10 Lies Grandma Told You

Parents, you’re doing it wrong. I just got back from the bookstore, with a half aisle dedicated to books on potty training, breastfeeding, discipline, feeding, and the basic care of infants. When did we start needing so much advice on how to do what should come naturally? Where did good moms get their cues in our previous century? Mostly from other parents…and just like today, from truth-revealing ADS! Here are the vintage advertisements your grandparents (and great-grandparents) might have seen, and guess what? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

1. Healthy Kids, Healthy Foods


Kid food staples, then and now: carby pasta and potato products. Also: peanut butter. Photo published in 1923.

2. Soda Didn’t Make Our Kids Fat


Offering soda after school, not something most responsible moms would do now…but it has been pushed on kids since soda came on the scene. Nobody thought it was a problem, because after kids had their after school soda, they were let outside to run around the neighborhood burning calories and raising hell, not to be seen until dinner. Ad published in the 1920s.

3. Kids Knew How to Mind their Manners


Most of what we think we know about children and their bad manners can be observed at places children were never meant to be, like restaurants. For most of this century, kids would never be seen at any type of restaurant. Around the 1940s, you might have started to see families out, but nowhere other than a drive-in, diner or fast-food establishment. Kids in some social classes would rarely eat with adults for most daily meals. Children under the age of five had a chance to learn real table manners in a safe environment before being dragged to the latest Korean-Indian fusion bistro to make a horrendous scene in front of other diners. Ad published in the 1920s.

4. Bootstrappers


Kids were more independent because parents had more household duties (and often bigger families), so they had to rely on their kids to get things done. Self-reliance was highly valued. Parents were busy making dinners (without courtesy of the microwave), hanging laundry on the line, doing their daily shopping (common before electric refrigeration was the norm) or doing any number of tasks which used to be a lot more onerous and suck up all the time that we now get to spend one on one actually playing with our kids.

So yes, kids were expected to bathe themselves at earlier ages, for example, but were drowning deaths and general injuries at home more common? Ad published in 1921.

5. Childhood was Sacred


Kids weren’t as bombarded with commercial messaging? Branded products for kids have been around for over a hundred years. Published in the 1930s.

6. Favorite Toy: Cardboard Box


Alternate false memory: I played with whimsical, hand-made, unpainted wooden toys. Plenty of toys were just as elaborate and gadgety as they are now. And your parents still wouldn’t get it for you. Ad published in the 1930s.

7. Children Dressed as Children


All cotton playsuits, hand-sewn gingham dresses and sailor suits, adorable. Kids needed to enjoy it for as long as they could, because adults dressed up a lot more elaborately on a daily basis than we ever do now. Dress up time was a lot more glamorous with mom’s real fur stole and high heels. When my little girl wants to dress up like me, she puts on my flip flops. Ad published in 1945.

8. Men were Men and Women Ironed


We hear that men and women used to have more clearly defined roles. Mom cooked and cleaned in heels, and dad read the paper, smoked a pipe, and mowed the lawn.

Just like today, parents ran the gamut when it came to how much they did around the house- although spending time with the children was still mostly a woman’s job (when she had time- see #5). This is exactly how I feel when my husband gets up early with the kids on Saturday: pleasantly surprised and grateful. But see that apron on the husband? Would yours wear one? Ad published in 1950.

9. Go Outside and Play


Kids used to get outside to play more often. Yes. And mother and father lathered them up with baby oil and let them roam the beach (or in the case of this ad, an all-baby cruise ship) on their own. A tan baby was a healthy baby. Ad published in 1956.

10. Life was Simpler


Everyone has selective memory when it comes to parenting. They forget the cigarette breaks that were the equivalent of our internet browsing/Farmville games/visits to the gym/manicures/shopping mall benders (insert your favorite relief here). Parents of all generations remember the good times and forget the difficult trials their kids put them through. It’s nature’s way of ensuring we continue to breed.

Truth is, kids have always been complicated. And parenting has always been work.

Now, go stock your fridge with beer, wives of America.

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