Within Ann Hulbert’s book Raising America, the perspectives of child rearing “experts” throughout history are explored. Reading about the influence of such famous advice-givers as Hall, Holt, Watson, and Dr. Spock, I am fascinated by the way their own upbringing played into their philosophies. Absorbing the anecdotes of Hall and Holt for example, Hulbert states: “In practice, Holt and Hall based their child rearing advice at least as much on the drama of their own pasts as on data they amassed as scientists in the big city” (42). Beyond Holt and Hall, I believe that what you remember from your own childhood experiences plays the greatest role in how you will ultimately define yourself as a parent. Looking to the way that our parents raised us, we put each situation encountered with our own children into the context of our memories.
Someday, my children will open their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning. They will wolf down a Mediterranean soup that has been affectionately nicknamed “Christmas Soup,” and then beg to be dismissed from the table to play the guessing game with the colorful packages beneath the tree. In the morning, their slippered feet will fly down the staircase, their eyes bulging at the sight of Santa Claus’ work–piles of unwrapped presents awaiting their anxious hands. There will come a day when they ask me why Santa doesn’t wrap their presents like the rest of their friends. I will tell them what my mother told me: “Santa doesn’t have time to wrap everyone’s presents, and it’s more fun this way isn’t it? This is the way our family has always gotten their Christmas presents from Santa. I was so glad when I was a little girl that we didn’t have to wait turns in the morning to unwrap everything!”
I know that the unique “Gomoll Family” celebration of Christmas is one I will pass down to my children. It will be a time for me to share stories from my childhood, and instill in my kids the value of memory. Growing up, I spent hours perched on the laps of my parents and grandparents–asking questions about what it was like to live “back then.” I could hardly imagine a world without television. A world where a piece of candy cost one cent, socks were darned, and nightly family dinners were mandatory. In this modern age of break-neck speed technology and limitless access to information, I am afraid that the values of tradition and connection between generations will be lost. Already, I see this disillusioning transformation occurring in my life. I think of my great-grandmother Maney– a woman who sewed dresses for her girls from scratch, and continued to do so for her granddaughters. I think of my Nana and my Grandma, and the love letters they wrote to their fiancés when they crossed oceans and bullet ridden battle fields to protect a country they loved. I think of the long summer days spent with my Grandfather on worn wooden docks of one of the 10,000 Minnesota lakes, (the name escapes me at the moment) learning to patiently wait for the red and white bobber of my fishing rod to ripple in the water.
Though I live in a generation and society where I can look up the answer to almost anything, I do not compare to the generations before me. The list of dishes I can cook includes grilled cheese, omelets, toast, and pasta. I am capable of sewing button holes and (poorly) stitching up small sweater tears. When things wear out, I throw them away and buy new ones. I am a product of my consumer culture. My mother learned many skills from her mother, but teaching them to me was often obsolete. It isn’t the case any more that traditional skills need to be passed down as a matter of survival. The telling of stories and teaching of tradition now have to be asked for. Older generations often assume that the younger ones don’t have any interest in the outdated past. In many cases this is the truth as tweens and teenagers encounter a world where time is money and learning to knit a scarf and listen to the story of how Grandma met Grandpa is a “waste.” However, it doesn’t need to be this way. It should not be this way. In devoting so much attention to the “experts” of child rearing, we neglect to acknowledge the importance and incredible expertise of our own parents and grandparents. We struggle to balance our commitments to the American Dream of “success” with our obligations to the people who raised us.
Beyond this one small portion of the thoughts provoked by reading a large chunk of Ann Hulbert’s Raising America, here are a few other things to think about in our discussion tomorrow:
* The power and authority dynamics of American families today. How has discipline changed? Particularly reactions to physical punishment? (p.53)
* How does social and economic class play a role in the opportunities given to children growing up in America? For example, I think of standardized test preparation, gifted and talented programs, medical care, and expectations parents place upon children. This ties in with the influence of older generations as well.
* p.98- The idea of motherhood as a vocation. How does this play out today? Why are the “Real Housewives” so famous? What is it about them that we love and hate to watch? How does this sort of media affect how we view parenting? What is the identity of the “Super Mom” like in American culture? Is this a good thing?
* How wild should adolescence really be?
* p.107– Is it so bad to be maladjusted in a conformed consumer world? What if you don’t want your kids to question?
*p. 106- Why is pre-school so important? Are we always trying to compensate for social inadequacy?
*p. 111- Are parents too dependent? Are they childlike themselves? In a generation where “emerging adulthood” is acknowledged and “growing up” takes much longer than previous generations, I wonder sometimes if I will ever be capable of being as independent as the generations before me.
*p.127– How much should we shape our kids for their future careers? Do they really have complete “choice” when it comes to vocation?