Changing Parenting Styles Illustrate How Traditional and Contemporary Values Collide

A huge part of our childhood memories revolve around our parents’ actions. Whether you wax nostalgic about an amazing family vacation or cringe to remember their reaction when you got in big trouble, parents leave an indelible mark on us, even as adults. However, we often have little insight into why they made the choices they did — until we become parents and have to make decisions ourselves.

Parenting choices are always made within the context of the times, and are further influenced by geographic location, culture, race, and economics. Some faith traditions have rules for child rearing, as well. There is often little opportunity for new parents to break away from these traditions because of cultural and familial pressure, but as the times change, so do conventions.

Parenting Through the Decades

Professional parenting advice also influences style. In the 1940s, Dr. Benjamin Spock offered advice for new mothers that was considered almost radical, telling them to trust their own instincts instead of adhering to the strict eating and sleeping schedules that were traditional at the time. His guidance would revolutionize views on parenting, and his book on the subject became America’s third-highest all-time best-seller at one point.

The 1970s saw the dawn of the “latchkey generation,” referring to children who came home from school to an empty house. With more women entering the workforce and the rise of two-parent working families, many kids would spend significant amounts of time without parental supervision. Today, these parents would be seen as negligent, but latchkey kids thought nothing of playing in the park and walking to the store on their own.

The last few decades have seen yet another school of thought: attachment parenting, popularized by pediatrician Dr. William Sears. This parenting strategy can be seen as a further extension of Dr. Spock’s influence, with receptive, nurturing, and sensitive tactics employed. For example, babies are nursed on demand, co-sleeping is considered important for family bonding, and timeouts have taken the place of harsher punishments.

Setting Our Own Parenting Examples

Inevitably, how we were raised has a big impact on our parenting styles, but we make the final decisions — even if parents of the past would disapprove. I once made a comment to my mother that she and other people her age must think badly of the latest generation of parents. I was specifically referring to the fact that we use electronic devices as a way to get a much-needed break. Her reply, however, was illuminating: “The only reason we didn’t use them is because we didn’t have them.” Case in point: Times change.

While my parenting choices have varied significantly from those my mother and father made, I’ve still heeded some sage parental advice. In the end, we have to remember that the biggest influence on our parenting style is our children. Let go of being the type of parent you want to be, and instead be the parent your child needs you to be.

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