When I was a child, back in the Parenting Stone Age (aka the Parentocentric Era), your parents were the most important people in the family. They paid the bills, bought your clothes, prepared the food you ate, took care of you when you were sick, drove you to where you needed to be, tucked you in and kissed you good night. They were essential.
Your parents acted like they were bigger than you were, too, like they knew what they were doing and didn’t need your help making decisions. In fact, your opinion really didn’t matter much. When they spoke to you, they didn’t bend down, grab their knees and ask for your cooperation in a wheedling tone. They spoke in no uncertain terms, and they thought you were smart, so they only said things once. The rule was very simple: They told you what to do, and you did it, because they said so.
Your mom and dad paid more attention to one another than to you. You didn’t think about that at all — it was just the way it was. But looking back, you sure are glad you weren’t the center of the family universe. You were a satellite, orbiting around their solid presence. They even told you, on occasion, that you were just a little fish in a big pond. You didn’t understand what that meant, of course, until you got out in the big pond and began to realize that putting oneself into proper perspective greatly improves one’s life and the lives of those around him.
They bought you very little, so you appreciated everything you had — and you took care of it. When your bike broke, you figured out how to fix it, or your dad fixed it. In either case, you understood you weren’t getting a new one, not any time soon. You loved your mom and dad, but you left home as early as possible because you were absolutely certain you could make a better life for yourself than they were willing to make for you. And you were right!
Back then, elementary school classes often held more than 40 children, most of whom came to first grade not knowing their ABCs. Back then, mothers didn’t give much help, if any, with their childrens' homework, yet at the end of first grade, and every subsequent grade, in fact, those kids were outperforming today’s kids in every subject — and today’s moms think good moms help with homework.
Today’s parents still pay the bills, buy the clothes, prepare the food and so on, but by some strange twist, they treat their children as if they are the most important people in the family. Parents don’t act bigger any more, either. When they talk to their children, they get down to their level, like they’re petitioning the king, and they whine, “Do you think you can stop what you’re doing for a minute and help Mommy carry in the groceries?” The rule seems very simple: Parents ask children to do things, and children take their requests under consideration.
Today’s typical mom and dad pay a lot more attention to the children than they do to one another. They also talk more to them, do more for them and take more interest in them. It would seem that today’s parents are the satellites orbiting around the children, who are obviously big fish and getting bigger all the time. And so, today’s kids leave home later, and many of them go back home (the so-called “boomerang child”) because they never learned certain fundamentals, as in don’t spend more than you earn.
Sometimes people accuse me of what’s called Golden Age thinking. I idealize the 1950s, they say. I disagree. I only say what is statistically verifiable: The 1950s was a better time for kids. According to mental health statistics, we were happier than today’s kids, by far. In that regard, the latest research finds that obedient children are much happier than disobedient children. The latest research also finds that kids from homes where their parents’ marriages are strong do better in school, regardless of IQ.
There I go again — idealizing common sense.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.