(Edited version of original 2019 post)
I am certain there was not a specific moment in the Seventies—when white, suburban Boomers began to reproduce in earnest—that parenting changed, but it did change. Many of us consciously or unconsciously decided we would raise our kids differently from how our parents had raised us. We committed more of our time to them than our moms and dads had committed to us. We played with our kids or read to them, or both, nearly every day of their young lives, at least until the middle school years when many of us began to back away—slightly. In their early years, we held our children close, literally and emotionally, and never tired of telling them how much we loved them, and if we were home in the late afternoon, we watched TV with them. A lot.
TV provided opportunities for us to watch with our kids by providing shows that were seductive in every good way, even for us. In 1968, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood appeared, and in the following year, Sesame Street began. I especially liked Fred Rogers because he liked me just the way I was, but more importantly, it was wonderful to be able to endorse a man who was antithetical to the typical American media male. And the characters on Sesame Street, both human and otherwise, were endearing and relatable. I can still do reasonably accurate Big Bird, Grover, and Cookie Monster imitations with an appropriate Muppet on my hand.
I think we actually began to enjoy our time with our kids at least as much as we enjoyed spending time with our friends, and my memory is that our kids responded in kind. Personally, I have no memories of my parents making an effort to spend quality, one-on-one time with me when I was a kid, and I suspect that my recollections are similar to those of other Boomers. Had I ever confronted my parents with my observations about the lack of quality time they spent with me, I can imagine them sitting on the sofa in the living room of 12 Clemson Drive in Cedar Cliff Manor, staring at me, pausing for a beat before glancing at each other and then back at me with expressions that conveyed, “What the hell are you even talking about?” My non-scientific sample of one has me thinking that worrying about how much time parents were spending with their kids was not even a thing in the Fifties and Sixties.
It seems what we Boomers began in the Seventies has exploded in today’s parents. If you doubt this, Google (or click this link) “Which generation spent more time with their kids?” The results are uniform in reporting that the time parents spend with kids is far greater today than it was in our time, both when we were parents and when we were kids. I love this paragraph that begins one of the articles:
Guilt-ridden busy moms and dads take heart: Mothers — and fathers — across most Western countries are spending more time with their children than parents did in the mid-’60s, according to a University of California, Irvine study. And time spent with kids is highest among better-educated parents — a finding that somewhat surprised study co-author Judith Treas, UCI Chancellor’s Professor of sociology.
I put “guilt-ridden” in bold print because it is the last thing my parents would have felt if I had told them they didn’t spend enough time with my brother and me when we were kids. If they had felt guilt-ridden, that would be more of a surprise to me than that which surprised Judith Treas. Just the fact that “guilt” is an emotion associated with this matter reflects, to me, how unwarranted it is that contemporary parents (and at least some sociologists) are apparently overwrought with worry that they are not spending enough time with their kids. What we began, and our kids in their parenting cannot begin to conceive, is that by not spending time with us, our parents freed us to learn from our own designs, or as John K. Rosmond elaborates in “Pre-1960s Parenting Vs. Parenting Today,” an article cited in Precious:
The point is that kids in the pre-micromanagement and pre-coddling days enjoyed a freedom that kids today, by and large, don’t even know they’re missing. For one thing, we were free to fail, which is the greatest of all freedoms.
So, perhaps one reason we changed the course of parenting was because we discovered that spending time with our kids when they were growing up was a lot of fun; after all, the use of the phrase “quality time” began in the early Seventies at around the time when we would have been discovering how much fun our kids were.
Another reason might be something reflected by the following extract from another post —What Were We Thinking?—that is repeated here:
I find myself beginning to recognize one reason why Boomers may have expanded the practice of parental hovering. Perhaps it wasn’t just our lack of understanding about the importance of providing children meaningful independence … Maybe it was our memories of the near or actual harm we caused ourselves and others while deep in the midst of our unsupervised Independence Days that convinced us to hover. Or said another way, perhaps many of us had the experience-driven need to protect our children from themselves.
A third possible reason for our introducing and expanding parental hovering was also mentioned in passing in the aforementioned post: “… our worrying about protecting our children from lunatics and other evil doers …”
In doing some research over twenty-five years ago, I encountered a number of articles in the microfiche (in the event you are a younger reader, microfiche is a flat piece of film containing micro-photographs of the pages of a newspaper, catalog, or other document), articles which indicated that empirically evil lunatics have likely been among us since the advent of humans. Did we Boomers, somehow, begin to think that the world had become a place of danger for our children, that there was likely to be an evil someone on every corner waiting for our young innocents to pass by? It is possible that, in fact, we did begin to believe that the world had become so dangerous that we worried about letting our little ones out of our sight.
The murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate in 1950 was 4.6 victims per 100,000 Americans and remained rather steady through our childhood. Consider that the rate began to climb the year I graduated from high school: 1965. It peaked in 1980 at 10.2 victims per 100,000. The broader category of violent crime mirrors the rise and fall of homicide rates with the rate of incidents being 161/100,000 in 1960 but rising to 732/100,000 in 1990. These crime rates were climbing right at the time many of us had already begun families.
Also consider that the presence of local TV news shows around the dinner hour began to flourish in the Seventies. The competition for viewers among local media outlets increased, which generated a focus on sensational stories and teasers broadcast to grab our attention in order to increase local Nielson ratings. Were we unintentionally brainwashed to believe that it was becoming a more and more dangerous world? Did we fear letting our kids have Independence Days for this reason?
While fear may have influenced our increased hovering, the data does not support the same rationale for our kids as parents. In 2010, the murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate had declined to 4.8 victims per 100,000, and in 2013 and 2014, the rate was 4.5 victims per 100,00, which is less than what it had been in 1950. Violent crime rates mirror these trends having declined to 507/100,000 in 2000 and falling to 405/100,000 in 2010. Since 2011, the violent crime rate has been below 400/100,000 every year. (Data sources: Infoplease and www.disastercenter.com). I should acknowledge that there have been reports that violent crime has been on the increase during the Coronavirus Pandemic: time will tell if this is an aberration. I hope it is.
I like to think of us Boomers as Angel Parents. We were well-meaning, often clueless parents who were convinced we knew what we were doing as we hovered above our children like guardian angels who enabled too much and reduced their freedom to fail because we wrongly imagined the hurt that failure would cause to their self-esteem. Why then have the parents who succeeded us become Helicopter Parents who bring attorneys to suspension hearings with the principal, insist that every one of their children’s activities consist of supervised/organized play, sue colleges for allowing their children to fail, extravagantly cheat to get their kids into the “best” colleges, and directly confront bosses when their children get unsatisfactory performance reviews, et al? I have no clue and will note that such an investigation lies beyond (thankfully!) the scope of both this blog and my capacity to comprehend the phenomenon!
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(The featured image of this post was taken by Lois C. Byrem in 1982; the copyright is mine.)