My mother-in-law once told me a story of a mom who was at a breaking point and needed a few moments to herself. It was the 1950s, and she was raising eight kids on the South Side of Chicago in a small, bungalow home. One of her boys was particularly unruly, and in a moment of motherhood desperation, she tied him to the radiator so she could walk away and find a moment of silence.
No one batted an eye at these parenting tactics back then, but in today’s world, it’s practically considered child endangerment to take a shower while your kids are awake, and heaven forbid you answer a few emails instead of playing dress-up for 30 minutes.
Somewhere over the last 60 years, we moms have lost our way when it comes to carving out a few moments of sanity each day when we need them most. We’ve become so programmed to think that every waking minute we’re with our children should be about enrichment and togetherness, but for many, especially those with several kids, that’s just not practical without losing your ever-loving mind.
How did society go from one extreme to another? Has there ever been a time in history where we weren’t as extreme as tying children to appliances, yet we didn’t have guilt for taking breaks from tiny humans demanding milk and Goldfish?
The answer is yes, and the time is one of my favorite decades of all: the nineties. When I was a kid, circa 1992-ish, I used to go to after-school play dates at my friend Julie’s house. She was one of five girls, and her mom was a teacher just like mine.
From 4:00–5:00 P.M. there was a rule in their house that no one was allowed in the TV room except their mom. For one hour a day, she got to enjoy a Diet Coke, microwaved popcorn, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Unless someone was dying and needed to go to the ER, you didn’t dare step foot in that room. That was the rule, and everyone abided by it. Any burning questions or requests could wait.
It was a necessity in her life, allowing her quiet and a chance to replenish her patience and calm after teaching all day.
Back then, expecting your kids to entertain themselves for an hour was completely normal. Our moms didn’t dote on us every waking second of the day. They were there for us when we needed them and loved us unconditionally, but also let us learn independence.
And guess what? We kids were totally fine during that 60 minutes of Oprah. We didn’t grow up seeking therapy for abandonment issues because our mothers needed a break. And now that we’re mothers, we completely understand why they did what they did.
I have to remind myself of these life lessons from the nineties often because my four boys have a way of trying to guilt me out of my own Zen daily. The concept is simple. The craft project can wait. They won’t starve from a lack of snacks in one hour. Find your own version of Oprah and popcorn and remind yourself that the kids will survive 60 minutes of self-sufficiency and go onto lead normal, happy lives. You’ll be happier too.