'Don’t Play With Your Food' And Other Outdated Parenting Rules

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
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Parenting looks a bit different in every generation—and so do the debates about what constitutes good parenting.

We’ve learned that authoritative parenting—maintaining high standards while still being responsive to kids’ emotional needs—is more effective than authoritarian or permissive parenting, for instance. While some still cling to tradition and rigidity, most parents have taken a kinder, more respectful approach to raising their kids than generations past — at least among the parents I know.

To illustrate this point, here are some parenting rules and ideas whose time has come and gone:

Don’t Play With Your Food

A lot of parents don’t like to see their kids playing with their food. Maybe it’s because I have a house full of creative types, but I don’t see the problem. As long as they’re going to eat it and aren’t wasting it, I don’t have an issue with my kids carving faces out of their pancakes or building a “campfire” out of their pretzels and cheese. Who hasn’t experienced the joy of putting an olive or raspberry on each of their fingers? As long as you’re going to eat it, play away, kids.

Boys Don’t Cry

It’s funny how society can go along with certain ideas for sooooo long, and how absolutely asinine some of those ideas look in hindsight. Yes, boys cry. And they should cry. They are human beings, just like girls, with a full range of human emotion. I genuinely wonder how much of the world’s warfare has been directly or indirectly caused by men having their emotions squashed as children.

(Side note: You know what else boys do? Scream. Whoever came up with the phrase “Scream like a little girl” has never heard any of my nephews scream. Every one of them screamed louder and higher than their female counterparts.)

Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard

I have to admit, when my kids won’t stop making random noises for no apparent reason or insist on all talking at once in the car, this sentiment sounds rather heavenly. Only for a moment, though. I can’t imagine missing out on the sound of my children’s laughter ringing through the house or watching their pretend play complete with impressive sound effects. I can’t fathom not wanting to hear my kids’ thoughts and questions about things.

Stop Crying Or I’ll Give You Something To Cry About

This one has always made me sad. The idea of a child being threatened with punishment from their parents just for crying is so far outside of any reasonable understanding of child development and human emotion it’s not even funny. I know how frustrating it can be when your child is crying uncontrollably, but how about a little empathy. Forcing a child to swallow their tears out of fear is a really great way to create a severely emotionally-stunted adult.

Obey Your Elders

I’m a fan of respecting elders, but obeying them is another story. There are far too many stories of “elders” abusing their authority or their power over children to make obeying elders by default the rule. I teach my kids to treat all people with respect, we talk about learning from the wisdom and life experience of older people, and we make sure they understand the importance of following rules and listening to whoever is in charge. But I won’t tell them they need to automatically do whatever an adult tells them to.

Clean Your Plate

This rule make sense in times and places of scarcity. But this holdover from the Great Depression era doesn’t make sense in times and places of plenty. I know adults who were told to clean their plate or weren’t allowed to leave the table until they ate all their food as children who never learned to recognize their own hunger and satiety cues. Again, we don’t want to waste food, but overeaten food is just as wasted as food left on a plate. And to me it’s more important to develop healthy eating habits in my kids than it is to save a few bites of casserole.

When we know better, we do better. Or we should anyway. It does make me wonder what parenting will look like a few generations from now. What parenting ideals do we hold now that will fall by the wayside?

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