Suzy's Blog/January 2006   Click for Suzy's Blog Summary 

Suzy Smith
I enjoyed reading the comments that came in re the New York Times article, HOW WE TOOK THE CHILD OUT OF CHILDHOOD. Wonderful to be able to dialogue with anonymity isn’t it? I bet no one says these things to the parents of their grandchildren. Yes Granny B., mum’s the word.

Too bad really. We’ve been around the block a few times and might have something relevant to say. Whatever our intentions, our thoughts and suggestions often fall on ears that only hear criticism. It’s a thin line isn’t it?

Jan, a grandmother friend of mine, has the perfect story to illustrate. Her Mother-in-law was visiting the month before Jan was due to have a baby. “After you’ve given birth, go out and treat yourself – have your hair done.” Jan’s mother-in-law suggested. Jan wondered, what’s wrong with my hair?

Help is here! Deborah Tannen who wrote the definitive book on the conversations between men and women – You Just Don’t Understand – has written a new book on the conversations between Mothers and daughters – You wearing that? Understanding mothers and daughters in conversation. She will undoubtedly untangle the whole mess of communication between generations and hopefully those of us with sons, will learn something too. Unfortunately Granny B., sons not calling their Mothers is a universal problem which began when the phone was invented. Science suggests it’s in the DNA .

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Suzy Smith
Mr. Appleblome was inundated with E-mails re his column on taking the child out of childhood so, he revisited the subject this past Sunday. You can only read for free on the net what the NY Times decides you can read and this didn’t qualify, so since I can’t link you to the original article, I’ll just talk about it.

His first article only seemed to ask why today’s children didn’t enjoy the freedoms of past generations and what could we do to change that. There was no value judgment. This past Sunday’s article described today’s childhood as “overprogrammed, over supervised lockdown”. Definitely judgmental!

The majority of his E-mails looked to the earlier rendition of childhood as a positive experience and rued today’s lack of freedom. Applebome writes “Nostalgia for the joys- real or imagined – of one’s own childhood is eternal, as is the sense that each generation of children is headed for perdition in it’s own way. But clearly there’s more than nostalgia at work. And what’s different is a sense not that wayward children are headed toward Hades, but that parents are insisting on chauffeuring them there in their S.U.V’s”

There are four big issues at work says Applebome. The first is the physical environment. Do we want sidewalks, bike paths and a connected community or do we want to assume suburbia is just disconnected sprawl. Second is technology. Children have access to more, can communicate more than any children in history, but it’s all done in a bell jar. Third is school. Do we need to start college planning in middle school? The curriculum emphasis is on passing tests. What kind of message does that send? And finally he cites parental hysteria – about crime, achievement and everything else that could affect children’s lives. Parents, he says, are more invested in their children’s lives than is good for them or their children.

Our Children only get to be children once. Applebome, a middle-aged parent, feels they deserve better.

All is not lost, Mr. Applebome. We grandparents know your children will have one more chance to be a child again before it’s all over -- with their grandchildren!

It’s all about control, today’s over protectiveness. Once you let those kids out the door, you’ve lost control. Oh I don’t only mean out the door to play, I’m talking about growing up, going to college, getting married  etc.   I miss that early control and understand why today’s parents want to hold on to it tightly.  If I still had any, I’d tell my  grown son a few things that might make him a better person — like calling his Mother now and again is a really nice thing to do. But alas,  the horse has left the proverbial barn and  the only control I have is the one I use to keep my mouth shut!  

Granny B.

I worry about the parents of today’s children. What’s going to happen when their children leave home?  There doesn’t seem to be much time or energy left over for marriage tending these days, so what’s going to fill that empty nest?  

Anne T., grandmother and wife of 50 years.
My daughter is the 24/7 Mom of two children, actively involved  in their school and extra curricular activities. She is always exhausted. I compare my own Motherhood and realize I took time out for my own activities, the change of pace was energizing. If I had to be a Mother today, I think I’d go crazy.  

Liz  B.
Is today’s world any more dangerous than the world in which our children grew up? Studies say no, crime statistics are down. Why then are parents so paranoid about their children’s safety? Is it really about control?  

Mary B

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Suzy Smith
Being old isn't all bad. I’m not being critical of today’s child rearing practices, I’m only asking questions for which I don’t have the answers. The old way of going about raising children wasn’t necessarily better, just different. I suspect today’s children will grow up to be fine adults with the same mix of good and bad qualities we all carry. Yes, they are missing out on the kind of childhood we had, but are they unhappy? I don’t think so. Is a parentally “managed” childhood the optimum approach for growth? I don’t know.

In his article on how we took the child out of childhood, Peter Applebome writes about the findings of Steven Mintz, a history professor at the University of Houston, who has written the book Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood. Mintz sees three changes that have brought about today’s parental practices. The first is parental FEAR, brought about by excessive media coverage. It’s a big bad world out there, just read the morning papers or watch t.v. Children need to be protected from it. Second, is COMPETITION. The pressures of economic and social status tied with getting into the right college start in early childhood. Last, GUILT. Parents spending long hours working away from home feel they should provide a “DESIGNER” childhood to make up for their absence.

Makes you happy to be old doesn’t it?

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Suzy Smith
Last Sunday in the New York Times , Peter Applebome wrote an article entitled HOW WE TOOK THE CHILD OUT OF CHILDHOOD. He describes today’s childhood as a time when few children play with one another outside a parentally arranged play date. Casually getting together in the neighborhood for a loosely organized game of football, baseball or kick the can is a thing of the past. Today, a child’s time is carefully managed, arranged and supervised.

As we became Grandmothers, my friends and I watched how our grandchildren were being raised and were astounded. We remembered the freedom of our own childhoods and those of the children we raised. In both of those childhoods, children had breakfast and went out to play with whoever was around. Home was where you went when it was time to eat, or for a change of clothes when you fell in the creek. At home you got your scrapes and cuts bandaged or your psyche salved when the outside world didn’t treat you right, but pretty quickly you were back where the action was - outside in the wider world.

Looking back at my own Motherhood, I see I helped raise every child in our neighborhood as did every other mother. The doorbell was always ringing with some kid at the door wanting to play. Those “other” children ate dinner at our house, slept over, were temporary members of our family now and again. Our children learned that every family is different, and how to adapt to those differences, great lessons for life in the wider world. Yes, there were kids in the neighborhood who were not good influences, but we dealt with that and our children learned something about what they didn’t want to be and what didn’t work.

In a way, those two earlier generations played a major role in raising themselves. They learned to take care of themselves, how to solve the problems they encountered and how to adapt. All necessary life’s skills. Is this “managed” generation learning those skills? I hope to live long enough to find out.

      My memories of the ages, say 4 to 10 are not filled with grandparents, nor for that matter doings things with parents. In thinking about that, I am sure I would have HATED having to do things with either grandparents or parents – that would have curbed my freedom and put a damper on my own creativity. Doing that sort of thing would have been a duty – Yuk. I am also sure that much of my own independence and ability to take care of myself comes from not having to Play with Adults or go on excursions with adults. All of that only says that it is a whole different world these days. I only know I wouldn’t be me under today’s regimes—maybe I would be better, who knows?

MBG from the perspective of 75 years.

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Suzy Smith
After all these years, I‚ve stopped making New Year's resolutions. Have I ever managed to keep any of those I‚ve made over these oh so many years? No. The newspapers, however, were full of the New Year's resolutions of others. I found myself reading them with interest. though none of them really applied to my life -- what the celebs are going to do with their lives hardly applies to what I might do with mine. Only one captured my imagination, a resolve not to sweat the small stuff. I have the book of that title on my bedside table and yes, that is something I promise myself I will do every day -- with, I confess, mixed results. So much is small stuff, particularly some of those things about our grandchildren we would like to change. I suspect we expect them to be perfect, after all they are OUR GRANDCHILDREN. They are also human. So why not love and accept them for everything they are? A good resolution for 2006, one I'm going to keep!
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