Nawaz: Where did the fruit rolls go? Parenting is trickier than it was in the 80s

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Saying no to your child is difficult. But saying yes is often worse.

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Parenthood is trickier than it used to be. Or maybe it’s just because we try so hard. Never has a generation of parents been so beleaguered with information about what we should and shouldn’t be doing.

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It starts during pregnancy, when a few clicks on mommy blogs can trigger guilt about choosing an epidural over natural childbirth, or celebrating once your child is old enough to sleep in their own room.

But the less said about the baby years — and the many internet-amplified anxieties among sleep-deprived parents — the better. Fast forward to elementary school, when lunches become the testing ground for virtue parenting. As a kid in the 80s, you might have found a Fruit Roll-Up in your lunch box or even a Handi-Snack, prepackaged crackers with orange cheese spread.

Now everyone knows more about healthy eating and the bar is raised. When my daughter attended kindergarten in the Eastern Townships, parents received reminders not to send cookies, Goldfish crackers or granola bars. Only fresh fruit or fruit bars were allowed. At the local public school here in Montreal, her Grade 1 class did a month-long nutrition unit that ended with a healthy breakfast challenge. At this point, I would no sooner put a Fruit Roll-Up in her lunch bag than I would a full-size chocolate bar.

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And the TV. When I was little, cartoons mostly belonged to that most sacrosanct time of the week: Saturday mornings. Now, thanks to streaming platforms and portable devices, there are ad-free kids’ shows, movies and games available anytime, anywhere, entertainment almost as ubiquitous as parenting messages about the dangers too much screen time.

Then there is the merchandise. In the 80s, my mother had to deal with shows like Care Bears, She-Ra and My Little Pony, which were created to market the related toys. But these days, companies like Spin-Master have elevated this lucrative business model to such an art form that no one stands a chance – as evidenced by the complete set of Paw Patrol figures and vehicles and the tower three-foot-tall luxury watchtower in my child. bedroom. Every successful ’80s franchise has now been rebooted for that extra push in parental nostalgia…and wallets. You can skip the stores as much as you like, but any toy is just a click away via online retailers. And the kids know it.

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Growing up in Ottawa, I looked forward to being halfway to the Super Ex (RIP) every summer. But for Montreal parents, La Ronde is accessible more than five months a year. Then there are all the indoor entertainment centers. Places like iSaute, Funtropolis, O-Volt, Skytag are huge facilities built for the enjoyment of children. Centers like these are already a billion dollar industry worldwide and are poised to continue growing.

There are a thousand times more delights and entertainment for children than ever before, in a time when parents know better than ever all the reasons why we shouldn’t just say yes. Not just because of the lingering risk of raising spoiled children, but because of everything we know our own parents didn’t have to reckon with: that plastic is a major environmental problem, that too many toys are made overseas under questionable conditions, as growing consumption contributes to global inequality.

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Saying no to your child is difficult. But saying yes is often worse.

It’s tempting to look back to those legends of the 70s, those near-mythical parents who lived their best lives and let their kids do whatever they wanted, before juice was considered evil and kids could roam around freely in packs in the neighborhood. Yet these days there are fears that you could be arrested for leaving your child to play unsupervised in the park, as seen in some cases in the United States.

But beyond the debates over “freedom parenting” versus “helicopter parenting,” most parents I know just want to get away from the authoritarianism of the families we grew up in. We don’t spank our children. We listen to them. We give them the means to share their ideas and defend themselves. We seek early intervention for ADHD and other learning differences. We’re stressed about screen time, school lunches, toys, and trips to the park, and we’re trying to get it all right, amid an endless onslaught of information.

My generation has moved from a parent-centric world to a child-centric world, with timing that’s great for our kids but weighs on us…and our own parents can’t understand.

The other day my daughter said she wanted to be a kid forever while I was trying to talk about the benefits of adulthood. But the truth is that while it’s a tough time to be a parent, it’s a great time to be a kid.

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