I found myself in the local Barnes & Noble yesterday. I hadn’t been there in a while.
I was struck by how much of the store’s floor space was now devoted to puzzles, board games and the like. Not that I have anything against one enjoying a “Simpsons” themed game of Yahtzee or learning American History via “Family Guy” flash cards. It’s just that somewhere along the line I got used to bookstores selling, well, books.
One section of the store had resisted this tide and held actual books. It was the “Parenting” section. To be honest, a lot of the titles struck me as a tad aggressive. “You too can be a Tiger Mom or Tiger Dad!” “Teach your toddler computer programming!’ “Get your child into an Ivy-League pre-school.”
I grew up in central New Jersey suburbia in the ‘60’s and ‘70s. My parents had four kids, two jobs, elderly parents and an ever-changing cast of dogs, cats and short-lived carnival goldfish to contend with. They loved us but were overwhelmed by it all. They were simply trying to hang on and keep the circus running one more day. If they had a parenting philosophy, it would have been called “coping.”
Some have called this approach to raising kids “free range parenting.” Looking back, I was raised more like a free-range chicken. I was expected to be awake very early. When I wasn’t in school, I was expected to be pecking, I mean playing, outside with my friends. I was expected to come inside when called for feeding and to roost for the evening. Evening discussions with my parents didn’t involve discussions likely to land me at Harvard. Our discussions tended to involve threats of dire bodily harm if I didn’t take a bath.
Strange as it may seem today, my parent’s approach to “parenting” was typical for the times. It was a world with a different risk tolerance when it came to kids. It was a world without child safety seats or seatbelts. It was a world without child safety lids on aspirin bottles and where medicine didn’t come in bubble gum flavors. A world in which it was accepted that “playing” might result in a kid’s scraped knee or hurt feelings without a lawsuit being filed. Where bicycles were ridden without helmets. Probably the best evidence that the philosophy of “parenting” was very different back then consists of just two words: lawn darts.
While this old school approach tended to result in resilient, capable kids, it had down sides. If I had worn a bicycle helmet, maybe I could have gone to Harvard. If I hadn’t played with lawn darts, maybe I could wear shorts in public. Maybe it is time to browse some of the books in the “parenting” section.
Sorry, I’ve got to go. I just rolled “Double Homers.” Yahtzee!!!
D.C. Barry is an East Brunswick, New Jersey based writer and commentator.