Monday, March 10, 2014

"Things were better in my day!" Or were they?

So many people talk about the past like it was perfect. The days were longer, the weather better, children more polite and adults had more morals. Children did more and complained less. Life was simple, and there weren't pedophiles loitering around every corner. Not like now, they say, usually muttering an excessive number of 'tut tuts". Listening to some of these people speak, you'd imagine that before 1980, everyone spent all their free time sitting in circles, holding hands, and singing "Kumbaya" or the like. It's like how so many artists and thinkers get misty-eyed about the apparent pre-Industrial Revolution utopia that didn't really exist, but harder to refute because it's people's memories we're talking about here. It's pretty hard to tell someone that they remember something incorrectly.

So - were things better in the past? In the spirit of this blog, I've decided to compare things today with the women who would have read Mothercraft in the late 1940s.  Then, we shall all be enlightened! 

Things that are better now

1. Health.  My kids and I are certainly less likely to have serious health concerns than ever before, especially during that pregnancy and childbirth malarky. Plus, unlike my grandmothers, I don't have to worry about my kids getting something like polio. Awareness of mental health problems is so much better now too. The original Modern Mothercraft of 1945 doesn't say a word about post-natal depression, whereas it's well known today as something to look out for. 

2. Better ability to make your own choices. Especially for women. My grandma had to leave school at 12, whereas I was able to get a Masters Degree and forge a career. I'd like to think my daughter will have even more choices than I had. Whatever your views on contraception and abortion, there is also no denying that they've allowed women to have much more choice over what size family they have, which contributes to women having children later. I reckon boys have more choices too. If my son wants to grow up to become a ballerina or a make-up artist I'd like to think he'd be able to, at least more able to do so that had he been born in the past.

3. The World feels smaller. It's much easier to teach my children about other countries and cultures due to the Internet. Different cultures and religions are also more celebrated, meaning that in the last six months we've been able to take our toddler to both a Diwali festival and a Chinese New Year festival. I didn't even know what those things existed until I was in my late teens. I didn't even eat sushi until I was 21, and thought that all Chinese food was the sort you get at the fish and chip shop.

4. Tolerance. While far from perfect, there's no denying things are more tolerant now than in the 1940s. When Mothercraft was published in NZ, homosexuality still wouldn't be made legal for over 40 years, to use one example, whereas I'm going to attend a wedding next week with two grooms.

5. Cheaper goods. Of course not better for the sweat shop workers producing said goods, but there's no denying that things like clothes are cheaper now. As I blogged about earlier, though, the quality can leave something to be desired.

Things that are worse

1. Planned obsolescence. Stuff is actually made to break so it will be replaced. My parents bought a TV in about 1982 that lasted us until 1994. Now, you wouldn't expect a TV to last half that period. And, it's expensive to fix things. My husband wanted to fix our old stereo, and the cost to do so was higher than buying a new one. Boo, I say to that.

2. Online safety. 'Tis a scary and un-chartered place, the Internet. In my day, bullies called you names on the school bus and in class, and sometimes if they saw you around. But, once you got home, they couldn't get to you as easily. I can't imagine how it must feel if the worst of it happened while you were on your computer or phone at home. Not to mention online grooming and all that scary stuff.

The ingredients for feeding a baby who can't breastfeed 
3. We're less practical. As I said in my earlier entry about milk, not knowing how to make or prepare things could leave us in a vulnerable position. I don't know how to make half of what my grandmother could, I just buy it. This is clearly the flip side to the cheaper goods I mentioned above.While more people are embracing 'the new domesticity' now than a generation ago, plenty of people like me are still more than a little bit useless.

But some things are debatable ....

1. Sense of community. Some say that the traditional community is broken down and none of us know our neighbours, which is probably more true now than then. But, on the other hand, you can be part of fabulous online communities, where you can have excellent conversations about anything, any time of night and day.

2.. Health and safety. There's been  a number of "in MY day" comments online recently in response to a school going public with its philosophy of doing away with 'politically correct' health and safety rules.So, while health and safety is better, plenty of people think it's gone too far. True, there are far more rules around health and safety than ever before, and true, I never got hurt even though we used to climb onto the garage roof and jump off onto our trampoline. But, plenty of people did get hurt.  A kid at my school broke her back after diving -unsupervised - off a bridge into a river, and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

So I guess whether or not increased health and safety is a good thing depends on whether you're the kid who never gets hurt and grows from the learning experience of, say, figuring out exactly what angle you must leap from the garage roof to make sure you actually hit the trampoline. Or, the one that ends up in a wheelchair. I know with my kids, I'd rather not take the chance.

3. "PC gone mad". Plenty of people seem to miss the days when they could openly mock a different race or someone with different sexual preferences, and resent being reminded of other cultures. Not that I think these people are worthy of more than a short mention though.

4. Screen time. There are real concerns around that kids' attention spans are shorter due to all the screen time they're generally exposed to. But, on the other hand, tablets and the like are really good to help children learn, especially some who may have struggled with traditional learning in the past. So, I guess, it's debatable.

5. "Having" to work. Mothercraft assumes that women will be at home and the fathers at work, an assumption that shines through in its advice on bedtime routine. I know people that bemoan the cost of living and both partners having to work to make ends meet, unlike in the past when it was the norm for only one partner to earn. But, on the other hand, it's a good thing that women can work and that there are higher-quality daycare options now, and more men staying at home with kids. And, hopefully, a generation of women who are less financially vulnerable should their relationships break down.

So - I think things are better now, on balance, simply because of better health and more choices. What do you think? 

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