I was challenged by a friend's assertion: I am so glad I am not raising kids in these times. Neither of us is of an age where this is anything but a philosophical issue, but nonetheless I'm going to take it on.
Because I think this is a GREAT time to rear children. (No matter how many people insist the language is changing, I can never get my father's voice out of my head: You raise chickens, but rear children.)
Why do I think this is a great time to be a parent?
When I started to write this post, I realized I'd basically done it already, in my 30-part Good New Days Thanksgiving series from 2010. Six years later it's just as relevant. I wasn't focussing on childrearing by any means, but nearly all of my posts speak to reasons why I think it's great to be a parent today rather than in days past. Below I've included a list and links for all except the few for which I couldn't make that connection.
- Smoke-Free Living
- Openness in Politics
- Better Baby Formula
- Handicapped Access
- Ethnic Restaurants
- Pants as Suitable Clothing for Girls and Women
- The End of Forced Bed Rest for Mildly Ill Children
- Worldwide Communication and Travel
- The All-Volunteer Military
- Cleaner Air and Water
- Fathers and Children
- Digital Cameras
- Sexual Harassment Rules
- Reproductive Freedom
- Community Recycling
- Calculators and New Telephone Technology (These are a little outdated—a lot has changed in six years—but the principles are the same. Electronic devices have brought challenges to childrearing, but also fantastic opportunities.)
- Educational Choices (This is the most important of all in my book. Huge. But I'm listing these in original publication order.)
- Clothes Dryers (If you think this is trivial, I have four words for you: Cloth diapers. Rainy days.)
- Modern Dentistry
- Video Technology
- Food from All Over the World
- Ethnic Diversity
- Advances in Medical Care
- The Interstate Highway System
- Computers and the Internet
- And though I didn't mention it six years ago, the violent crime rate is much lower than it was when our children were little. Oddly enough, fear and angst are up, which is another issue, but crime itself is down.
Sure, there are things that are more challenging now. I'd be a lot more concerned if I lived in Germany or Sweden, for example, where there is so little educational freedom. But here? The educational resources and opportunities are so much greater than when our children were young, and almost infinitely greater than when my parents were rearing children. For that alone I'd love to have young children now, because that was definitely the most fun part of childrearing for me!
Being an avid reader of science fiction, I was sure that the big technological change to mark our time would be space travel. But it’s apparently an idea whose time has not yet come, because it never took off (yes, I meant to say that) the way the science fiction writers prognosticated.
Personal computing and the Internet, on the other hand, took me—along with most of the S-F writers—by surprise, even though they were part of my world from the era of room-sized machines and paper-tape input. I never imagined how drastically they would change our lives. Instead of exploring outer space, we have opened the inner spaces of our world. (More)
For all I gripe about the short shrift given to public transportation in the United States, I need to take a moment to be thankful for our highways. Vacation travel in my younger years was more picturesque, as we wandered through small towns and back roads. But if I-95 is boring, it makes the drive between Pennsylvania and Florida immeasurably more pleasant.
Even with the inevitable traffic jam around Washington, D.C., when your objective is to get from Point A to Point B, travelling 70 mph on a multi-lane road beats without question poking along at 30 mph on a two-lane road, behind a mile-long army convoy, through a construction zone. The only thing the latter has going for it is that it’s easier to find relief when the kids have to use the bathroom.
(If you travelled on New England’s highways yesterday, you may have a hard time believing that automobile travel could have been worse, and you might be right. I don’t think we ever experienced anything as bad as Massachusetts/Connecticut traffic on the Sunday after Thanksgiving—or just about any Friday night, for that matter. I refer you to my previous complaints about our lack of good public transit.)
It’s such a brilliant idea to have one, easily-remembered number to call for all forms of emergency, anywhere in the country. (Cell phones and Voice Over IP phones have outpaced the 911 system and diminished its power a bit, but it is catching up again.)
I used to have nightmares in which I needed to call the police, or ambulance, or fire department, and kept fumbling through the phone book and not finding the number. If I finally succeeded, then d-i-a-l-i-n-g the number took so long and my finger always slipped at about the next-to-last digit and I’d have to start over again and by that time the phone book had fallen shut and I had lost the number….
I don’t have those nightmares anymore.
For a normal, healthy person dealing only with minor illnesses—including diseases like measles and chicken pox, which were no big deal for most people—in many ways it was better to be living 50 years ago than now.
(An exception would be for normal childbirth, which had been taken over by hospitals and doctors. Mothers reclaimed their [ahem] birthright in the late 1970s, only to lose it again, and then to partially regain it—it’s the only branch of medicine that I know to be so cyclical.)
I remember doctors making house calls, and doctors who treating the whole family as a unit, which I believe is healthier for all. They trusted parents to describe symptoms accurately and as often as not the doctors gave advice over the telephone and saved many a trip—even when they were no longer making house calls. They still had time to talk with their patients; none of this in-and-out-in-15-minutes assembly line stuff.
However—and it’s a big caveat—for serious illnesses and for emergency medicine, now is a much better time to need medical care. When I was born, polio was still devastating the country and organ transplants were unheard of. CAT scans didn’t appear until twenty years later. From babies to bones, from tumors to head trauma—I hope never to need it, but if I do, I’ll take today’s medical technology with gratitude.
It’s just a pity we can’t have the house calls, too.
I grew up in a monoculture, which was not unusual 50 years ago. People of other races and cultures were a topic to studied, not friends and neighbors. I’m thankful today’s American children experience racial and cultural diversity naturally, as part of their daily, normal lives. To our grandson, a “black lady” is a woman of any race wearing a black dress.
On this Thanksgiving Day, as we prepare for a very traditional American feast, I’ll take time to be thankful for the tremendous variety of food now available from other countries and cultures all over the world.
I’m a great fan of the locavore movement; I know from my childhood that nothing tastes as good as food that not only comes straight from a nearby farm, but also has a distinctive local flavor. But there is also something to be said for being able to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter.
Even better is the opportunity to enjoy fruits, vegetables, spices, and prepared foods that were unheard of when I was growing up: sushi, satay, tandoori chicken, naan, fajitas, egg rolls, mango lassi, bok choi, passion fruit, kung pao chicken … the list is long of now-common foods that were unavailable to most Americans 50 years ago. I’d never even had a bagel till I went to college with a large crowd from New York City.
What a multicultural feast our table has become!
I can’t quite bring myself to say directly that I’m thankful for television, because I believe it has done great harm in our society, but it would be wrong to ignore the enormous educational and cultural benefits this technology has conferred. As strong a proponent as I am of the written word, some second-hand experiences are much better approached in a video format. From African safaris to Wagnerian opera, video provides formerly elite experiences to the hoi polloi. It’s not the real thing—but even the very rich cannot experience everything directly.
Thus I am also thankful for the technology that has enabled us to be masters of this medium. In my early days we had no television at all, but it didn’t take long to become enslaved. Life was planned around when favorite shows were on, because if you weren’t watching at that very hour, you missed it. I remember (to my shame) being reduced to tearful anger because our babysitter wouldn’t change the channel from her favorite show to mine.
It's true that we are, as a society, still enthralled. But we don’t need to be. We have the tools to use the medium for good purposes and ignore all the rest.
When I give thanks for modern dentistry, I’m not referring to the practice of some dentists, which is to do any dental work that might involve pain using some form of anesthesia. It is good for children to learn how to handle pain in small doses. Life is not pain-free, and the habit of seeking medication for every ill is a dangerous one. Personally, I’d much rather deal with the temporary, minor pain of the dentist’s drill than the risk and after-effects of anesthesia. Moreover, when the patient is aware of where the dentist is probing, the dentist is more likely to notice if he’s gone too far or found a trouble spot.
That said, the improvements in dentistry since I was a child have been vast. The drills back then were slow, and much more painful. (Porter’s dentist even used a foot pedal powered drill for a while!) Today’s high-speed drills are almost a pleasure (I said almost) in comparison.
Thanks to fluoride (however controversial it is when put in public water supplies), to dental sealants, and to better attention given to tooth and gum care, even before a baby gets its first tooth, children have many fewer cavities today. Orthodontia has made badly crooked teeth a thing of the past. Onlays, crowns, bridges, and dental implants have greatly extended the life of our natural teeth and delayed the need for dentures.
The need to repair dental caries is so low these days that dentists have taken to whitening teeth to stay in business. What they’ll do if we ever kick our tremendous sugar habit, I don’t know.
How I love the smell of clothes dried outside in the sunshine and a soft breeze! Especially bed linens; no perfume exists that can beat that scent on a pillow. It’s a pleasure most American children have never experienced, but it was many years before my mother had the luxury of an automatic clothes dryer.
Dryers are not a necessity, even in highly-developed countries, as our visits to Japan and Europe have shown me. And yet when the weather is grey and drizzly, when children come in from playing in the snow with their winter clothing dripping with icy water, if one has better things to do with one’s time than iron clothes, or when one would simply like to have clean clothes available in fewer than twenty-four hours, to be able to toss the wet items into a machine and have them warm and dry in an hour is a great blessing.
You’re surprised I waited so long for this one, right? I value home education so highly that my gratitude for that privilege almost goes without saying. (But gratitude should never go without saying.) Because my joyous thanksgiving for the legal protection that homeschoolers now enjoy cannot be overstated, I will understate it here.
Educational opportunities have expanded for everyone, not just homeschoolers, over the last 50 years. (More)
I’m thankful for push-button phones, cordless phones, cell phones, answering machines, voice mail, Voice over IP, and video calling.
I didn't mind dialing a number—numbers were shorter back then—but phone buttons are used for a lot more than dialing these days, and that became possible when the clicks were replaced by tones. (Can anyone besides me remember phones that converted button presses into clicks?)
Once upon a time the 25-foot phone cord was the great new technology that let one actually get some work done while talking on the telephone. It was almost always in the kitchen, where it may have caused a child to trip or become entangled, but was overall much safer than using a cell phone while driving.* Still, cordless phones are much more fun, enabling work to be done in other parts of the house … and poolside relaxation without fear of missed calls. (More)
By now you’re tired of hearing me say this, but you won’t believe…
…the things one couldn’t do without a Y chromosome when I was growing up.
My own parents were great—and a bit ahead of their time—at encouraging me not to be fenced in by my sex. I had backhoes and construction sets as well as dolls for toys. I was encouraged to climb trees—and mountains. But society at large was still severely restrictive.
In sixth grade I expressed the wish to be an astronaut, and was emphatically told by my (male) teacher that girls could never be astronauts, because all astronauts had to be test pilots, and test pilots were only men. (Take that, Sally Ride!) (More)
I am of the last generation to know what life was like before pocket calculators. Even that name is revealing; who calls them that anymore? Who remembers when “adding machines” were big, clunky things like typewriters? (Have you seen a typewriter outside of a museum or an old movie?)
I remember my parents doing their taxes with a nifty little plastic device with a set of numbered dials like a telephone. (Uh, who remembers dial phones?) There was a 1’s dial, a 10’s dial, a 100’s dial, etc. and you used a stylus to turn them to the correct numbers. You could add and subtract by turning the dials clockwise or counterclockwise. The device was handy for checking all those tax numbers, and lots of fun for me when I could get my hands on it.
As a science major in college, I had many tedious calculations to do, and often found it worthwhile to make a trek through the cold and snowy winter night to use one of the half dozen Wang calculators made available to students by the physics department.
When I graduated from college, I received a thrilling (and expensive) gift: A Texas Instruments SR-10 calculator! It was especially cool because it handled scientific notation. Take a look at the keyboard and note that it did a whole lot less than the calculators you can buy today for $10 at your friendly neighborhood Walmart. The last time I visited the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, I found my wonderful graduation present on display amongst the other relics.
I firmly believe that everyone should know how to do basic arithmetic functions easily and quickly, and think it’s deplorable that we have cashiers who can’t make change without a register to do the calculations. I’ve never forgotten Isaac Asimov’s prescient story, The Feeling of Power (1958).
I also believe that everyone should know how to make bread, but that doesn’t stop me from being thankful to be able to buy bread at the store.
Thus, without apology, I am thankful for the handy, portable, convenient, powerful, inexpensive, labor-saving pocket calculator.
When I was young there was no such thing as recycling, per se. We still produced a whole lot less trash than the average family today, because we had a whole lot less stuff, and what we had was often reused (e.g. milk bottles). Food scraps went, not into the trash or down the sink, but into a compost pile in the back yard, where hardworking worms and bugs and microbes recycled it their own way into fertile soil.
Times changed. Almost without being aware of it we had become a disposable society, and our piles of trash grew. And grew. Newspapers could be recycled—indeed, one could make good money by collecting people’s old papers and taking them to the paper plant. But metal, glass, and the ubiquitous varieties of plastic went straight to the landfill. (More)