Let’s Be Honest — the ’80s Weren’t Really Better

Image Source: Laura Falin
Image Source: Laura Falin

I can’t get through my Facebook feed right now without coming across yet another post about the idyllic ’80s. You know, when our mothers collectively locked us outside with a garden hose and a box of Band­Aids and told us not to come back until dinnertime. According to everything I’ve been reading lately, we all spent our summers exactly the same way: roaming the neighborhood on our bikes, finding things to do, and knowing better than to complain that we were ever bored.

Except that’s not how I remember it.

I don’t know if I had a wildly different childhood than most, or if I grew up in a different part of the country, or if everyone else is just mis-remembering.

But here’s what I ​do r​emember from my childhood in the suburbs of the Silicon Valley:

I remember “Stranger Danger,” and watching out for unmarked white vans, and school assemblies where we learned to knee Bad Guys in the nuts. We didn’t go wandering the neighborhood willy nilly and we still checked in with our parents — just on way bigger phones. When we fell down, we went inside and someone got us a Band­-Aid, just as our kids do now. (I’ve even got a grainy Polaroid picture of me, sporting seven, to prove that.)

­­Back in those pre-Pinterest days, m​y mother did crafts with us, too.​ We’d come home from swimming lessons, with our hair dyed green from pool chlorine, and we’d belly up to the counter. There, Mom would help us make our own playdough or make candles in sand molds.

I’m assuming she did it for the same reasons I do it today ­­— not because either of us are trying to be Super Mom, but because if kids are doing a craft at the kitchen counter with you, or hiking with you, or doing an activity with you, they’re not messing with your stuff or destroying the house. And also? Because we a​ctually like ​it. I do activities with my kids not out of guilt or obligation or pressures from my Instagram feed; I do it because it’s fun taking my kids hiking, and seeing what they paint, and reading to them. If I had to sit in my house drinking Diet Coke and watching bad TV all day while my kids were out playing, I’d strangle myself with my own bathrobe ties.

I’m not putting pressure on myself to out­parent anyone else, or to keep my kids occupied, I’m doing things I like and sharing them with people I like. And I don’t do it every day. Some days we hike in the Rocky Mountains and journal and draw tasteful colored pencil sketches of native wildflowers. Some days we play Minecraft all morning and no one has clean underwear. It’s called balance.

Image Source: Laura Falin
Image Source: Laura Falin

And you know what else? Sometimes I find these things on Pinterest. Because let’s recognize Pinterest for what it is: a search engine. And an awesome one, at that. It’s not a Website of Silent Judgment, for all the crafty things you’re failing to do. If you want to make a wreath out of half­drunk water bottles, or get some tips for playing a game outdoors, or find out how to beat your kid at Mario Kart, you can probably find it on Pinterest. If you want to do something else, that’s cool ­­ go do that. I don’t know a single person who looks at blogs titled, “100 Things to Do with Your Kids This Summer” and freaks out that they won’t get them all done. On the flip-side, I d​o k​now people who go, “Oh, hey ­­ #62 sounds like fun. Maybe I’ll go do that.”

After which, they then move on with their lives.

I guess every generation looks back on their youth and thinks things were much better then … the truth is more complicated.
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Most parents I know today aren’t trying to over­schedule their kids for the summer, or turn their own homes into “Camp Mom” for two months straight so our kids aren’t bored. Most of us are just trying to parent with the same mixture of planning and indifference our foremothers did. We might swing too far to one side or the other on some days, but from what I’ve seen, we land in the middle mostly.

I guess every generation looks back on their youth and thinks things were much better then. This is why we have so many stereotypes of grumpy old men saying things like, “When I was your age, I walked to school through the snow … uphillboth ways …”

The truth is more complicated. In some ways, things might not be as good. In some ways, they’re better. They really are. Because you know what else I remember from the ’80s? Kids who couldn’t sit still and were medicated as a first resort instead of a last. Never hearing words like “autism” and “spectrum disorder,” though presumably kids had them and were terribly misunderstood. Talking to my grandparents on the phone once a week and only after 7 PM when it was cheaper.

My grandma, who lived across the country from us, passed away last month. As her health waned, my mother and her sisters took turns staying with Grandma, and one night, they all FaceTimed us. Grandma couldn’t talk much, but the kids jumped around and were obnoxious and we had our pajamas on and they sang and yelled and we waved and my mother said she had a great time. It was the last time we saw her. And it could never have happened 30 years ago.

So it’s not all bad right now. We’ll figure it out. And in 30 years, our kids will be boring everyone with their tales of how great it all was when they were young, too.

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