Have you ever wondered what parenting was like before the growth of the internet? Before the age of smartphones and answering all your questions with Google, the world was a lot more “analog” and traditional.
In a recent article on Today’s Parenting, author Kathy Buckworth, a mother of four kids born between 1991 and 2002, interviews Julie Cole, co-founder of Mabel’s Labels and mother of six kids born between 1999 and 2009.
Both mothers share their stories about parenting during a time when the internet was still a baby and not as widely available as is now.
While Cole says she isn’t sure whether parenting was better or worse before the internet, both mothers agree that it is certainly different from the way it is in the modern internet age.
Here are a few of the ways parenting has changed since the growth of the internet.
Everyone Had a Shelf Full of Books and Magazines about Parenting
Believe it or not, before Google and searching questions on the internet, people would need to find their answers in books, magazines, and other traditional media sources.
Buckworth says that parents in her generation generally subscribed to one of the many parenting magazines or picked up brochures from the doctor’s office to find answers to their parenting questions.
There were no Google, no WebMD, no pregnancy apps, or parenting Instagram accounts back in the day to help would-be parents who are expecting their first child.
All Health and Medical Advice Came from a Doctor
While parents of today still have access to in-person doctor visits for information about their babies and kids, for parents in the day before the internet, all their medical information came from one doctor.
Buckworth shared her experience saying she had to write down her questions with pen and paper and then asked them during the regularly scheduled appointments with the doctors.
Before the internet, it wasn’t possible for parents to quickly search for medical answers and therefore most of the “research” would come from discussions with family physicians and other medical experts.
With the availability of the internet, many parents nowadays can head to social media platforms and other medical journals to research their questions.
In-Person Mom or Dad Groups
Following along on the previous topic, before the age of the internet, most parents would get their source of information from other parents in “mom groups” or “dad groups”.
Both Cole and Buckworth share their experiences before the age of social media when parents would have small get-togethers like an informal coffee get-together or attending more formal events, both agree that in-person mom or dad groups were crucial.
At these mom groups, experienced mothers would share their parenting tips to would-be first-time moms and moms would often exchange contact information and advice at these meetups.
Buckworth shares “I remember I joined a mom group with my third child, as I had just moved back to Toronto. The nurse running the group used to look to me for answers to some of the other mom’s concerns. ‘How long do we sterilize soothers for, Kathy?’ I answered by picking one off the floor, putting it in my mouth, then putting it in my two-month-old baby’s mouth”.
Parents Had to Bring Their Kids Along Everywhere
Before we had the conveniences of ordering stuff online and having it delivered to our houses, parents had to bring their kids everywhere they went.
From grocery stores to buying clothes at retailers, every trip meant that these parents had to get their kids dressed and ready to go with them.
The only exception to this is if they can find a babysitter or someone else who would be available to watch the kids, which Cole says wasn’t always easy.
Finding a Babysitter was Competitive
Today, if word of mouth fails, you can find a babysitter through apps and social media.
When Buckworth was parenting her little kids, she said there were lists of local babysitters that would circulate through the neighbourhood moms. But they wouldn’t always give it up!
When she moved into our new house in Mississauga, Ontario, she had three young kids and couldn’t get her hands on the list of local babysitters.
Finally, only when a neighbour was moving to a whole other country, Buckworth was able to get the babysitter list, which she described as valuable as gold.
Before that, she said she had to look for flyers taped to telephone poles. There were some desperate times.
Buckworth shared her experience remembering hiring a 12-year-old who lived on her street to babysit. She had an 11-year-old, a nine-year-old, a four-year-old and a six-month-old at the time. They lived!
Long-Distance Grandparents Only Got Phone Calls and Letters
One of the major positive developments from the internet was the ability to facetime or have video calls with long-distance family members.
Before the internet age, most grandparents and other long-distance family members would only receive an audio voice call or a letter at best.
Both mothers in the article agree at nothing can take the place of face-to-face time that was enabled through video calls.
From sharing toys, books, jokes, and more, it is so much better when the child can see their relatives through a video phone call and see the reactions and laughter.
Buckworth shares that she was lucky to have grandparents within an hour’s drive of her house, although her visits were mostly limited to special occasions.
“This seemed like a lot to me, as all of my grandparents lived in England, and I only met them a handful of times. I think about if we’d had the internet back then, whether I’d have gotten to know them, and their stories, better”.
School Pictures Were Important
There were no cameras on phones, or even really good, inexpensive cameras that a family could use to get a good picture of their child, so school photos were the only option parents had back in the day for a professional-looking shot.
We loved the school photos and ordered tons of them to be printed, cut, and mailed to all of our far-away relatives, and to have in our wallet to show off at the office, shared Buckworth.
Arguing with strangers about our parenting choices wasn’t a thing
“Naturally there would always be a busybody in a grocery store telling you your baby was cold, hungry, or too fat, but rarely would we get into arguments with total strangers about the well-being of our child, which is now pretty much an everyday occurrence on social media,” said Cole.
With the growth of social media and the oversharing culture, it seems a lot of parents have received criticism of the way they parent their child just from an innocent social media post.
This might not have been the case back in the day before the internet has grown to be as it is today. As Cole mentioned, perhaps the only time parents would receive criticism about their parenting would be at a grocery store running into other people but it was not as frequent as seen in today’s social media platforms.
At the end of the day, there is no doubt that the internet has changed the way we live our lives, whether it is the depersonalization of communication with less face-to-face conversations, to readily available access to research.
Parenting has always been a challenge and sometimes even confusing, but no matter how complex it is, Buckworth shares that the internet has been a virtual lifeline for all parents.
This post is also available in: English