When I was pregnant with my second child, my grandmother told me a story about parenting in the 1950s. Her son (my father) used to love to run away from her while she was walking with his baby sister in her stroller. My grandmother said that sometimes she would leave my aunt in the stroller on the sidewalk so she could chase after my father. I’m sure was a fun game for him. But it got me thinking about how much she would be judged for leaving her baby in a stroller today.
About a year later, I was at the beach with a friend who had a three-month baby and a toddler. She often had to leave the baby (who couldn’t even roll over) to chase around the toddler. There was some lady at the beach who was loudly talking on her cell phone about how my friend was leaving her baby. I wasn’t much help because I was chasing a one-year-old and a three-year-old.
In today’s world, mothers can’t do anything without being judged.
Today, we have online shopping, Pinterest, parenting apps, Facebook moms groups, and all this technology designed to make our lives easier. But does it? If moms are constantly being judged for working, staying at home, monitoring their children too closely, not monitoring their children close enough, then none of this technology helps.
So, what was it really like parenting in the 1950s?
I went to the source and asked my grandmother. She told me that she did receive some judgement and unsolicited parenting advice, but she had the support of other mothers in her neighborhood who all had children around the same age.
People Still Criticized Mothers in the 1950s
My grandmother did receive some criticism on her parenting in the 1950s. But mostly from other family members and certainly not from a wide online audience. Her parents and in-laws were big on not spoiling the children. This included not hugging and comforting them when they were hurt. Since that was the generation that had to parent during the Great Depression, it’s understandable that they preached tough love. But my grandmother didn’t heed their tough love advice.
“What was so wrong about comforting a child?” she said.“Do that. Hug and hold your children.”
Support from other moms in the neighborhood was key
In the mid-1950s, my grandparents and their two young children moved out of Boston into the suburban town of Sharon. Developers were building subdivisions of small ranch houses that World War II veterans could buy with the help of the GI Bill. The neighborhood was filled with other family of young children with fathers who worked outside the home and mothers who stayed home with their children, which was pretty typical of child rearing in that decade.
My grandmother had the judgement-free support of other mothers in her neighborhood who were all in the same boat as her. And while she received some judgment from the grandparents, my great-grandmother did offer to baby-sit for my grandmother once in a while, which was very helpful.
“[In those days], the wife didn’t work. She stayed home to take care of babies and kids. The neighborhood was all young mothers and kids,” my grandmother told me. She said that all the mothers and their children would gather on one of the neighbor’s yards each afternoon. The kids would run around and the mothers would talk. They shared cleaning tips and recipes as well as their concerns about their children. They learned about parenting and child-rearing from each other.
Worrying about Children was Normal
My grandmother and the neighborhood mothers were always discussing what their children were doing. They would ask if their emotional reactions and overall health was normal or if something was wrong. I feel like this was the IRL version of a Facebook mom group, but with a lot less people to comment on whether something was wrong.
My grandmother said she worried plenty about her children and whether she was doing the right thing. I reassured her that she did as great job raising her children as I think that my dad and my aunt turned out pretty well.
It was so interesting finding out about what parenting was like for my grandmother that I want to continue to find out more! Stay tuned!