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Grandma Got It Right {what modern moms can learn from the silent generation}

“How do you do it?”

I hear a lot of moms point that question to any woman with more than two children. Three, four, five, ten kids, it doesn’t matter—we are amazed by the lady who can juggle a quantity of little people that exceeds her number of hands.

Yet the two-child family is a relatively modern trend. In the 1950s baby boom, women had four kids on average. Before that, pioneer wives delivered as many babes as the good Lord allowed, and by golly she needed all the help she could get on the farm.

My husband’s grandmother had five children within eight years. My goodness. There were moments after my firstborn arrived when I thought just one child would do me in.

What did the earlier generations know that we don’t?

When we live in a time with more modern conveniences than ever, why are families today facing burnout in far greater umber? What did parents of generations past know, that we have forgotten? Today, we're learning from the wisdom of families that have come before us!

1. They read books. And told stories. And sent the kids outside to play. Sure, we do this too, but we treat it like a checklist item, not a way of life. So many other options are vying for our attention today, from Internet to videos to battery-operated everything. Plus who has time to play outside when there’s basketball practice and karate lessons and science club to attend? These are not bad things in and of themselves, but piled on top of one another they can shrink a family’s margin. Then when we do finally invite our kids to engage in “free” play time, we intentional moms stick our nose in it and manage the enrichment process. No wonder we’re tired. We never give ourselves—or our kids—a break.

How about granting children their own space to imagine and explore? Within safe limits, of course, I mean, Amber Alerts weren’t a thing in Grandma’s day, but we can be watchful without hovering. Try introducing a “technology-free Tuesday” or “schedule-free Saturday” and see how this opens time to enjoy a gentler family life.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29–30)

2. They were all in the same boat. There was no keeping up with the Joneses because everybody was the Joneses—or the Smiths, or the Kuchenbeckers. Single income families were still normal. Dads worked and moms stayed home, and nobody questioned it or pressured women to be a hundred people at once. This is by no means a slam on working or single moms—I’m a working mom of my own variety, and I’m grateful for modern opportunities. What I’m calling for here is contentment. If you’re running yourself crazy trying to be more and acquire more, to the point where your children are a distraction rather than the apple of your eye, is it worth it?

Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:6)

3. They had each other. Remember when neighbors weren’t just friendly; they were actually friends? Some of us have only seen that kind of camaraderie in movies. Yet God created us for fellowship, and motherhood is not meant to be journeyed alone. Our grandmothers exchanged recipes—on handwritten cards, delivered in person, not via e-mail. They held weekly bridge clubs and bowling leagues. They had block parties. Remember block parties?

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another . . . (Hebrews 10:25a)

This is not a matter of old-fashioned nostalgia, but rather a refocus on our purpose as parents. Proverbs 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” If parenting has become more stressful than rewarding, maybe it’s time to glean some of Grandma’s bygone wisdom. Then I pray we can all reclaim the joy of motherhood—whether you have one child or ten.

Becky Kopitzke

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  1. Love this. My word for 2016 is “community.” I’m thinking if my generation (I’m 42) doesn’t get it right, our children will. They are yearning for simple.

    Thanks for writing this! God bless.

  2. Great writing…thank you for sharing! I am 62 and my husband and I have raised 7 wonderful children. We have 8, almost 9, grand children….with many more to follow, I am sure!
    I am glad that we raised our children when social media wasn’t so social 🙂
    Thank you for your encouragement to young moms!

  3. So I will admit I usually get offended by articles such as these as it seems to state that “get over yourself, people have always had big families” and it feels like an attack to me having 4 kids and feeling like superwoman on days we just survive ha! But this is so well written, kudos to the author! She has a great gift with writing in a way so as to not turn the audience away. It was upbeat and simply mentioned that there were 3 ways she felt that our grandparents’ generation did it a little bit better than ours and what we could learn from them. I’d love to read more of her work in the future, great insight and I too, love that Generation and how they raised their families.

    1. Oh my goodness, Melissa, I would be the last mom to tell another mom to “get over yourself” because I feel attacked by those same comments, and with only two kiddos! Blessings to you and your family. Keep doing your beautiful mom thing, my fellow unsung superhero!

  4. This was very well written, I only wish the list was longer! 🙂 Thanks for writing this convicting piece.

      1. Children in the past had chores they needed to do to help out.When parents spoke they meant what they said and would back it up and the children knew it.Your article is good but so much more could be put in it.I am 66 years of age.Raise a child up in the way you want them to be.

  5. Before reliable, readily available birth control, large families were the norm. Women often gave birth every two years or so because breast-feeding the newest infant provided some protection from pregnancy for the first nine to 12 months. And this cycle often continued until a woman was in her forties. Before the 20th century, she likely gave birth at home, usually without a doctor in attendance. It was not uncommon for women to die from childbirth or for babies to die at birth or in infancy. And a common disease like measles could and did kill children. Except for smallpox, vaccines did not exist until the 1930s and penicillin wasn’t discovered until 1928. Children did not have hours of leisure time and were given responsibilities according to their age. Older children also looked after the younger ones and, when a child was old enough, he or she may have been expected to find full-time work and contribute financially to their family. Many did not graduate from high school and an eighth grade education was considered adequate. All this applies to the average, working class family. Life for wealthier families was far easier, of course. But death in childbirth, infancy and childhood happened in even the weatheist families. Thankfully, it was a risk they were willing to chance. If they hadn’t, many of us wouldn’t exist today.

  6. Thank you G-d for my parents, grandparents, family, and neighbors who loved, enjoyed, and lived through everything together. Share your stories with your children and family. This is our heritage. JMH

  7. we lived in a 17 room home ~ canned/dehydrated and raised our food in the garden and the barn ~ 3 children-under 14… when we had graduation for our exchange student, people wondered how I kept everything up ~ ~ ~ Well, I din not. All of us, the children and I, kept things up! We home educated ~ they had plenty of school time, play time, AND got to work beside me to learn about” how to take care of your family while staying at home” !

  8. So encouraging to see that ‘some’ young people can see the difference and are not swayed by all the glitz and surface posturing! Keep spreading the good word. There are many more who need enlightenment through examples in their age group!
    And don’t be afraid to NOT be your child’s friend. 🙂 Let them hate you ever once in awhile. 😀

  9. I came back searching for this article, since I had skimmed over it a few days ago. I was really wanting to find out what the difference in between the older generation – pictures is from 1940 maybe – and today. But this article was just touching the surface. I would like to have noticed that some older women were interviewed.

    You mentioned reading books as your first point. My mother, born 1927, and still alive and well, said THERE WERE NO BOOKS to read. She said there were no books written on marriage or on raising children. She remembers when Focus on the Family first started to air, and she was just amazed that there would be a radio program just for families and for mothers and fathers, and tips on how to raise children or understand family dynamics.

    And secondly, women back then did very little reading. There simply was no time. Most lived in an agrian life style, and that was hard work with very long days. There was little time to read, when most food was grown and cooked from basics. Sewing was not a hobby, but a necessity.

    I agree that community was much stronger. We have come to idolize “independence” as if it is a virtue. It is not a virtue and I think it is actually very unhelpful. The Bible speaks too of caring for one another, praying for one another, carrying one another’s burdens. That is not done as much when we so prize independence.

    I really do want to explore this topic a little bit more, and do some research on the older woman and their life. Maybe I will visit some older ladies in our church and ask some questions. My mom is still alive and well, at 89, but she has a hard time expressing herself. Her answer to the “olden days” is “everyone did it, and you just had to!” I’m interested in finding out more specifics, and maybe understanding their value system. I know that our value systems have changed greatly.

    I know one thing we have done as a family (our oldest is 32 and our youngest is 16) is avoid lessons, such as sports, swimming, karate, dance. One thing we have done in that line is have music lessons. Each child has learned to play an instrument, a skill that they will take with them through the rest of their life. All play in church, and use their gifting for weddings, funerals and other Christian celebrations. Music is one of the core subjects in our home school curriculum. But we have chosen to forego all other lessons, because of how disruptive they are to family life.

    1. Just to chime in on your point about avoiding “lessons”… I was forced to take piano lessons for six years and hated every minute of it. I begged my mom to let me take art, and she always said no. FINALLY she caved my senior year of high school and let me take an art class… And guess what?? I thrived, I loved it! it was the beginning of a wonderful journey for me as an artist, and while I agree about not over-filling our schedules, it made me a little sad to read that you forced music on all your kids but denied them the opportunity to do other things. I would encourage every parent to allow their kids to explore their passions, you never know, it might grow them right into the person they were created to be!

  10. Thank you so much. Such a timely message for me.
    We purchased our first home almost a year ago and I’ve made a habit of delivering notes or goodies every other month with my boys to our neighbors. It is making an impact on old and new alike. God has put on the hearts of our family to continue reaching out and we will begin block parties this summer.
    I love the honesty of struggling moms always in the place of playmate instead of homemaker. Yes, it’s good to love, play and spend time with your kids…. Just not every waking moment! We need time for God, our hubby, ourselves and our home. We are plenty busy without trying to “keep up with the Jonses.”

  11. Becky, well said!!! I really enjoyed this piece. My grandpa’s mother had 10 kids by age 29. They were raising them during the depression, and I’ve heard stories about how regardless of her own circumstance? She would always share with her neighbors. Most of my neighbors don’t even wave hello 🙁

  12. Thank you. I enjoyed reading this. I’m try to remind myself daily to be content and enjoy my moments with my 3 little ones. It’s exhausting some days but they are so precious to me and I couldn’t thank God more for trusting them in my care.

  13. Thank you! I am #1 of 7 (only girl too)…. my husband and I have 3 kids (so far) ages 4, 2, 1…. today we had a simple meal planned for dinner, so we spent 4 hours outside playing (it was 65 here in Colorado today) but I plan on making that something we do as a family… just in our yard, learning about things God brings us like bugs and plants…. starting our garden again and making th e kids help more that last year…. but thanks for the reminder!

  14. I was in a mom’s group and there was a discussion posted because spring break was coming up and mom wanted suggestions on how to keep the kids entertained.

    I was born in 1970, and I know my mother never gave much thought to ‘keeping us entertained’ We played outside, and in incliment weather if we weren’t playing outside we were watching t v or playing with our toys. There was very little parental interaction. If we fought or complained we were bored we were given chores. Once in awhile she might let us help make cookies or stir up some playdough or something but we were largely left alone. I’ve seen a couple studies that show children grow better when they are allowed the freedom to play, make decisions and solve problems (or something like that.)

  15. I remember”Spring Cleaning” meant that everyone in the family got together at one house and cleaned, painted and got the yard ready for planting. Then the next week we would go to another grandma’s house and “tidied up” over there, then the next and so on. Then took time for entire family picnics. Took real photos and made copies on paper!

  16. Yes! Thank you! I wholeheartedly agree! We have 4 kids and another on the way, and we are in the process of moving more and more in this direction. We moved out to the country this past summer because we wanted to get back to a “simpler” life. Our TV is no longer in the main room, and it only gets watched one or two times a week, and the kids and I are happier people for it. We are in a sense, creating MUCH more work for ourselves with the lifestyle we are leading in that we do almost everything ourselves, and are striving to do even more, but we don’t pack our schedule with all kinds of activities, because we all end up overwhelmed. I actually have a good friend who lives down the road that I love to get together with, and my neighbors are friendlier here than they were in the city. It’s kind of ironic that I feel more of a sense of community here than I did when we had people RIGHT next door, there is more caring and friendliness, more offers for help, and it’s wonderful. I have never been so happy, and I have never enjoyed my kids more than I do right now. My heart breaks for moms who don’t get the support and friendship they need. It’s a tough job, and I wish we could all do a better job of being there for each other!

  17. It’s simply not true to say “Dad worked and Mom didn’t.” I wish we would stop perpetrating this lie. Most families relied on their mother’s work for income just as much as their father’s. Women married to farmers certainly worked – not just in the home but in the fields too. Women married to shopkeepers, butchers, tailors, etc. usually worked in their husband’s businesses, typically without drawing a salary. Their husbands may have “brought in the money” but they certainly benefited from their wives’ unpaid labour. Poor immigrant and minority women typically worked for wages outside the home, often in appalling conditions in mills or for exploitative wages as domestic servants. Only very wealthy women were able to actually be stay at home mothers as we envision it these days.

    1. Exactly! The “leave it to beaver” family dynamic was not true for most families. People started thinking this was the norm when it was pictured on TV so much. And, no one talks about the dark side of that “simple” time. Racism, segregation, sexism, sexual harassment, women becoming alcoholics to deal with the boredom of their lives, people smoking and drinking during pregnancy, women having dangerous back door abortins because they could not handle another baby. It was not a perfect world by any stretch of the imagination. My grandmother would be the first to tell modern women how lucky we are. We can go to college, have a career, choose when we want to get married and how many children she wanted, fathers help out with the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. The people I know who lived in this idyllic time do not have the same sentiments as this article.

  18. Wow, those are great words of wisdom! I think we already know this but it’s never quite the same when we see it put down on paper. My husband and I and our 3 kids live overseas – away from my family. My “family” are my neighbors and this has shed a lot of light on me in order to understand and appreciate my birth family. I love that my kids can go to the park and know that they need to be back by dinner time. I grew up in the States in the 70’s/80’s and I didn’t feel that I was ever so free from societal demands or even just to walk to the park until dinner time. I see my kids flourishing with a great balance of nature and technology. I think that the families who succeed in overcoming today’s high strung fashion/technological/extracurricular demands, will find calmness within themselves and will be able to bind together as a solid family unit. I loved your thoughts and I wish your list was longer!!

  19. I love this post! We don’t want to forget what an incredibly hard-working generation we’re talking about… others have alluded to this in posts, too- not only did this generation raise many children, they also did all the cooking and cleaning, tended vegetable gardens, sewed clothing, did laundry (including ironing!), saved, re-used, budgeted, supported their husbands- my grandmother and her mother were two of the hardest working women I know. My work ethic- as hard as I try and as much as I pray- will never equal one tenth what theirs was! I feel like that is one of the biggest differences between our generations.

  20. We never used Amber alert wording. However the same problem did exist. Maybe the statistics we’re lower but I don’t know. Our strength was mother’s we’re home. Mothers and neighbors kept alert. For instance My little 4 year old brother and his friend would go for walks. They weren’t running away they wanted to visit Grandma and other family and friends. My mother kept close touch with them. However they managed to go visiting. Once to the friends Grandmother. My mother called police. Everyone helped. Mother’s spread the word by phone. I came home from school to the police at our house. They found them quite a distance but very close to his grandma’s house. We don’t know how they did it. God must have watched over them. A fence didn’t work. They decided to go farther where there was a movie theater. Mothers started calling everyone. The police were called. This time everyone was looking for them. A mother saw them and got them. She called and the police picked them up. We don’t know how they knew the way. My mother was desparate she bought a harness and dog chain. That helped. When we went to West View park she kept him on it. When we were eating picnic lunch she chained him to railing. He became a priest and traveled a lot. His desire to travel stayed with him all his life. Be at tight community.

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