Our next selection comes from the 20th century, but it might as well be from a different era entirely.
The Life Cycle Library for Young People was a 4-part, hardbound series detailing the cycle from birth to
death marriage and family. The book sale room at my local library had the whole series, culled from some kind patron’s musty attic, but book 3 (on adolescence) was the only one worth spending my hard-earned dollar on.
Enough preamble. Let’s get started, shall we?
This volume (and probably the entire series) was published in 1969, by an outfit known as The Parent and Child Institute. On the cusp of the 70s and yet, has a 50s feel . . . getting ahead of myself.
A Note to Readers. The Editors want to let you know that the story that follows is “one of the most fascinating” in the life of a human. At this point in medical history, “doctors are trying to unravel the enormous mystery of how a baby comes to be.” Wait, they still don’t know about sex? Exhume Sylvanus Stall and Dr. Wood-Allen! But not together, as then you’re going to get stories about apple-dumplings being given to Jesus and children of the corn.
This book purports to tell its young readers about what to expect at this particular stage in their lives, as well as what will follow. Then, they have written a “special note to girl readers,” where they apologize for using “he” as the standard pronoun. In their view, to use “it” would have been “inhuman,” and writing “he or she” for everything would be “tiresome.” How about alternating chapters, hmm? To add insult to my personal injury, they do the written equivalent of a hand-pat with this: “we want our girl readers to know that we value them, too; that we are not showing favoritism to boys.” Oh, but in a way, you are, so be quiet, mostly female board, I’m ashamed of you! This is in the very heart of second-wave feminism, too, by the way, which makes it even more embarrassing.
Chapter 16 – You and Your Family. Growing up is becoming independent. As a baby, your parents did everything for you (you ungrateful twit). All decisions were made for you – food, school, clothes, even religion.
Over time, you began to gain independence. You can tie your own shoes now, at least we hope (if not, please close this book and seek out movie “The ABCs of Sex Education for Trainables”). You’re allowed to cross “certain streets,” presumably the ones where it stays “lighter” out later, if’n you catch my meaning, and I think you do. (Lest you think I’m overstating, a cursory flip through the horrid illustrations shows only one picture depicting any children of color, and they are very stereotypically African-American-looking). You have learned, in short, to grow away from your parents. Now, if you really want to grow away from them on a permanent basis, make sure you choose your own religion. No hippies in my house!
The phrase “generation gap” is trotted out and explained. Your attitudes may differ greatly from your parents’, and “you may wonder who is right.” You may not agree, but rejection of their ideas doesn’t mean rejection of them. However, is the opposite true? No answer is given.
And now it’s time for Contradiction Corner! Times have changed, the book tells us. Your mom, unlike your grandma, isn’t home all day long. “Of a total of more than 25 million working women in the United States, 62 percent are married.” And the authors don’t seem to see this as a problem. Skip down two paragraphs, however, and we see this: “Girls are encouraged to prepare for careers, either before marriage or after their families are raised” (emphasis mine). Nice conflicting message there, ladies!
Don’t forget – learn to share, starting with your family. Letting others use your possessions and even your body (girls only, please) will help you get far in life!
The next section enumerates why one’s parents may behave the way they do – dominant, pushy, overly materialistic, and so on. Be considerate and understanding of their values, even when said values manifest themselves in a beatdown from dearest Dad when he’s in his cups. HIS father didn’t show affection, damn it, for it wasn’t manly! But Scotch? Scotch will always love you.
“When your parents order you to come home from a party earlier than you think you should leave, find out what worries them. Your willingness to tell them frankly and honestly what goes on at a party may relieve some of their worries.” Yes, kids, be sure not to leave out a single, sordid detail. “Well, Mom & Dad, Jan has a creepy older cousin, Bob, who buys us all beer if we let one of the girls go off with him for a while. Then we drink and dance to records! Then we play 7 minutes in the closet until curfew.” This is a good example of a delightful anecdote with which to regale them. If your mother isn’t clutching her pearls by the end of that one, make sure you show her the rug burns on your knees; it was your turn to be caught by cousin Bob, and you wanted everyone to have beer, right?
Studies of the time showed that parents felt “inadequate” to discuss sex with their kids, as it was still considered a taboo subject in their day. At least they’re honest on this point, anyway. What do the authors suggest? Let your parents know that you want to talk with them about sex and “want to hear their viewpoints.” I can just imagine the utter awkwardness of that scenario – on both sides!
Besides, the adult should be the, well, adult in this situation and bring it up as early as possible. To give a personal spin, my mom, who grew up in the 60s, started educating little ol’ me (an 80s child) on this topic to my level of understanding when I was really young. (By “really young,” I mean four years old or thereabouts, and the specific topic of question was the mechanics of conception, as my mother was pregnant with my brother at the time). I was a precocious little speck, though, so your mileage may vary, as far as start date is concerned.
Of course, these things can still get you into trouble. I contradicted some kid at a company picnic about the stork. I enlightened her about how the fetus grows in the uterus (yeah, I got the medical terms, folks), and her mom got all huffy with mine. Hah. Anyway, the point is, as it should have been then, smash those idiotic taboos, for this is why we STILL have sexual hangups, not to mention rampant teenage promiscuity and pregnancies. My ten cents (I’ve adjusted for inflation).
Parents are people, too. Really? This book is full of surprises. They aren’t perfect, either. You have floored me!
Sometimes, there are crises in the family. Your father might lose his job, and you might have to get one to help out. Or one of your parents might die. Someone in your family might be “stricken at some time or another by mental illness.” Yes, kids, all mental illness is a lot like ‘flu, or mono. “A mentally ill person should not be held responsible for what he does.” I’m sure they were aware of sociopaths at this point . . .
AT this critical stage in your life, EveryTeen, you might even be watching yourself become a pawn, I mean, a product, of divorce. “Regardless of which parent you live with, you can be sure that the other loves you just as much as when you all lived together.” At least, until Dad marries that hussy who’s half his age and makes a whole new family with her.
In the end, our parents are the “most valuable friends” you’ll have. Until they’re your enemies.
Tune in next week, when we’ll discover the art(lessness) of conversation!