HISTORY TALKING: The challenges of raising children … of all ages

PRECIOUS MEMORIES: The Orange Oral History Group explored the issues involved in raising children at their recent meeting and concluded that there are different challenges in this era. Photo: CONTRIBUTED
PRECIOUS MEMORIES: The Orange Oral History Group explored the issues involved in raising children at their recent meeting and concluded that there are different challenges in this era. Photo: CONTRIBUTED

“Before I married I had  three theories on raising children. Now I have three children and no theories” – John Wilmot.

John Wilmot was the second Earl of Rochester and lived in the 18th century. He proves the old saying ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same’.

When I first read this quote I thought that Mr Wilmot must be an observer of today's society and had adequately summed up the confusion and problems facing parents in the 21st century.

But I was wrong. Bringing up children seems to depend very much on the times and the circumstances of the parents.

The Oral History group has experience of three generations of raising a family: their parents, the way they did it themselves, and the way it is done today.

Of course we realise that as time goes by our memories of childhood may be influenced by our rose-coloured glasses and that we see little more than long hot summers when our mothers pushed us out the door with the instruction that we were not to come back until dinner time.

Compared to the “helicopter” parenting we see today though, the group agreed that we were given far more freedom to explore our world and to make and benefit from our mistakes.

As Keith pointed out, the aftermath of the Depression and WWII was a considerable influence on the lives of many of us.

Money was very often scarce and goods were in short supply.

Because most of our mothers were full time housewives, there was always someone at home in the streets where we played.

We could spend most of the day wandering freely, riding bikes and on billy carts, playing hopscotch or climbing trees with very little adult supervision.

This meant that if we had a minor accident we had to pick ourselves up and start all over again. There was certainly no need for play dates or many supervised exercise groups after school.

We walked home from school and changed into old clothes to do our chores and homework and then it was time for the evening meal at the table.

Mothers had few labour-saving devices, but our meals were still cooked from scratch, which, although often fairly dreary, always included three or four different vegetables.

We had to stay at the table until everything was eaten on our plate and nobody tried to tempt our appetites.

Consequently there were very few overweight children as there are today.

“We weren't allowed to talk at meals until the news on the radio was over,” said Pauline. “Now we don't talk because everyone is looking at their phone.”

The conversation around the table was very important because we able to discuss the day's activities and, more importantly, to interact with older and younger members of the family.

Bill and his friend would catch a suburban train, carrying their guns on the way to shoot rabbits. And no one took any notice.

We decided that the biggest hurdle facing today's parents is the spread of social media and the huge influence it has on all our lives.

Back in those dark ages of our youth there was no television and many families didn't have a phone.

If they did, it was always in a place where it was impossible to have a private call, so our social lives were often blighted by the fact that the whole family was listening in to our conversation.

People seem to have been a good deal more relaxed about danger in those days.

“I remember riding my bike with a shotgun over my shoulder,” said Colin, while Bill and his friend would catch a suburban train, carrying their guns on the way to shoot rabbits. And no one took any notice.

Discipline was often strict both at home and at school, but few of our group seemed to resent it and consequently children knew clearly how they were expected to behave, although we didn't always do it.

“Children seem to run the household today,” stated Lynne firmly, and some of us nodded our heads.

Depression and stress were not words with which we were familiar. Certainly we were miserable at times but we were generally urged to ‘get over it’, which we finally did without a lot of sympathy from the rest of the family.

The group does understand the pressures on young people are of quite a different nature to those which we suffered.

“How much is the media responsible for the anxiety and terror infecting parents and children?” Leslye wondered. “There seems to be a constant bombardment of news.”

“I read that there is less violence today but we hear all about it from all over the world,” added Colin.

The bombardment of words through social media must surely have an effect on health.

The group remembered the days of WWII when time stopped for all children as their elders listened to the 7pm news. This was important war news at a time when things were looking pretty grim for Australia.

Did it really affect our childish lives, we wondered? We thought not, and decided that we weren't, as children, aware of news as a constant reminder.

Much of the time we were able to forget what was going on in the world, even if our parents were not as fortunate.

The problems with bullying have been always present ,but we also were lucky enough to leave it behind at the school gate. Today the cry seems to be ‘you can't turn it off’.

If the second Lord of Rochester was confused about raising children in the 18th century, he would be utterly astonished to see the problems facing parents today.