How Motherhood Has Changed Over the Generations

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Generations and generations of mothers come and go, but do we spend enough time learning from those moms before us who have paved the way to motherhood? The past year has been a reflective process for so many of us since we have gone through entirely too much as a country. My biggest takeaway from the last year was about relationships and the importance of those people in our life, especially those special women in our lives that gave us the privilege and opportunity to be known as…Mom. 

This led to some fun and powerful conversations with two influential women in my life, my mom and grandma. I often ask about “life back then”, but had never taken in the information to appreciate how motherhood has changed throughout history, even just the last few generations.  

A Little Background Info

My grandma, a mother at the age of 17, had three kids. Two boys and one girl, with age gaps of 3-4 years. Their first house was in a small farming town east of Indianapolis. It was also next to the blacksmith and didn’t have any indoor plumbing. My grandma diapered her kids, using cloth diapers, with boiling them as a way to disinfect/reuse them. My mom joined the world of motherhood at the age of 23, having my sister and I, with a 4-year age gap. My parents lived in a small house east of Indianapolis in the same town they grew up in.  

Pregnancy, Labor & Delivery

“Doctors weren’t concerned back then about how much women gained during pregnancy” is what my grandma was telling me, as I picked my jaw up off of the ground. 

Visualizing labor and delivery in the 50s and 80s seems so foreign to me. The questions I thought about asking were not where the conversation landed. My grandma described her labor and delivery experience as pretty “easy”, although she had big babies, each one weighing 8-10 pounds, all while my grandpa waited in the delivery room, as men were not allowed in. Are you now visualizing an episode of Mad Men where the men are smoking cigars as they casually wait for their babies to be born? “After I had the 10-pound baby, I knew I was done having kids”. My mom, on the other hand, had an easy pregnancy and labor but did have complications with the delivery of me, as technology was not as advanced to detect issues with the pregnancy. 

Then I sit here and think about a modern-day pregnancy and delivery. My labor and delivery was not a walk in the park. I was in labor for 28 hours with my firstborn, with a 3-hour push window, that then ended in an emergency c-section. My second child was a scheduled c-section. 

Everyday living

The day-to-day operations of motherhood are all the same: playtime, mealtime, bath time, and bedtime, but with a few variants. One thing is sure, playtime hasn’t changed. Kids still want and need to play, and favorite toys consist of the basics: dolls and trucks.  

When it came to feeding newborns, my grandma didn’t breastfeed. She said it wasn’t common back then and neither was formula. She created her own formula, using whole milk and Karo. My mom breastfed for the first six months and then switched to formula. Both agreed that women weren’t encouraged like they are today to breastfeed and/or pump. They weren’t given as much information, assistance, or resources.  

My grandma’s response about mealtime: “I fixed it. They ate it.” which I appreciated, as I have never been the mom who makes three meals at dinner to appease each person at the dinner table. I am going to keep my “inner grandma” in the back of my mind to make sure I stick to serving one meal a night. My mom said the favorite meals when I was going up were chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. At least some things haven’t changed.  

Bath time was in the sink for my dad and his siblings. They didn’t have an indoor bathroom, let alone a bathtub until later in life. A bit changed down the road when I was a child. Bath time was in a bathtub filled with toys, bubbles, and finished with a white cloud of baby powder covering the bathroom floor. 

Potty Training

Two words. Rubber pants. This is apparently where our generation is going wrong in our potty training methods. My dad, along with his brother and sister were potty trained by the age of 17 months. My mom had my sister and I potty trained between 12-18 months.  Although I know we have learned a lot about potty training since my diaper days 34 years ago, it is intriguing to realize that rubber pants may be the answer to our potty training woes as mothers in 2021. Adding rubber pants for my two-year-old to my Amazon cart right now…

Discipline

I was surprised to see spanking wasn’t the “go-to” method for discipline for either my mom or grandma. They both talked about disciplining through consistent “No. No” to children or the occasional time-out spot. Both women described the occasional smack on the hand, but very rarely did they have to spank their children. Although I do not spank in my household, this was eye-opening for me. I feel I know many parents currently resort to spanking as a form of discipline in their home.  

Traveling

We all know traveling has clearly changed a lot over the last few generations. My grandma packed the kids in the car. I understand how the name “car seat” came about, as she described my dad’s car seat as a small seat with a hook that hung over the seat. It was not harnessed into the car at all. As for a baby, she would lay them on the seat and do the old “mom reach” if she had to slam on the brakes. My mom and dad did all our traveling via the classic road trip method. We weren’t in car seats or boosters nearly as long as kids today, but my sister and I were known to slyly move our seat belts behind our backs as we drove. 

Big Parenting Issues

When asking my mom and grandma about their struggles as a parent, I figured they would think of something big that happened while raising their kids. I assumed words like bullying, finances, and discipline would be ones that would stand out to them. They both said that life was simple. People were much kinder. And they didn’t have social media and the world of technology to parent around. A big thing they didn’t have to worry about was the pressures of “doing it all”.  

Reflecting on what I learned about these two important mothers in my life, made me self-reflect. It actually made me wish I had been a parent in a different generation. It made me feel that my generation has their priorities wrong. I want that carefree attitude about parenting, motherhood, and life in general. 

After reading some of the differences over the last few generations of motherhood, I hope it gives you the motivation to take the time to learn these types of things within your own family or the women in your life. People, especially those of whom you want to hear their stories, aren’t going to be in your life forever. Take the time out of your busy schedule and ask these questions. One day you won’t get the chance to have these conversations.  

All I know is: Motherhood looks good on them. 

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