were resulting in less-patient and more-demanding children, I offered only one kids’ TV channel during ‘70s week — one that has commercials.

After explaining countless times that PJ Masks doesn’t suddenly appear on television because you will it there, my daughter stopped complaining about not being in control of what she got to view and was happy enough to have TV on. The commercials, however, threatened to destroy the very fabric of her existence.

“Can you change the commercial? Can you please make it go away?” she asked several times.

“No, commercials are a part of TV.”

“But they’re so… there’s so many of them,” she whined. Silence.

“Ooh, I WANT Shopkins.”

Silence.

“Oh, I want that Barbie with the color-changing hair. Look, Mommy, you can change the color of its hair! I don’t have that!”

Silence.

“Can you please make the commercials go away?”

Me: “You know, when I was a kid, there was one kids’ TV show on, and if you didn’t want to watch it, you didn’t watch TV.”

“That sounds terrible,” she says.

Silence.

“Ooh, I want to have my birthday at Chuck E. Cheese!”

Seriously, the last straw.

Lesson learned: 

  • Commercial-free TV is a parent’s best friend. I’ll never complain about advertisement-free viewing options again. ’70s parents must have spent 18 out of 24 hours of their day trying to convince their kids they do not want birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese.

More: If I went to jail every time my kids went out alone, I’d be a prisoner for life

Park time

It’s 33 degrees F at the park, and my toddlers’ ears are red. I think about something my elderly German neighbors used to tell my mom when we were kids: The cold would make us “hardy.” I imagine I’m helping to regulate my children’s body temperatures and prepare them for future Shackleton-like voyages to the outer limits of the solar system.

In reality, all I’m doing is sitting on a park bench and refusing to get up from it unless one of my children gets hurt. Otherwise, I sit, ‘70s style, and let them explore and get filthy, meet friends who will be bad influences and just be, man.

Given their ages, it isn’t possible for me not to know where my kids are at all times, something I feel would have really added to my ‘70s experiment if my children were a few years older, but here’s the next-best thing: avoiding helicopter behavior as a friendship between two kids threatens to include a “third wheel.”

My daughter is happily playing with another girl her age when suddenly a third friend appears and the two trot off together, leaving my daughter behind and, in the mind of a 2016 parent, threatening her self-esteem and possibly changing the course of her entire life. I sit back and observe. My daughter runs up to them. They ignore her. She tries again and suggests they all play ball together. Within seconds, they’re kicking a Disney princess ball into the grass.

Imagine that: They figured it out without an adult’s influence.

As for my son, he attempts to scale a slide the wrong way. I do nothing. He struggles. He slips. He holds a tighter grip to the sides of the slide and looks back at me. I smile and say, “You can do it!” He does it. He doesn’t need me as much as I think he does.

The true test comes when my son discovers muddy puddles. Every atom in me wants to intervene because he’s getting disgustingly dirty and I can swear every mom in the park is looking at me, the bad mom, refusing to leave her place on the park bench.

muddy puddle colin
Image: Lisa Fogarty

This is also the longest he has ever gone — 20 whole minutes — playing by himself. He has learned that mud is fun to play in. I have been reminded that mud is fun to play in and that if I hold myself back instead of trying to prevent every mess or, in the case of my daughter, every potential upset, the reward is two confident, happy and exhausted children who both will sleep like babies that night.

Lessons learned:

  • Kids can and should play in cold weather.
  • Kids can and should get dirty.
  • Kids can and should work out their own playground conflicts.

Of course, none of these scenarios or lessons is exclusive to the ’70s, and parents these days do a lot of great things and take smart, safe precautions that weren’t the norm back then. But there are times, especially when you’re stressed and being pulled in every direction, when it helps to remember that great parenting comes in many forms — and that a mellow yellow approach can remind you that a kid’s health, happiness and growth (not the complicated Pinterest meals you whip up) are what’s most important.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

Misheard song lyrics
Image: Westend51/Getty Images


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