My first child was born in 1991, when parenting was less of a systematic process and more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-high-waisted-pants improv. Back then, we relied on three things to survive: 1) grandparents, 2) intuition (however wonky), and 3) Barcardi wine coolers What to Expect the First Year — the 12-month survival guide of our generation.
Since then, I’ve had four more children. Twenty-two years separate my oldest from my youngest who is not yet three. Crazy, right? Rather than go in the direction of the free birds — the empty nesters doing the conga line aboard a Carnival Cruise — I took an abrupt U-turn and jumped right back into the world of poopy diapers, 3 a.m. feedings, and dairy production. I started over.
In those two decades between, everything changed. Car seats no longer resembled roller coaster apparatus, baby food went organic, and it became okay to let a child cry it out. Don’t pick that baby up! You’ll spoil him (or her). Say what?
We were definitely on the cusp of a parenting revolution when my first came into the world, the emphasis shifting from convenience to safety. But that didn’t stop me and millions of other parents from doing some pretty outrageous stuff, at least by today’s standards.
Don’t get me wrong. We thought we were doing the right thing. In most cases, we were doing what generations before us had done and taught us to do. We didn’t have YouTube videos, a thousand self-help manuals, or crash testing to prove us wrong or show us a better way. And we certainly didn’t have the sophisticated tools, equipment, and gadgets that have truly taken parenting to the next level. Crying analyzers. Poop alarms. Butt fans. What’s next? Robotic burping arms? (You do know these are unnecessary and ridiculous items, right?)
I was surprised to learn the different ways to soothe a baby had also changed in 20 years. Some of the methods we used then are kind of frowned upon today. Again, safety first, convenience… You mean we can’t dip the pacifier in the wine anymore? Well, shit.
You think I’m kidding. Here are eight vintage techniques for soothing babies that would have today’s parent crying foul:
1. Unbuckling a Car Seat (Momentarily) While Driving
I heard you gasp. I’m gasping too, but we did it. If a kid started flippin’ their shit in the backseat, we didn’t think twice about unlatching the harness and letting them ride freestyle for a few minutes. Usually, a moment of freedom did the trick. They’d settle down, and we’d buckle them back in. Keep in mind, the first child passenger safety laws were not passed until 1985, and they were like Swiss cheese — too many holes and they kind of stunk. But it was a good start. We just read between the lines. (I know. Shame on us. The nerve.)
2. Putting a Bumper Pad Around the Inside of the Crib
Bumper pads served a dual purpose (or so we thought). First, they protected a baby from injuring his or her head on the sides of the crib, and kept their arms, legs, and other little body parts from getting stuck in between the slats. Second, pads gave the baby the impression of being swaddled without actually being swaddled. We never once considered the 45 ribbon ties that held it up to be a hazard or gave the collapsing sides — no matter how many ties there were — a second thought. Bumpers had been used for ages, so they had to be safe. Right? Wrong. The American Academy of Pediatrics and SIDS prevention groups now caution against using crib bumpers. So don’t.
3. Hanging a Flimsy Mobile on the Crib
Let’s admit it — mobiles are as much an aesthetic addition as they are a functional one. We love the coordinating baby sets that feature matching crib bedding, curtains, wall decals, and, yes, mobiles. Today’s musical baby soothers are sturdy, have built-in safety features, and clasp tightly to a crib. Twenty years ago…can you hear me laughing? Mobiles resembled a fishing pole teetering overhead with toys dangling into a baby’s face. They were awful. They were unsafe. We didn’t have a clue.
4. Placing Baby on Their Belly to Sleep
Again, we thought we had it right. There were no studies to support a connection between belly-sleeping and SIDS. Now that there are, don’t do it. I don’t care if Aunt Bertha swears it’s the best way, it’s not. Science confirms this statement.
5. Letting Baby Rock in Flimsy Crank Swings
Baby swings of the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s had two speeds: motionless and whiplash. Yet we cranked those suckers for all they were worth. And I do mean cranked. It was like churning butter — the faster and harder you cranked, the more you got. There were no speeds or buttons to push. You cranked to go and grabbed to stop.
6. Picking Baby Up as Soon as They Cried
Parental shaming didn’t exist on the level it does now, so moms and dads did what came naturally. Some picked up their child. Some let them cry it out. It was a choice. No one felt backed into a corner by the judgment of another parent. Personally, I’m not a fan of the “Cry It Out” method. I believe a baby should be nurtured and held often. I picked my kid up then, and I’ll pick my kid up now. Don’t like it? Your problem. Not mine.
7. Using Infant Walkers That Resembled Swings With Wheels (and No Brakes)
Once upon a time, all we had were infant walkers that allowed a baby to move as fast and furious as Vin Diesel — without brakes. Activity centers were not introduced as an alternative to walkers until 1994, later followed by the revised American Society for Testing and Materials F977 Voluntary Infant Walker Standard in 1997. Even with the changes, walkers are still considered dangerous and harmful to a baby’s development. Put the brakes on the wheels until it’s time for a tricycle. And don’t forget the helmet.
8. Dabbing Whiskey on the Gums of a Teether
Wine? Whiskey? What were we thinking? Dabbing a bit of whiskey on the sore gums of a teething baby was as normal back then as using Orajel. Even pediatricians gave their seal of approval. But with the level of stupidity running rampant through our society, it’s not worth the risk. Some confuse a dribble with a shot. Whiskey is risky, so put the hard liquor away and grab a frozen washcloth.
I’ve had five kids. Not one has ever been seriously hurt or injured while on my watch. Our techniques for soothing babies might have been questionable, but they survived. I am, however, happy to see safer products and techniques available to today’s parents. But, please, pass on the butt fan and start a college fund. Junior, and his sensitive little tushy, will thank you.