Our Parents Were Nuts

Eight cringe-worthy tactics our parents used that now seem nuts

It’s no secret that parenting styles have changed over the course of a generation. We know that baby blankets don’t belong, well, near the baby. And no mother worth her stretch marks would sleep a newborn on her stomach, even though that’s how most of us slept as infants. Best sleep practices aside, some of the child-rearing scenarios that were considered normal in the ‘70s and ‘80s, seem nuts now. After some intense reporting—chatting with my mom and friends—I came up with a list of old-school parenting tactics that today might have child services knocking on the door.

Coke was good for you. Coke and sweet tea were main-lined into my veins growing up in North Carolina. According to ‘70s-era moms, caffeine wasn’t considered an issue for kids then. In fact, Coke was the elixir of choice around our house for settling an upset stomach. And while my kids have tasted what they call “spicy” drinks, they’re not swilling Coke with dinner or taking it like voodoo medicine for the stomach bug.


Bourbon soothed aching gums. Some of my friends’ parents rubbed bourbon on their gums to soothe teething pain. Of course 90-proof alcohol quiets babies. They were probably drunk off their newborn bums. Then there was the homemade baby Nyquil remedy: a smidge of Jack Daniels, lemon and honey, warmed to perfection and guaranteed to knock out a cold and the baby. This pain-management approach explains a lot about how some of my friends soothe themselves today.

Car seats were nice but not necessary. Prince William and Kate Middleton took criticism last year for driving their baby home from the hospital with the car seat straps slightly askew. Forget the straps, my mom held me in her arms on the way home from the hospital. Recently she admitted that although she used the car seat most of the time, she didn’t always bother to put all the buckles on me. She said that one time my brother rolled out of the infant carrier and onto the backseat of the car when she took a sharp turn. Woops.

Pickup trucks hauled kids. Based on what friends from Pennsylvania to Florida have told me, redneck kids from the Carolinas weren’t the only ones playing screaming eagle down dirt roads and highways. At some point during the ‘70s and ‘80s, almost every kid rode standing up in the back of a pickup truck, whooping and hollering, banging their hands on the roof, with their hair whipping in the wind.

Formula and rice cereal ruled­. Most of our moms had no qualms about mixing a Similac cocktail, tossing in a scoop of rice cereal, and putting us to bed with a tall, stiff bottle clutched in our tiny fingers. My mom said her doctor encouraged her to use formula, rather than nurse, so returning to work would be easier. Work or no work, moms today who feed kids formula get slammed by society for not using their jugs as nature intended. It’s the judgment culture that’s insane, not a mom’s decision to choose bottle over boob.

Juice flowed freely. Rice cereal wasn’t the only calorie-rich substance splashing around in our BPA-infused bottles. If ‘70s and ‘80s babies didn’t like to drink milk, resourceful moms replaced the non-organic dairy with healthy drinks like sugar-spiked apple juice. Moms today are barely allowed to give babies water, much less juice from a fire-hose.

Smoking was no biggie. Hot boxing kids inside both the womb and the car was common during the bell-bottoms, big-hair era. My parents weren’t smokers, but plenty of other parents we knew blew smoke in their kids’ faces without hesitation. I remember liking the smell of a smoker’s house as a kid. And not a year went by when I didn’t make a clay ashtray in my elementary school art class.

Don’t make me get my belt out. This was the kind of threat that got an unruly ‘70s kid’s attention. Verbal threats were usually followed by a foreboding jangle of the belt buckle or maybe taking the belt off and snapping the straps. My dad needed only to reach in the direction of his buckle and my little brother and I would start screaming. I don’t remember actually getting smacked with my dad’s belt, although my brother saw some action. Now I don’t spank, but admittedly, threatening to take away my daughter’s iPad usually results in eye-rolls not jumping to attention.

Some of these old-school practices sound insane, especially compared to the overly cautious, hypoallergenic world we live in today. Despite all the Coke, cigarettes and booze, we survived. I think parents today could use a dose of ‘70s- and ‘80s-style parenting. I’m not suggesting we break out the belts, but maybe letting our kids hair blow in the wind, with seat-belts of course, isn’t a bad thing. When we start to take ourselves too seriously, we should remember that some of that craziness was awesome and just relax.


Jamie RichJamie Rich is a freelance feature writer covering lifestyle, travel and culture. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, Slate and The New York Times Motherlode blog. Jamie moved to Ponte Vedra from London last year with her husband and two young daughters. She blogs at www.jamierich.me about life as a domesticated expatriate, dispatching reviews, tongue-in-cheek stories and travel tips. Jamie has spent most of the past ten years abroad, living in Moscow; Washington, D.C.; Douala, Cameroon; and London. She holds a master’s in journalism from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s in creative writing from Florida State University. 



  1. My parents took me to an Elton John concert at the Oklahoma city fairgrounds when I was 2. No hearing protection or sunscreen. (Apparently I was very sun burned) when I asked my dad about why the didn’t put sunscreen on me he replied “its was 1982, I don’t think I even knew what sunscreen was.” Awesome.


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