A few years ago on Father’s Day, we celebrated multiple fathers: my two grandpas, my own dad, and my husband (dad to our two little girls). Not a lot of people still have all four grandparents alive, so I know what a privilege it was to be there that day!
As the girls ran around and got all their energy out, I got to hear from my grandparents about what life was like growing up. My Grandpa B grew up on a cotton farm in Texas. His parents traveled across the United States in a covered wagon (!). His mom was up every morning and made homemade biscuits and jam for every single breakfast. Can you imagine? Lunch was their big meal of the day, and she again went all out— homemade cornbread, meat, and more. As my grandpa talked, I felt nostalgic and inspired— I wanted to get my great-grandma’s biscuit recipe and start baking for my family each morning like she did. I envisioned her determination to get up early, the slowness that she created for her family as they shared breakfast together every day, the conversation, the butter melting and dripping down off the biscuits…beautiful.
My Grandma reminisced likewise about beautiful homemade meals, expanding to describe Sunday afternoons when they would share afternoon dinners with family and friends– going on drives to “call” on others and share time together.
Then they all weighed in on discipline. This was the era where children behaved and respected authority. If you got in trouble with the teacher, you got in trouble again at home. And for the most part, no one got in trouble (the consequences were mighty!). As a former public school teacher, I can attest that this is not the way things are run today.
In some ways, it sounds so much better back then. Beautiful homemade meals (assuming you had the means, of course). Obedient children. Respect for elders. Slow Sunday afternoons where you would go visit someone.
But the conversation continued, and the grandparents shared some of the downsides of living back then. The discipline often administered in anger. How hard and constant their parents worked to provide for them. The pressures on them as both children and adults.
And my grandpa summed it up well: “In many ways, it was better back then. And in many ways, it was worse.”
I think we need to learn from the generations before us. What did the generations before us do well? What do we admire about the culture those families created back then?
But we also have to acknowledge the shortcomings. There was no perfect era, perhaps because there are no perfect people.
Being a mom in this generation is so interesting because many of us (all of us?) have no idea what we’re doing. In some ways, we’re building new things. We’re parenting amid pressures and expectations and devices that previous generations didn’t have. The social norms and requirements are vastly different, even from when we were children.
And yet, we’re doing the same thing every previous generation has done— working hard to love our children and raise them to the best of our ability. Though the methods may be different, for most families, that general vision has stayed constant.
But here’s the caveat– I’ve noticed that, for whatever reason, we often feel like we have to embody all of the eras; we have to create beautiful homemade meals like our great-grandparents, discipline according to the new research released daily, keep a tidy house like our grandparents did, and provide resources and activities like our parents did. We have only 24 hours a day, but we act like we can cram five generations into each day!
Ever since that Father’s Day, I’ve been more curious about the previous generations. I want to know what they enjoyed about how they were raised, and what they didn’t. I want to know how much their moms played on the floor with them vs. how much they cooked and cleaned.
But I’m also learning, I think, that no generation has had a perfect mom. Each generation, each family, has had a mom who did many things well (and stumbled on a few things). Perhaps the generations before us can teach us to loosen our grasp just a bit on the striving toward perfection, the relentless chasing of doing all things right. Because though we may be doing many things differently, when we love our children, when we provide safety and security and love, then we are doing all the important things right.