Old Timey Parenting in a New Age World.

I have a lovely neighbor who raised her four children in a home with a similar footprint to mine. I often think of her while in the throes of our day. I like to imagine her carrying children and laundry up and down her similar staircase. I wonder what stories the walls and floorboards hold. I’d like to run my hands over the nicks in the doorways and scratches on the floor. Touch the physical memories of raising a brood long gone. I wonder if she yelled as much as I do, if she was a more patient mother; a better mother.

Before I told anyone I was pregnant with our last child, she had the neighborhood convinced that I was. “I could just tell. I remember that look. Having three, tiny children and another on the way. You looked…well, you looked so tired.” I could not argue. I was tired. Save Our Ship tired. Jack hanging off the edge of the raft watching The Titanic sink tired. I put snacks at toddler height level so you could feed yourself while I vomit into the 5 gallon bucket next to the couch tired.

I value her perspective. I value her stories. I value the ease, grace and sureness of her words. Plainly put, I’m in love with an era of parenting long gone.

She never fenced her yard. They didn’t see the point. There was a giant field and children ran in it. Until, that is, the day she discovered she didn’t just have a runner. She had a runner away-er. A son who would, once her back was turned, head for the hills. She did what any concerned parent would do. She found a solution. She took a belt and made a zip line on her laundry line. And, that was ok. In fact, it was genius. He was safe. She could fold laundry. They were both outside, sun on their faces. Done and done.

I can only imagine the shock and horror if this were done today. It would be a simple as her taking a photo of her smiling child happily attached to the makeshift line. She would place it on a Pinterest board under, say, “Creative solutions for runaways!” and a society of parents who believe it is their job to not only raise their own children, but, also critique how you are raising yours would be hot to point out the possible emotional damage her “fence” could inflict. I would be quick to jump to her defense, noting that it is far more damaging to be hit by a car or eaten by hill animals.

Old Timey parenting is what I want. An authentic village instead of an implied one. Confidence in your ability to make real world decisions that benefit your family without considering the righteous indignation of others. Finding creative solutions that work without the constant, dull roar of the parenting masses. Showing up with a pitcher of martinis instead of a pitchfork, while dirty faced, barefoot children run wild and mildly to barely supervised in yards. And, this was ok.

When being a kid wasn’t your only job around the house. And, this was ok. When people weren’t quick on the draw, spouting tales of ruination and claiming that you’re spoiling their childhood by having expectations that your children make contributions to their home and family.

Maybe there has always been an element of parenting while peering over our shoulders. Maybe, but, was it ever so pronounced? Because of our new age world of community boards, Facebook, Pinterest,  Twitter, new genres of parenting with labels splitting us into smaller and even still smaller segregated groups, we have begun wiping our feet on the doormats of our virtual parenting worlds, entering each others’ living rooms, and, with little thought, pointing out the choices and parenting decision we don’t care for. Perhaps we should take a cue from the days of Old Timey Parenting. The days when you would walk out on your back porch, see the children barefoot and muddy, wave to the mother next to the clothesline and just meander back inside to your own world of individualized chaos. Showing support through friendly gestures and by keeping our opinions to ourselves. And, that was ok.

One day, in this very home, I hope another young mother runs her hands over the cracks in our floor, the divots in our walls and thinks, a mother like me was here raising her brood. Failing, succeeding and all the grey in between. I hope she finds the sureness of her own voice. Like my neighbor has found. Like I hope to one day find. That, as sisters, we can all leave an imprint on surfaces explored by mothers yet to come.


  1. Wow. Very well put!

  2. Just, damn. You made me tear up with the eloquence of your words. This reminds me of a story my grandmother would tell me about my dad. He was a wandering toddler who would often be found down the street and he was even brought back home by knowing neighbors . Tired of her little boy running for the hills, she devised a pen for the backyard. There he could play while she got work done. My Dee, as I called her, was one of those women who let their kids get dirty, wasn’t afraid to use tough love as a lesson, and hid her Cokes in the hall closet because she didn’t want to share them with her bottomless pits a.k.a. precious ones. She was a woman who knew the strength of her motherhood and just how to employ it– she understood that she was raising human beings (not perpetual children) and that they needed to be caring, responsible, and compassionate people. I can only hope to be a mother like her.

    • Thank you, Haley. This is such a wonderful response. I had a grandma like this, as well. I know exactly what you’re talking about and why this is such an emotional, overwhelming time for parents now. Finding that strength in your individual motherhood is hard with the whispers of “not enough” and “more” around us. It’s hard to navigate. I get this. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

    • Thank you so much for your blog. It makes me laugh, cry, and want to give you a hug (and a glass of wine). This post could not have come at a better time…the toddler years are fun but oh so confusing as a first time mom, who wants to practice gentle/attachment parenting, but is finding it really hard to empathize with her clingy 19 month old when it is taking her 2 hours to go to sleep (without me and my boobs). So yeah. Thank you. You are awesome. Also, let’s start an old timey parenting village. <3

    • Thank you for this, Sarah. We are all figuring it out as we go and finding our own answers. I think you are awesome and yes, I am now accepting applications for the BPM Retreat Commune sister-wives. 😉 Thank you for reading. xo

    • Sealionsarah, not only do we share a name but also a child, it sounds like!! I have the same exact issue with my 22 month old son. If you ever wanna swap stories.. I’d love to chat with a like minded mama:))). And I totally love this post and blog in general. Love the idea of the house and all of its knicks and scratches in the furniture and floors being shared by many families. I love history you can see and feel. And I love that I’m not the only one who throws my kid in the laundry basket and hauls him and load upon load up the basement steps. Which are not to code. And which makes me have disaster visions while I’m in the act of carrying too many things up the stairs, one of which is a love child!
      Oh the things we do.. I can’t even imagine doing it with four:).

  3. So well written. I so strive to raise independent children, two of which are right now clearing the table and washing dishes, just like my mother did. It’s harder these days, homework in kindergarten, no kids in the neighborhood, they are so much more reliant on us. Trying to find the sweet spot where I am not a helicopter mom but am there for my children. There are never enough hours in the day!

    • It is harder today, but, if we just trust our own intuition and successes, we’re going to be ok. Finding the sweet spot is indeed my struggle, as well. Thank you for commenting and reading, Becky.

  4. I love fellow Erma Bombeck mentalities! If she were still with us, I know she’d love this blog of yours.

    The Perfect Mother “ by Erma Bombeck: Everyone said Sharon was a terrific mother. Her neighbors said it. Sharon painted the inside of her garbage cans with enamel, grew her own vegetables, cut her own grass every week, made winter coats for the entire family from remnants, donated blood and baked Barbara Mandrell a doll cake for her birthday. Her mother said it. Sharon drove her to the doctor’s when she had an appointment, color-coordinated the children’s clothes and put them in labeled drawers, laundered aluminum foil and used it again, planned family reunions, wrote her Congressman, cut everyone’s hair and knew her health insurance policy number by heart. Her children’s teacher said it. She helped her children every night with their homework, delivered her son’s paper route when it rained, packed nutritious lunches with little raised faces on the sandwiches, was homeroom mother, belonged to five car pools and once blew up 234 balloons by herself for the seventh grade cotillion. Her husband said it. Sharon washed the car when it rained, saved antifreeze from year to year, paid all the bills, arranged their social schedule, sprayed the garden for bugs, moved the hose during the summer, put the children on their backs at night to make sure they didn’t sleep on their faces, and once found a twelve-dollar error on a tax return filed by H & R Block. Her best friend said it. Sharon build a bed out of scraps left over from the patio, crocheted a Santa Claus to cover the extra roll of toilet paper at Christmastime, washed fruit before her children ate it, learned to play the harpsichord, kept a Boston fern alive for a whole year, and when the group ate lunch out, Sharon always figured out who owed what. Her minister said it. Sharon found time to read all the dirty books and campaign against them. She played guitar at evening services. She corresponded with a poor family in Guatemala…in SPANISH. She put together a cookbook to raise funds for a new coffee maker for the church. She collected door to door for all the health organizations. Sharon was one of those women blessed with a knack for being organized. She planned a “theme party” for the dog’s birthday, made her children elaborate Halloween costumes out of old grocery bags and her knots came out just right on the shoelaces when they broke. She put a basketball hoop over the clothes hanger as an incentive for good habits, started seedlings in a toilet paper spindle, and insulated their house with empty egg cartons, which everyone else threw away. Sharon kept a schedule that would have brought any other women to her knees. Need twenty-five women to chaperone a party? Give the list to Sharon. Need a mother to convert the school library to the Dewey Decimal System? Call Sharon. Need someone to organize a block party, garage sale or a school festival? Get Sharon. Sharon was a SUPER MOM! Her gynecologist said it. Her butcher said it. Her tennis partner said it. Her children… Her children never said it. They spent a lot of time with Rick’s mother, who was always home with them and who ate cookies out of a box and played poker with them.

  5. This is so beautiful, and the longing so clearly communicated, that it brought tears to my eyes.
    I agree precisely with Becky.
    And I thank you, Bethany, for once again illuminating the cobweb-covered thoughts in the dark recesses of my mind.

  6. Once again….you make me feel normal. You are the best writer that I read, hands down. (shhh don’t tell the others I said!) 🙂 Devan

    • If anyone asks, I’ll take this blog secret to my grave. Love you, Devan. One day I have dreams of us meeting. Just so you know, I’m not nearly as interesting in real life. BUT, I will offer wine and a play structure for barely supervised play. xo

    • Sounds heavenly! I’m trying to get Tara to visit (you know her Johnny bought a house here), we could have a ho-down. LOL! Y’all all come own down ta Tennessee!

  7. Well said and truly only hope someday someone else will think and look at m e that way, instead old and past my prime. Great job here and very much enjoyed!!

  8. Gah, I LOVE your writing. I do agree with the stuff you said, but also…oh the writing!!!! So beautiful.

  9. Love this! And it was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Just yesterday, my 10 year old son got into the car after school with electrical tape over his mouth after school. It turns out that the kids wouldn’t stop talking in study hall and his teacher got desperate. I loved it! My first instinct was to grab my camera and preserve this awesome memory. But, I thought it best not to give credit where it was due, because I could just see it going viral and this poor teacher getting in trouble for venting her frustrations and joking with the kids. Really enjoyed your perspective!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much! You’ve validated my hope that I’m not the only one. I cherish the few friends that I have that feel free to, kindly but firmly, call out my child when she’s doing something in their house that they dislike. Or about to run into the street. What happened to children that obeyed (or at least paused to listen to) ANY adult that spoke to them? (Friend of Mommy and Daddy adults – not random strangers offering candy, of course.) Such friends are hard to find, but your post gives me hope that maybe there are more of us out there – sometimes hiding a little bit out of fear that we’ll be reprimanded for telling someone’s child not to put the cat in the microwave. Solidarity!

    • You are not alone. I think we live in a time when people are afraid to find their own parenting voice. We’re too often looking to others to instead of using our given intuition. I think, the more we talk about it, the stronger we can become in our own voice. Thank you for reading. xo

  11. Wow! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. Parenting is difficult no matter if it is old timey or modern parenting, I am just impressed how you handled your kids so well. You are amazing. 🙂

  12. Just yeah! Preach it Sister……I want to be there so badly, instead of in this horrid, judgey world of modern parenting.

  13. You have an amazing way with words. Amazing. Your words make your your blog come alive and jump off the page (how many trite phrases in that sentence??) I look forward to your posts. Well done!

  14. This was so beautiful. I love your writing!

  15. You are such a beautiful writer.

    I sometimes long for the kind of…community my mother and my grandmother lived in when they raised their children. What I would give to spend my days across the street playing backgammon and drinking wine while my child played with my best friend’s child, not worrying that they were alone in the backyard because we knew they’d be safe. That’s what it was like for my mother before we moved to Asia.

    I think the only thing that makes me grateful we weren’t part of that generation is this whole social media thing. But, if that didn’t exist, perhaps we would be happier? We wouldn’t spend so much time behind our computers and smart phones. We’d be forced to talk to one another.

    But they didn’t have hair straighteners back then, so maybe I’m better off in the here and now…

    • You bring up a very valid point about hair straighteners, but, I only straighten my hair about once every 6 months, so, that might be a luxury I could possibly-mabye do without. I’m going to go fire up the D’Lorean? You in? Thank you for reading, Dani! xo

  16. You’re amazing, as always. I agree with the sentiment behind it, but the words. The words make it so, so beautiful. xo

  17. I am so proud to call you my sister (even if only by marriage)! You are an excellent writer – so much emotion and deep thinking comes through your words. You have a talent! Run with it and let it be an avenue of satisfaction, release… whatever!

    And, amen on the topic. I often wish we could jump back to an earlier time when life was easier… in some ways, anyway (although no chicken pox is nice).

    You are a very special lady. I miss you and love you! Can’t you guys move to Denver????

  18. This is so perfect. Thank you for writing this.

  19. I love this. This is just what I want, too, for my boys. Old-timey parenting. Or, I guess, old-timey childhood.

    The worst, for me, is that I was raised with this freedom, but for some reason my gut instincts are betraying me and I am helicopter by default. I have to go against my gut to do what I know is right for my kids. 🙂 Maybe if more people start living this way, it will become the norm again.

    • You have to follow your gut. That’s the voice we should listen to! Different parenting voices make this community so wonderful. As long as we work to embrace our different styles, voices and intuitions, this whole job would be a lot easier to navigate. Thank you for reading!

  20. This was wonderful!I too wish for the olden days.. Alas we live in a world that won’t tolerate it..

  21. I love this post. So beautiful. And so very authentic.
    Man, do I want a village to help raise my children. I’m lucky to have some wonderful friends and family, but the reality is that everyone is busy. It’s not like it was in the old days. And a big part of me wishes it was.

  22. Was it possible to love you more than I already did? I didn’t think so until I read this. So perfectly said. I remember going outside and only coming in for meals and walking way further than I would ever let my kids go now. I don’t think a single neighbor raised their eyebrows at my mom because they were all doing the same thing.

    • My grandparents did the same with us. We went outside with a bucket, shovel and our imagination. Came in for meals. Stayed dirty, hosed off and did it all again. It’s become so complex now. Childhood has turned into an awards ceremony with everyone trying to one-up each other. It makes me sad. I still send my kids out to play in the dirt. Love you, Jessica.

  23. I could not love this more. I think we romanticize the old days and things probably weren’t as simple as they seem, but back then they really did do the whole “village” things. Any parent in your neighborhood could yell at your kid for acting like a savage while playing with all the other kids. I need more parents yelling at my kids for acting like savages.

    • It’s the village aspect, for sure. It’s a 3 act play if I need to go to the gynecologist. I have that comfort with our immediate family, but, sadly they are all 2 + hours away. The tight-knit family unit keeps on disintegrating over the years. Thanks for reading, Allison!

  24. There was just something so soothing about this post. Maybe deep down we all long for the parenting of years past.

    • Agreed. I think there is something so intoxicating about the idea of the simplicity attached to it. Even though, simplicity in parenting is a myth, I’d sure love a village. Thank you for reading and for the lovely compliment.

  25. I just found your blog and I love it!!!! I am the momma to 10 kids I have to say things have evolved…..a lot in the past 25 years when I started this parenting gig! My youngest is 4 and I can definitely say its a different era!! 🙂 Loved the way you put it!

  26. Very well said! I wish to heck that people would keep their unpleasant opinions to themselves!!


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