Childhood and parenting, then and now

The older I get, the more I'm convinced childhood was much easier for me than it is for kids today. Why? Back then I was never concerned about my tablet battery running low. I could dump my bike in any neighbor kid's yard, play for a while, and know it was perfectly safe.

The older generations and society protected me, cocooned me, from news about the atrocities that have been a part of human nature since Adam and Eve left the garden.

Family finances made it clear there was a sharp distinction between "want" and "need." On summer evenings, the only rule was "come home when the street lights come on."

I was never jealous of classmates with smartphones. If I found an empty pop bottle in the alley, I could turn it in at the local delicatessen for two cents and get two pieces of penny candy. Or I could splurge and spend it all on Tootsie Roll candy. I knew there was a God and he loved me, personally, a kid, and I knew and loved him.

I was lucky, fortunate, blessed. I didn't know that back then.

My four siblings and I had a mom and dad who loved us and provided for us, and they weren't concerned about being our friends. They were concerned about being good parents who set and enforced reasonable rules with reasonable consequences. They sacrificed to give us that wonderful childhood.

But the older I get, the more I'm convinced parenthood was much easier for me than it is for moms and dads today. Why? These days, corporations are stealing girls' and boys' childhoods for the sake of a buck. They're marketing on a scale that was unimaginable only a generation ago, with images and words and suggestions that might well have landed them in jail two generations ago.

In many corners of the world, values have lost all value. Or, put another way, whatever makes the most noise, whatever gets the most attention, becomes valuable in the eyes of children because, as young as they are, they don't know better and parents' voices are drowned out.

Parents striving to be good moms and dads can quickly be branded with a host of negative stereotypes, called "anti-this" and "anti-that" for their objections. Or they can be considered just plain stupid for thinking there is right and wrong. Children don't have an equal say in all things that happen in the household because they're children: They lack knowledge, experience and wisdom.

Love and sacrifice, no matter what the rest of the world says, remain cornerstones for a happy, healthy, holy family.

What can I do? What can you do? Here are two suggestions: When you spot a dad or mom doing a good job in the neighborhood, at church, at a family gathering, praise him or her. Thank them. Offer encouragement.

You also can pray for the parents of young people, and pray for those of us whose kids are grown up and parenting, striving to teach lessons to last a lifetime.


- Bill Dodds is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.