Parenting in today's Little House

I'm pretty sure that rereading the Little House on the Prairie books is irrevocably fu#king with my parenting.

I mean, I LOVED these books as a kid but I just have to laugh at their well-mannered protagonists now.  As Z said the other night in the middle of Farmer Boy, with its earnest, perfectly behaved Almanzo:  "Did they really work like that?  ALL DAY?  With no play? And no whining??" In between explaining the effort required to run a family farm and the expectation that children were seen and not heard, it all starts to seem so foreign to both of us as to strain credulity.  On Sundays in that Little House on the Prairie, Laura and her sisters had to sit quietly and not run or play or talk loudly.  For a whole day.  Is that even physically possible?

I don't know about you but I'm pretty sure my children would spontaneously combust if that was required of them. 

Plucky Almanzo works his tail off from dawn till dusk with nary a complaint or disciplinary action.  And I can barely get my children to clean up their wad of plastic toys when I ask very nicely with my big girl words AND promise a favorite snack at the end of it.

Were the children of the Little House era a completely different species from the modern day, singing, twirling tyrants that inhabit my Little House in the Suburbs?

Were they running on hot and cold FEAR of beatings?

I'm fighting this feeling that I must be doing it all wrong.  The parenting books that I like, that resonate with me and my values, are all about playful, connected, positive parenting.  I'm all about parenting through love and connection and firm but non-punitive consequences.

I'm pretty sure Ma didn't make up special songs or games or resort to outright bribery to get her daughters to help out with basic chores on a daily basis.  And did they really never whine?  EVER??  I've come to think of whining as a perfectly normal, expected 4 year old tone of voice.

My girls' modern first-world lives are certainly cushy, probably much too cushy for our naturally self-centered brains to handle.  Though I require an ever increasing contribution from both of them, these "chores" are laughable when compared to the real work done by Laura and Almanzo and their cohort.

Perhaps what I really need to be doing is throwing my girls out back with a hoe and a bag of seeds and working them till they drop.  But that's about all I can take away from these books.

Because, let's be honest, there will be no fear-mongering or beatings here. Unless you count the beating of my own head against the wall.


Cortney said...

"Perhaps what I really need to be doing is throwing my girls out back with a hoe and a bag of seeds and working them till they drop. But that's about all I can take away from these books." Ha Ha Ha Hee Hee Ho! Can you just imagine?! I'm sure it was the Fear of God and Beatings that induced good behavior. Neither of which I'm inclined to instill... Oh and BTW, my almost 7 year old has toned down the whining a bit... instead of 80% whines, we're at about 30%, so you have that to look forward to. ;)

twisterfish said...

That was just such a different time they lived in... but I'm quite sure the author left out a lot of small details (such as eye rolling and stomping feet). I think my kids and I would be different, too, if we didn't have TV and microwaves and mega grocery stores and vacuum cleaners (wasn't Laura constantly sweeping that poor dirt floor????).

Differences aside, I think there are some parenting tools we can learn from Ma and Pa. They never asked the children to clean up or do a chore. No "please milk the cow". The darn cow needed milking, and the kids needed to drink milk. "Please" was reserved for when the child had a choice to do it or not. I've done this with my kids since day #1 and it works well. The kids know what they need to do and still have choice at other times. I think this teaches them that not everything is an option -- some things are expected of them just by being members of their family.

But I'm still not going to toss them out back with a hoe and seeds to work all day long! (love that visual of your kids in the backyard ... in my head the kids are wearing gingham)

Hillary said...

Something to keep in mind: There is a thought that Laura's daughter, Rose, was the ghost writer -- or at the very least, strong-handed editor -- of these books, and Rose was one of the leading people of the libertarian movement. If you believe she had a hand in those books, then it makes sense that she would make these characters the epitome of stalwart independence.

And that's the other thing: Although the books are based on Ingalls' life, they are fiction. So you have to believe things have been glossed over a bit.

All that being said, I think there are giant differences between modern expectations and the expectations of that time period. I grew up around Amish, and their children -- though still kids -- are much more solemn and well-behaved than mainstream kids.

Ann Wyse said...

I really liked these books as a child, too. But I'm pretty sure I liked the later books better. (And then Anne of Green Gables MUCH MUCH better.)

My mother also read me the earlier books as a child, and I remember her making little snide comments like, "What was Wilder trying to accomplish here?" and I'd say "I don't know. What, Mommy?" And she'd say, "Well, you know, I think people always remember the past as they want."

shannon said...

I grew up watching the Little House series on TV and loved it, but I never read the books. I think the show may have been a little less perfect, but still a completely different picture than our lives today with kids. I actually had a rather "Little House" upbringing, expected to sit quietly when visiting at adult's homes with my parents (staring at a bowl of candies on the coffee table but never daring to ask for one)never dreaming of having any sort of tantrum - ever. We had to stack firewood when we came home from school and I was grounded for a week once for (oh the irony!) watching Little House after school instead of doing my firewood. Yes, I battle every day in my head about how to instill mutual respect and co-operation in our home, while going with my attachment parenting gut instincts all the way. I know my Dad shakes his head at how lenient and seemingly chaotic my parenting style is, but the thought of raising compliant children who FEAR me is about the worst thing I could imagine as a mom. Ah, the pendulum swings to and fro.

Pamela Hunt Cloyd said...

I wonder the same thing as I read those books. Like Shannon, I had a pretty strict upbringing in that tantrums, whining, interrupting, etc. were NOT tolerated. I think my dad believed Fear was a good thing in kids. I think to some extent you CAN control a child's behavior and get the behavior you want, but you have to ask - at what cost?

I think that back then, they were focused on survival. I like to think now that we have evolved a bit and more than surviving, we are learning how to be mindful as well. And that involves some whining:)

twisterfish said...

Came back to read the comments. They are so insightful and full of great info .... CBHM -- your posts always create such great comments that make me think, and they teach me something as well. Thanks for that!

Gina said...

I've read these books probably a dozen (or maybe more) times in my life. When I read them after I became a parent I noticed all sorts of little things that I hadn't before: Caroline (Ma) raising her voice to Charles in frustration when he accidentally wakes up the baby, how often Laura and Mary were fighting like typical siblings. Clearly Laura left out many of the more unpleasant details of life; as someone who cloth diapers I would love to know how they dealt with that in a log cabin! I don't think the kids were as compliant as the books lead us to believe...

I constantly struggle with how to instill respect for others in my kids vs. being able to express themselves, etc. Honestly, right now it seems like I am sort of failing with the five-year-old. He is so rude lately, but I hear that's typical of the age. Sigh...

I do make him clean up after himself and really help in the garden now though - he bitches and moans about it, but he does it or loses privileges.

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