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Old School Parenting Makes Happier Kids—and Moms

two boys in a grassy field throwing toy airplanes. Feature image for the article titled Old School Parenting Makes Happier Kids—and Moms

Recently, our neighbor across the street recounted a conversation he had with a friend about our four boys. At first, my eyes got wide imagining what he said as images of my naked 4-year-old on a skateboard speeding down our driveway last week flashed through my mind.

He quickly put me out of my angst, however, by sharing with me that he tells people it’s like 1969 at our house. I laughed in relief but then said, “Wait, what do you mean?” He smiled and responded, “Your boys are always outside, always laughing and dirty and don’t even know what a video game is! I love it! Reminds me of my childhood.”

Such kind words. I wish my kids didn’t know what a video game was, but I certainly appreciated that’s how he saw us. We had a few other people say similar things recently who then ask how we managed to stay vintage in a technology-crazed world, so I thought I’d write about our old school parenting because honestly, it’s pretty simple and I need the pep talk!

I’d also like to clarify that I’m in no way saying I have advice worth following yet—I’m still in the midst of parenting a 12-, 7-, 5- and 4-year-old and have no idea how this will turn out. Thus far, they are happy, kind, respectful and creative boys with a heavy side of wild. The following are some things I believe have contributed to that.

4 Ways I’m Kicking It Back to Old School Parenting
50+ Activities for Kids That Are Free or Really Cheap1. Ask yourself what they would do if they were on “Little House on the Prairie.”

Never watched it? Ask “What would my great grandmother have done?” My great grandmother was raising her children in the depression, widowed from the first World War. There was no washing machine, no internet and no TV. They would rise with the light, do chores and work, go to sleep when it was dark, eat food from the garden, read books, take walks, sit on their porch, look at each other without phones in their hands and talk without being interrupted by a text.

The point of the question is to think back to a less complicated time and embrace being present and grateful without all the constant distractions. I’m grateful for all the conveniences, but we truly don’t need all the best, high-tech things to raise kids. Parents before us have done it for years and honestly, I wonder if they were better off.

My kids will never know what it’s like to wait for a call to go through when the line is busy or the excitement of hoping there is a message on the answering machine when they rushed home. Everything is at their fingertips. The younger generations are often labeled as entitled, but sometimes I just wonder if they are impatient because everything is geared around instant gratification now.

When I’m washing dishes and feeling guilty that I haven’t played enough with my kids or taken them anywhere today, I think “What would Ma Ingalls have done?” Well, for one, she wouldn’t be washing the dishes with a sink, dishwasher and garbage disposal, so I should be grateful for that. Second, her kids would be playing in a field or milking a cow or helping scrub potatoes, which leads me to my next point…

2.) Let them be bored.

Society tells us we need to entertain our kids constantly, so we hand them an iPad or turn on the TV out of guilt. When we give ourselves and our kids permission to not always be busy and, God forbid, to even let them be bored, we give their minds room to get creative. Some of the best ideas come in the shower when our mind isn’t focused on something tedious. When our minds are given a break, inspiration comes!

My mom used to tell us to clean something if we told her we were bored, which is a tradition I’ve continued in our house. They no longer tell me they are bored and I no longer have clean sliding glass doors. My oldest son has started and is currently running three businesses. He also decided to teach himself Hebrew, morse code and how to make sushi because he had the time and brains space to do that (which is fancy for saying he was bored!).

My three younger boys keep making “fish tanks” out of bins, boxes and plastic fish and animals. A string of pearls are the fish’s bubbles. A fake piece of plant that broke off decorates one of the “tanks.” They even have a tiger tank. Not sure what that’s about, but they’re making their older brother look really good right now and need to step up their boredom game with learning how to weld or something.

3.) Keep it simple.

This piggybacks well onto the entertainment game because I find my kids are the happiest when we are together. A family day at the beach, a board game at the dining table, reading a book out loud in their bed or simply running through a sprinkler in the yard all together easily count as our boys’ favorite memories. Kids just want to be with us. They don’t need it to be fancy or complicated.

Keeping it simple not only keeps their expectations manageable and pure, it also takes a lot of pressure off the parent. When our son Bo turned 7 this year, we had a water balloon party in the driveway with a piñata, a box of cake mix and some sliced watermelon with a few close friends. When Titus turned 4, we grabbed some live bait from the local fishing store, invited the godparents and neighbors out, and grilled hotdogs while we went fishing on the river.

It was little-to-no stress and relationships were valued more than fancy decorations, themes, or gifts. Vacations can be a cabin at the state park. Constant summer camps can be replaced with playing outside and camping in the yard. Their first car can—and should—be a beater they paid for or at least paid half for.

What our society is selling us is “more is more” and guess what, it’s not working. Kids who get everything at a young age have nothing to work for and nothing to look forward to. Keep it simple and they will find joy in the small things, which is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. You set the tone for this in your home and by modeling peace and contentment, and it gives them a tangible example to do the same when they grow older.

4.) Try not to helicopter parent.

With social media, it feels like people are breathing down your neck with who has the best pictures and parties, what makes a you a good parent vs a bad parent, “Pinteresting” advice etc. All this extra info and all these extra scrutinizing eyes on your life leads to anxious parenting and anxious kids.

When we were kids, we didn’t know who went on a date night where or what everyone’s baby shower or new outdoor furniture looked like. In a five-second scroll, we get bombarded with information, and 9 times out of 10 that is the tiniest screenshot of a life that is way more complicated and definitely not as fabulous in real life. I was guilty of this just the other day! My entire family forgot my 40th birthday. Did I post that? Nope. I posted a picture of us celebrating… once they remembered. Ha!

Take a break. Stop comparing yourself to others and you will parent with less people-pleasing and probably less anxiety. Relax and let them be who they are. Let your children fail so they can learn to get up and try again.

Let them fight it out without intervening every time. Don’t rush in like you’re Grey’s Anatomy every time they scrape a knee. There’s rarely a day at the Duval house without someone bleeding, so I’m admittedly callous in this area, but I have a drawer full of salves, essential oil blend roller balls, bandaids and ace bandages. They either tend to their bug bites and wounds on their own or we pray, hug, arnica, ice and rally so we can get back out there to all the fun.

If you stay calm, they will stay calm. If you stop comparing, documenting and filtering every moment of your life and theirs, they will stop having to live up to some unattainable fake poster life that kind of pressure creates.

It’s OK to Be an Old School Parent

When I think of how to summarize this I just keep thinking of simpler times. If you’re the kind of person who watches “Goldbergs” or “Stranger Things” just to see kids riding their banana seat bikes and answer the phone with the long curling cord, you’re probably longing for that too.

It’s OK to have a house that is comfortable and lived-in and not Insta-perfect. It’s OK to tell your kids to go catch lizards outside instead of taking them to do the latest thing. It’s OK to hold books instead of iPads. It’s OK to have family dinners instead of being involved in every sport under the sun and never being home. It’s OK to be the weird neighbor who doesn’t let their kids play video games and opts for naked skateboarding instead. Video games have been proven to lead to porn addiction.¹ As for naked skateboarding… well I feel like I should quit while I’m ahead, but you get my point.

Give yourself permission to simplify, be bored and, most of all, be present. We only get a few years with these cuties, so let’s kick it back to old school parenting and enjoy them while we can.

Photo by Victoria Rain/Pexels.

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