motherhood

I want to parent like it’s the 1980s

Post title lifted from a mom I had a conversation with recently

Let me preface this post by saying that I understand how nostalgia works. We’re able to look back on a bygone time with rose-colored glasses, so to speak, and wax poetic about how wonderful things were back then. The word “simpler” comes to mind. And hey, the 1980s were not perfect. They lacked things like grocery pickup and diaper delivery. School papers were actual papers, not Google Docs. Stranded motorists had to know how to change tires themselves. I get it, I do. But there are some elements of 21st century motherhood that I’d like to abandon, thank you very much, and lately I’ve been thinking through which ones I can. It echoes my mantra we can opt out.

Two recent conversations shaped these ideas, one with an old friend who’s a mom and one with a mom I’d just met. Both times, we were talking about ways our own mothers were able to parent that were much simpler and more no-nonsense than we feel like are available to us currently. What we talked about lingered on my brain for weeks, and then, in an instance of the timing of the universe being just right, I was at a party with my mom and her closest friends, the ones she mothered with, the very women I pictured during those two conversations. They’re all in their 60s and 70s now, no-nonsense grandmothers (well, maybe a little nonsense since grandmothers can allow for that sort of thing). On the way home from the party, my brain felt like it was exploding, like I needed to sit down and write out a list, a manifesto even, of how they were able to mother and how I can choose something similar.

Let me shock you by saying most of my list had to do with technology and social media.

Let me shock you further by saying most of that same list had to do with things I’m choosing to let occupy space in my brain and my life.

This may very well turn into a series of blog posts as I think it through, but I’ve got to start somewhere, so here it is, my initial list with only a little cleaning up for clarity’s sake.

1. They didn’t have an aesthetic.
Let me lose a few readers here by saying that if I see another Instagrammer with all of their baby gear in those hideously dull earth tones that make it look like they’re raising a small garden gnome in some sepia toned mountain sphere, I will chuck my iPhone into the trash. Where are the fun primary colors? Where are the newborn pastels? Can we get a sweet gingham or maybe a single polka dot in there somewhere?

Toddlers do not play with unfinished wood toys whilst wearing a burnt sienna muslin john-john and sitting on a sisal mat; they drool all over Sesame Street pajamas and chase a Fisher Price corn popper. Mothers knew this in the 1980s. They weren’t trying to have designer children who fit into some Earth Mother fantasy the internet invented for them.

2. They didn’t subscribe to identity politics.
For the love, can we move on from this already? This beast was absolutely born of social media and needs to die a quick death, I’m talking now, today. The idea that random people–not candidates, not pundits, but celebrities, singers, fiction writers, food bloggers–need to state their political views on their so-called platforms makes me insane. I’d like to know how you made that chicken dish on your website; I absolutely do not need to know what you think of the 2022 midterms coming up. Why would I go to you for that information, food blogger? This is so insane to me.

Our mothers talked politics with a select few people only, and they talked. They didn’t post tirades in an echo chamber, and they certainly didn’t get into heated arguments with strangers. They decided whom they were voting for, voted, and moved forward with their lives. The end.

3. They dressed sensibly.
Cotton tees. Shorts. Comfortable flats or sandals. A one piece that could go from water aerobics to poolside hot dogs to crouching in the baby pool without having to be adjusted in seven different places. If they felt like picking up a fashion magazine to see what was trendy, they did, or maybe they caught a glimpse of Princess Diana on the evening news and made note of what she was wearing.

But this idea of having to be on-trend? Or being a mom but not falling into the so-called “trap” of a mom wardrobe? Nope, no thanks. They were moms and they dressed like moms. See #1.

4. They didn’t do it all.
Some worked, some didn’t. Some hired cleaning ladies, some didn’t. Some volunteered to help at school and extracurricular events, some didn’t. Some cooked meals from scratch . . . actually, I’m pretty sure they all served us frozen lasagnas, Hamburger Helper, and various delicacies from the Schwan’s man. And they felt zero guilt about it.

5. They didn’t try to do it all.
Why would they? No one was keeping a tally, except for that one room mother no one really liked hanging out with and therefore just quietly chose not to hang out with.

6. They didn’t feel pressured to do it all.
I’m not saying they didn’t feel like they weren’t doing enough sometimes. I believe part of motherhood is wondering whether or not you’re doing enough. But without a thousand voices shouting at them from their news feed about fashion and food and essential oils and skincare and composting and hairstyles and side hustles and craft projects and home decor and community organizing and podcasts and parenting gurus and shoes you can throw in the dishwasher, they were able to hone in on what actually mattered and go from there.

7. They weren’t as distracted.
I mean, I guess the wall phone rang occasionally, right? This is a self-discipline issue more than anything, but I’ve been astounded lately at how many distractions are a direct result of my phone. Calls, sure, but more often it’s texts, emails, even my weather app. And I have almost all notifications turned off! Sometimes I toy with the idea of going back to a flip phone. Another post for another day.

And the escapism of hopping on Instagram . . . don’t even get me started. I’m sure the daily life of being home with little kids was just as mundane for them as it is for us, but they didn’t have a device in their hands they could turn to for escape. What did they do instead, I wonder? Is this why soap operas were popular? I’m going to ask around.

8. They had context for people, and people had context for them.
About a year ago, I made the mistake of asking a question on a popular Instagrammer’s post. She’s a child psychologist who has a parenting podcast, and she typically answers questions on her posts, so I asked what I thought was an innocuous question about parenting and extended family, which was the topic of her post.

Oh my word. The responses. The RESPONSES.

She did not respond to me, unfortunately, but seven or eight people did. Random people. People I do not know. People who do not know me. People I did not ask in the first place. As someone who’s never used social media all that much to begin with, I was confused and a bit flabbergasted, but I’ve since learned this was a very normal interaction for all of them. It was not for me. It was WILD. The fact that people who didn’t know me at all would a) jump all over my case, and b) tell me what to do, with both a) and b) based on a ton of details and background they had just filled in on their own without knowing anything about me or my situation . . . WOW. Just wow.

Our mothers didn’t have interactions like this. If they asked someone about something, that person had some sort of context for them, even if they didn’t know each other well (but they probably did know each other well because our mothers asked questions of people they knew and trusted). Lesson learned: I do not have to have interactions like this. We can opt out.

9. They couldn’t compare as much.
They couldn’t judge the cleanliness or decor of their home against many other people’s because they weren’t seeing the insides of many other people’s homes. Closely related to #8. Context. If they were inside someone else’s home, they had context for that person. And the home probably wasn’t perfect because people weren’t influencers back then, nor were they sponsored by Sherwin Williams and Sub Zero. They had homes they worked hard to make functional and lovely for their families. They had works in progress.

In other words, they weren’t painting all the walls white like an insane asylum and competing for who had the most macrame plant hangers.

10. They didn’t feel the need to document each moment.
Interestingly enough, this relates right back to #7. Seriously, how are we simultaneously distracted and trying to document each moment? Well, because the documenting is what’s distracting us from the moment. They didn’t have unlimited cloud storage; they had 24 exposures and an errand to run to see the results. I used to lament this for them. How did they not have pictures of it ALL? Wasn’t there so much they MISSED? How many moments did they wish they could go back and RELIVE but lacked the ability to scroll through and do it?

Okay, sure. But how often did they watch something happening and not feel the need to grab their phone? How often did they fully live and experience the moment in real time? How many memories did they write upon their hearts completely, not through a screen, not shared via text, not with a caption in mind? Sometimes having a phone makes me feel like I’ve got this constant noise playing in the background. It’s like a constant state of anticipation that someone might be about to call or text and I’ve got to know where my phone is so that I can respond or my kids might do something cute and I’ve got to know where my phone is so that I can document it. I want to lose this fifth limb and just enjoy my life as it happens in front of me. Maybe 24 exposures weren’t so bad. Maybe 24 exposures and a heart full to the brim were enough.

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