1950s Parenting: Something to Aspire to?

In a recent New York Times, reporter Stacy Lu wrote a piece called “Cosmopolitan Moms” about a group of women who gather for play dates and cocktails. As you might imagine, the usual debates about drinking in front of kids ensued, as well as some keen observations about the need for some parents to loosen up.

What got my attention was this paragraph:

Some say the mother get-togethers are a throwback to the 1950s, when adults had more time to themselves and children were not always the center of attention. Martinis were in vogue; today???‚¬?„?s obsessive, hard-driving, Harvard-or-bust parenting scene was not.

It appears that our generation of parents (especially the Gen Xers) idealize the wise parents of the 1950s…those crazy folks who played mah jong and drank gin rickeys while their children wandered (free of kidnappers and pedophiles) around the safe open spaces of their small and friendly neighborhoods.?‚? A time when “Go play outside and stop bothering me!” and “children are to be seen and not heard” were sufficient to the task.


As the world would soon learn, many people were miserable. By the time the 1960s & 1970s rolled around, many of these sisters burned bras, joined consciousness raising groups, ate carob, and divorced like it was going out of style. It wan’t really ever Leave it to Beaver for most families.

And while there has definitely been a spooky shift in the center of the parenting world toward kid-worship, I’m not sure the other way of doing things was as great as we think.

Remember Dr. Spock? He revolutionized parenting by suggesting that children were complex people worthy of affection as well as discipline, and that babies couldn’t be spoiled by being picked up too much.

Hugging your children and picking up babies as a revolutionary idea? That doesn’t sound very fabulous to me

Parents don’t need to refer to the 1950s in order to justify taking time for themselves. And on the weeks when drinking (before, during, or after) a playdate is the high point of my week, I know it’s time to recalibrate my notion of fun.