Discipline: Baby Boomers and Their Daughters

Reading other mothers’ blogs, I am feeling all of my 62 years and every strand of my silver hair. Although I might feel more comfortable with these eloquent younger women, I belong to their mothers’ generation and might symbolize for them their mothers’ mistakes. I was born the day after the atom bomb was tested in 1945; I am six months too old to be a baby boomer. Most of my contemporaries didn’t stay home with their kids, didn’t have 4 children, and pitied me for my domestic imprisonment.

On Frog and Toad Are Still Friends, Beck published two brilliant posts about discipline. I was surprised by how much stricter some of the moms who commented seem to be. My oldest daughter, 34, , speculated that her generation believed more in discipline than their parents did, because so many of their parents worked long hours and used permissiveness to assuage their guilt about their unavailability to their kids. Do you think she has a point? Or does the economic necessity of entrusting children to group or nanny care at younger ages demand better behavior than parents who stay at home would expect or tolerate?

My four daughters were not model children. I was better at stimulation and creativity than boundaries and discipline. They were excellent students when they showed up in school. In retrospect, I permitted an overly permissive ad hoc home schooling option for the easily bored who could cough convincingly. They did not speak to their grandparents, teachers, any other adults the way they were allowed to speak to their parents. I often heard about my charming, delightful daughters.

Reading some of the comments, I got nervous that today’s moms would not have let their kids play with my kids. My kids were allowed to express their feelings endlessly. They rarely picked up their toys and their rooms were unspeakable. Chronically late, they often needed to be driven to school that was close enough to walk to. Household chores were not their strong points. No doubt I was rebelling against the strict, guilt-inducing discipline of my Catholic childhood. I transferred my first daughter to another public school because her teacher said “for shame” to her on the second day of kindergarten.

I was not permissive about violence. I always stopped my oldest daughter from hitting her younger sister. She was only 2; I didn’t punish her. But I made a big deal of encouraging her to express her anger in words. “Use words not hitting to tell Michelle how you feel.” Anne dictated stories and drew pictures to express how she felt about her sister. The books were simple affairs. I folded construction paper, used a hole puncher on the fold, and tied the sheets together with string. I kept them, and everyone still loves to read them. I always took away the toy used as a weapon. By the time Anne was 4 and Michelle was 2, they usually could play happily with blocks without mayhem.

Punishment would not have taught Anne a lifelong way of handling her anger; it would have just made her more rebellious. I hurt my back when she was 3 and could not play with her as usual. “Draw me a picture of the dummy mommy with the bad back,” she instructed. She then took a pencil and stabbed that picture countless times. I was appalled, but it helped her. Anne had almost perfect recall of her dreams from the time she was 2. Their violence was a revelation. “Daddy went under the train last night because I didn’t like his noise. Then I went to live with Ellen.” “But Ellen sometimes yells at her children,” I pointed out. “Then she will have to go under the train too,” Anne said matter of factly. Now Ann works for a world peace organization.

My two younger daughters were relatively peaceful creatures who were born using words not weapons. Carolyn, the baby, was babbling once her head was born. Their older sisters adored them. I attributed such harmony to the sibling bonding that occurred when Rose and Carolyn were born at home. Three and one half years apart rather than 2 years apart make a tremendous difference. Rose, my third daughter, would remind me that toddler Carolyn sometimes bit her without provocation, and Rose, a wonderful big sister, never responded in kind.

Disciplining them for verbal aggression would have been a full-time job. Their father and I were not perfect role models. When I was 7 years old and made my first confession, my sins were: disobedience, talking back to my parents, and hitting my brothers. In succeeding years, despite frequent repentance, I managed to stop hitting my brothers, but made little progress on the other two sins. We tolerated our daughters talking back to us if they were not abusive. “I hate you mommy” was acceptable if they could articulate their anger more specifically. I admit “respect” was not a word they heard frequently.

My younger daughter’s daughter’s college application essay gives an evaluation of my discipline style I don’t deserve: “We were never spanked or severely punished when we did something Mom disapproved of. Instead, she simply told us how she felt about it. I’m sure some parents would say that my sisters and I weren’t disciplined enough. However, I’ve noticed that when friends of mine are grounded, they often complain about their unfair parents, but I take it very seriously when Mom tells me she’s disappointed in me. “ She charitably left out all the times I let them behave in a way I found intolerable and then I yelled at them. Obviously it would have been better to respect my limits and save them from my harsh words.

We were strict about academics, safety, and seatbelts. Dropping out of honors classes or not taking advancement placement courses because they required too much work was never acceptable. Possibly we pressured them too much to succeed academically, but we expected them to honor their considerable intellectual gifts. We threw out our television set when our oldest was four and didn’t get another for five years. We were extremely strict about TV; we had a lock on it. They could not watch TV on school nights. We rejoiced that we had the only teenagers who felt they were being bad by watching TV. There were no problems with boys, booze, or drugs. We were relatively poor, so we didn’t buy them lots of clothes, toys. We encouraged their interest in world affairs, occasionally took them to peace demonstrations.

I made countless mistakes, but they all are well-educated, compassionate, dedicated women, able to own and use all their particular gifts. They have met and married wonderful men. They assure me they are going to be much stricter with their kids and make them clean up their room, vacuum, mop, clean bathrooms and go to school every single day they are not running a 103 fever. We all try not to repeat our parents’ mistakes, possibly then making our grandparents’ mistakes. We might only learn the truth about our parenting by watching our children parent our grandchildren. My oldest daughter is a far better mother than I was with her, but my first grandson is only 5 months old

About maryjograves

Children are my passion. I have 4 daughters, 5 grandkids under 5 with another on the way, 5 younger brothers, 11 nieces and nephews, 8 great nieces and nephews. I advocate a revolution for a child friendly US. I have been an editor, public librarian, social worker, and internet educator. Tweet @RedstockingGran @ChildrensWings
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8 Responses to Discipline: Baby Boomers and Their Daughters

  1. Mary Joan says:

    Veronica,We did have definite goals. Thank you for understanding we were not thoughtless permissive parents. We cared deeply about political and social issues and raised kids who care even more than we did. For example, a racist remark would have been punished. I was pleased when Anne's first boyfriend was African American. I was proud that Anne chose to spend her junior year abroad in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, because she was interested in third world development. Even though it scared me, I was proud she went to Rwanda and Kosovo. I am proud that if you do a google search of another daughter's name and torture, hers is the first hit because she is such an eloquent critic of US policy.We encouraged making friends with people of different races, religions, national origins. Making fun of anyone who was poor, sick, handicapped , mentally ill, foreign, or old was intolerable. We taught them compassion. One of my favorite songs is Phil Och's "There but for fortune go you and I." I took two of my younger daughters to visit an old college friend who was a lesbian. When we left they made disparaging remarks, and I talked seriously to them about it many times.We expected them to take an interest in world affairs. We discussed politics at the dinner table. We never subscribed to any girly fashion magazines, just magazines like the New Yorker and the Nation. I never would have tolerated their dressing like sluts, but fortunately that never was an issue.They always knew their father had been willing to do to jail rather than go to Vietnam because he was a conscientious objector. They came to nuclear freeze demonstrations. For a time we belonged to a family group called Parenting for Peace and Justice.

  2. cerebralmum says:

    I sometimes wonder if contemporary parents' thoughts about parenting and discipline is less about what their parents did and more about that overwhelming bombardment of "How To". It seems almost impossible to avoid the constant, absolute, and contradictory instructions on what we are supposed to do to be good parents, and the constant dire warnings of what problems we will create for our children if we're not perfect. Too permissive, too strict; too involved, too distant; too present, too absent; too responsible, too irresponsible.I don't know what things were like before. Were there always strangers judging everything you do as a parent when you went down the street? Just the other day, my son in a bit of a temper squirted chocolate milk (something he has only had twice in his life)all over himself. Walking back to the car to go home, I can't count the number of dirty looks I received, as though I had never bathed him in his life or perhaps they thought he had never seen a vegetable. I don't know, but whatever they thought was wrong, surely those dirty looks are some kind of insanity in our society? Was there a gap somewhere between "children should be seen and not heard" and today's blame-game when children are just being children?I am thankful for my mother. She is a voice of reason and I can talk to her when I feel I'm losing my balance, when all those other voices are too loud in my head. That voice of reason is here in your post as well. No one can be all things to all people, and no parent can "manufacture" a child who is all things. I don't think any parent ever thinks they have done everything right, but in the end, when we do our best for our children, according to our own priorities, surely that is enough?

  3. Janet says:

    Such a thoughtful post.I read Beck's post too. I think, generally, we're all doing the best we can with the tools we have. There is no right way to raise children, it all depends on your values and goals. As others noted, there is such an avalanche of parenting advice from "experts" (and even bystanders) these days, that it often feels like we can't really live up to the expectations of good parenting. I have given up trying to live up to what the experts deem to be correct, instead choosing to discipline my kids in the way that feels natural to me.Your girls sound like thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate women, so you must have done a lot of things right.Thanks for your lovely comments on my blog! I would so enjoy writing questions for you to answer. I'll send them to you within a few days.

  4. Mary Joan says:

    My daughter Anne is raising her son in the same housing development in Chelsea where I raised her. The buildings look the same; the playground have been renovated; the grounds are still well kept. But what a different place it is. There are nannies in the playground, not parents. It is so much harder to make friends; I just had to walk out my door and sit on a playground bench. Now when I sit with Nate, no one talks to me. Certainly, having lots of intelligent mother peers helped shield us from the experts in the mid-1970s. I hope the blogging community is equally helpful.I am eagerly awaiting your questions.

  5. Eve says:

    Mary Joan, I especially liked this, "We all try not to repeat our parents' mistakes, possibly then making our grandparents' mistakes." Brilliant, and probably true!Another commentator wrote that there's not a right way to raise children. However, we know there are wrong ways; I believe there is enough evidence by now to indicate that there's a "within normal limit" way of raising children if one wants to avoid very negative outcomes.It was especially interesting to me that you would suggest that you may represent, for younger mothers, the mistakes of their own mothers' generation. Interesting, because I was mulling that very idea over today. People used to turn to their mothers and grandmothers for advice, and now they turn to… what? Or whom?

  6. Mary Joan says:

    I suspect that women's compulsion to reject the wisdom and experience of their mothers and grandmother has severely set back feminism, women's liberation, the defeat of sexism, whatever you want to call it. Rejecting older women's counsel and support makes young mothers exceedingly vulnerable to so-called experts. Until my daughters got older and I got somewhat wiser, I was as guilty of rejecting maternal advice as anyone. I am so relieved that Anne and I might not be repeating that destructive pattern. My reading the same blogs and books as she does should help enormously. I know Anne has so much more experience in the wider world; I know I have been learning from her all my life.

  7. deb says:

    It's so nice to hear a success story from a woman who survived her teenagers and raised wonderful adults. Gives me hope.

  8. Mary Joan says:

    Deb, I didn't think I would survive when I was in the thick of it. My youngest was the easiest. I spent four years alone with her since her dad had left and her older sisters had left home.. We had a wonderful time together. Now she tells me my academic expectations were too low, that I was too easy on her. Ultimately you can't get it right:) When she was home, she complained that I was pressuring her to be like her sisters.

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