10 ways parenting has changed in 10 years (Jamie Davis Smith)

Jamie Davis Smith is a Washington, D.C. based mother of four. This Washington Post article appeared March 18, 2016. She can be reached at jdavissmith03@gmail.com.

“10 Ways Parenting Has Changed in 10 Years”

With nearly 10 years between my first and last child (and two in between), I often feel more like a grandmother telling first-time mothers with children my baby’s age about what it was like “back then.”  These are 10 of the biggest differences I have found between parenting a young child 10 years ago and today.

Strollers only faced one way. With the exception of a single stroller on the market that cost upwards of four figures, the baby faced out. Little did I know then that I was endangering my child’s language acquisition, social skills and overall development by allowing her to look out into the world — instead of at me — while in her stroller.

Cribs were deathtraps. When I purchased a crib for my oldest child, a drop-down side was a must to allow easy access when I was putting her down to sleep and getting her up for diaper changes. Choosing crib bumpers was a process that took weeks, while I searched for just the right shade of pink and the perfect visually stimulating pattern. Now, both drop-side cribs and crib bumpers are considered too dangerous to be sold in many states.

Infant seats were for infants. Things were simple back then when it came to car seats — babies stayed in their rear-facing infant seats until they were a year old. After their first birthday, newly-minted toddlers were turned around to gain a view of something other than the seat. Now, children are relegated to face the back of the car for at least two years — three if they still fit.

Baths were a necessity. My first child was given a bath within an hour of birth. Anyone who has given birth or seen a brand-new baby might think this is sensible, as being born is messy business. Once she came home, I bathed her every day or two. Now, many hospitals and midwives ask mothers if they would like to delay baths after birth, because there is some evidence that newborns benefit from staying a little messy for a while. There is also new thinking that kids don’t need to bathe multiple times a week unless they have spent some time jumping in mud puddles.

There were no smartphones. Ten years ago my phone was not touchscreen. I did not have Siri to help me figure out where to go, or what my baby’s cough might mean. This was both good and bad. While I did not have to resist the temptation to check my email or post to Facebook while I was with my baby, I also could not pull up will.i.am’s appearance on Sesame Street to calm my baby after his shots, or simply ask my phone to text a friend when I am running late.

Photos were a big to-do. Ten years ago, good cell phone cameras were still a few years away and there were no editing apps. You had to take out a camera to capture a moment, and I rarely made the effort. This means that, unlike past generations, there are more photos of my younger children than there are of the older children.

I panicked a lot more. Without easy access to multiple parenting blogs and Facebook forums to get reassurance that what my baby was going through was normal, I worried and called the doctor more often. With my youngest, I was able to check online development charts and hear from other moms in Facebook groups that it was perfectly normal that he wasn’t walking at 14 months.

Explaining marriage was a lot harder. With my older children I had to answer complex questions about whether boys could marry boys or girls could marry girls. Now it’s a simple answer: Yes.

Screen time was a lot easier. Ten years ago, screen time meant watching TV or a DVD.  There were no smartphones or tablets to stream videos and allow kids to play video games anyplace, anytime. The American Academy of Pediatrics had clear-cut guidelines on screen time. With my older children, we made it a point to be home when Sesame Street came on. Now, the question of “what time does your favorite TV show air?” makes no sense to kids who are used to immediate access to nearly any show they like. The American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its strict no-more-than-two-hours-a-day of screen time recommendation to recognize the changing nature of interactive and educational programming and apps.

Families didn’t have as many choices. Ten years ago stay-at-home-Dads were almost nonexistent. Now they are a staple at story times and school pickups. Telecommuting was not as common and many mothers had to choose between going to an office or being at home. Now it’s more common for parents to be able to work flexible schedules and part-time jobs. Paid family leave was not even something being discussed; now Washington, D.C. is considering offering 16 weeks of paid leave to families to care for a new baby or sick child.


Has parenting really changed in the decade, as she claims for the four children she bore within the past decade? I think not. Why? At least six of the 10 items that Davis listed involve changes in technology (e.g., electronic devices, new strollers, infant seats)—but, most importantly, the rest do not (e.g., uncertainty over how best to raise child).

Three points occurred to me as I read the article: (1) These 10 items mirror what an educated U.S. middle-class white mother notes over a decade in raising a child. Were a low-income Latino or African American Mom who had dropped out of high school and had also raised a family over the same time span to have been asked about her experiences, I am unsure she would have listed similar items. That socioeconomic status and culture influence child rearing practices is commonly known and too often unnoticed in appraisals of changes in parenting. (2) Historically, differences in traditional and non-traditional child rearing practices across income, education, and ethnicity have been contested and commented upon in manuals for parents and the media of the day (see here). (3) Some essential behaviors and practices have not changed in parenting. Experts in psychology and child-rearing practices and non-experts such as grandparents know how crucial core practices are in any family be it the two-parent working family, single Mom or Dad, grand-parent or any mixes of these. They persist across income, ethnic, and ideological differences in child rearing and changes in technology (see here, here, and here.)

*Loving the child

*Setting boundaries for behavior and holding kids to those boundaries

*Helping the child grow up proud of who he or she is, self-confident, and minding others.



Filed under raising children

8 responses to “10 ways parenting has changed in 10 years (Jamie Davis Smith)

  1. Laura H. Chapman

    A great summary, simple, elegant.

  2. Totally agree Larry! Parenting is still parenting, online and offline. It’s up to us what we do.

  3. Jennifer Lebsack

    As long as technology does not substitute for common sense, we are all right.

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