Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rules of Life Through a Mother's Eyes

Credit: Patents Post-Grant
My sister and I spent a large portion of today with our mother, transporting her to a clinic for a medical procedure. My sister and I never have a problem talking; we are best friends. Time spent together often inspires us to recall past experiences, and today was no exception. We were discussing some of the rules we grew up with. Some may be quite familiar to you if you are in that age group known as women of a certain age. Others may be unique to the time period in which you grew up, regional or religious difference, culture, family background or various other situations.

"The 1950s were characterized by a very strict code of etiquette. Schools taught them and homes and later colleges reinforced. Well-mannered children and young adults reflected well on their parents and children were often provided with behavioral guides to reinforce the status of the family." ---ehow

Here’s a list of some of the rules imposed on us as children of the 1950s and teenagers of the 1960s:

--During cold weather, we could not go outside without “tying up our head” with a scarf.

--Money taken to school had to be knotted into the end of a handkerchief to ensure we wouldn’t lose it.

--No watching television on school nights before homework was completed.

--No pets were ever allowed inside the house.

--We were taught to say “please” and “thank you,” and “Yes Ma'am/No Ma'am,” Yes Sir/No Sir” to all elders, including our parents.

--We had to set the table properly for each meal, with the silverware and glasses in the correct position.

--We weren’t allowed to wear sandals when we were young; they didn’t give feet proper support. We wore Buster Brown shoes until 5th grade, feet properly measured at Kaye’s Shoe Store to ensure a proper fit. We couldn’t go “bare legged.” We wore socks until we were old enough to wear silk stockings, as they were called then.

--We were required to “clean our plates” at the table because of “all the starving people elsewhere in the world.”

--We had to brush our hair 100 strokes each day.

--No snacking was allowed before meals.

--Saturday night was devoted to two activities: polishing our shoes and completing our Sunday School workbooks for the next day. (In spring and summer, when we wore patent leather shoes, the preferred “shoe polish” was a leftover biscuit (and yes, that grease in the biscuit really made those Mary Janes shine!)

--We washed our hair on Saturday and mother made pincurls and secured them with bobby pins.
Credit: ehow

During summer school vacation:

--When the polio scare came along, we were not allowed to play outdoors very long when the sun was bright; it was believed in some way the sun or heat caused the disease. Also, no swimming in public pools, another way it was believed the disease was spread. (I do not know, and have not researched the validity of those fears. At any rate, the vaccine came along and we were safe!)

--No reading, puzzles or games during the morning hours; chores were the order of the day before lunchtime. If there weren’t obvious chores (and usually there were!), mother would have dust everything in the house just to keep us busy.

--Mother liked her nap each day after lunch, so we were required to take a nap as well. Naps were on the sofa or the floor with a pillow.

--Sitting on the bed was prohibited.

As we got older and were allowed to go places with friends, here were some of the rules:

--We could NOT go out of the house on Monday night. Mother’s reasoning: “If you start out going somewhere on Monday night, you’ll want to be gone every night.” It was just one of those mother rules!

--Staying up late on Saturday night, whether at home or out with friends, was no excuse for sleeping in on Sundays and missing church services.

--I felt like one of the most under-privileged teenagers in America when I missed all The Beatles performances on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night. Sunday night was for church services, no exceptions.

--Curfew was 10 p.m. As we became older teenagers it was 11 p.m. I don’t ever remember being allowed to stay out until midnight.

--When you returned home from a date, the front porch light was on and mother was waiting for you in the living room. As soon as the car stopped in the driveway, she had better hear the car doors slam shut immediately or she’d be out the front door!

--“Appearances” were everything. You could never allow teachers, neighbors, family or community to speak ill of you because of bad behavior of ANY sort.

--No “straight skirts” until high school; they had to be gathered or pleated. I recall that mother broke that rule for me and allowed me to have a “straight skirt,” (we also called them “tight skirts”) when I was in 7th grade. I remember that skirt to this day! I also remember what a fit my sister pitched, saying I was trying to be “too grown up.”

--If you went to a school, or other event, you better stay put in your seat; no “prancing in out and trying to call attention to yourself.”

--No shorts except at home.

--You should never, ever telephone a boy.

Well, I think we grew up just fine. At the time, we thought some of the rules were unfair, but we never doubted our parents’ love for us and the responsibility they felt to raise us "right." And it probably made us more disciplined and responsible adults. Our upbringing was stricter than some but I believe it did us no harm.

What were some of the rules enforced on you when you were a child and a teenager? Did you think they were unfair? Have those rules positively or negatively impacted your life as an adult?


  1. Oh my what a lot of rules! Some are familiar for me too.
    I can´t and don´t wish to remember all the rules I had to follow, but here are two:
    I was not allowed to quarrel at all. My grandmother would have a " fit ", if I did. The fit was that she somehow just fainted; fell on the floor from straight feet, and went unconscious. Now that was really scary. My mother would rush to the room and started to blame me for it. I guess my grandmother was hysteric.
    The other " rule " was that I was not allowed to do things I liked, without the approval of my mother. And my mother seldom approved anything.
    I never received an explanation as to why I was not allowed something.
    The only explanation was: We have this principal.
    No wonder I moved away from my childhood home, the minute I finished my school.
    Yes, in those days, life was all about rules. I could have accepted some of them, but didn´t, as they had no sense in them.
    Btw., You really find interesting topics!!

    1. There must be a happy medium somewhere. We had too many, perhaps, and kids today don't seem to have enough. That is really strange that your grandmother fainted during a quarrel. But that was not your fault!

  2. Love it! Remember all so well - thought some of it so unfair. As Mette said, the reasoning for all of this at our house was "because I said so".
    Also remember our method of punishment in public was a "kill you dead" stare or a pinch if you were in reaching distance!
    We survived it and are now "survivors" for life situations.

    1. Oh yes, glad you added the stare and pinch punishments. How could I forget. The other thing I failed to mention is when we were to be punished, we sometimes were told to go get a switch and bring it. Imagine, having to selected the branch you were going to get hit with! Parents of today would be locked up for child abuse if they did such things today! I don't recall those ever did much beyond making a few red marks on our legs. Ah,,,,childhood!

  3. As both Mette/Edith have said the word 'because' was the same with my G/parents.....though the rules compared to your list were more of a 'class' issue.I was only allowed to mix with children from the same background...the word 'common' was a favourite much used word,along with an imperious stare that would halt you at 5ft!

    So long as I had good manners,addressed everyone by their surname (no one called people by their first names,only family,and close friends).Was taught early on how to eat properly with all the correct cutlery....I never ate dinner with my G/parents until I was about 13.

    Otherwise I had a fairly relaxed childhood,I could roam the estate,and I had my own small house to play in...having no siblings it was a fairly solitary life but I was never lonely.

    Being from another era they brought me up,especially Grandmama similar to her childhood.

    My only child a daughter was brought up with no class issues,lots of freedom,and much love.....but still I apparently did not get it right.

    Thanks Sanda for another interesting post allowing us small glimpses into each others lives,you both had a very loving,caring mother,and her 'rules' have stood the test of time. Ida

    1. Sounds as if our upbringings were similar, Ida, with the added element of the class system that exists in your country. That doesn't exist "officially" here, but still, back then you weren't expected to associate with the "lower classes," whatever that meant!
      Do any of us ever get it right? Sometimes I wonder. I tried really hard with my two step-children, who came into my life when they were 8 and 11. I'd like to think I had a positive impact on their lives but the generational thing that exists nowadays makes it difficult to know for sure!

  4. Dear Sanda,

    That is quite a list! Aren't you happy that there were rules and boundaries to guide you? I feel sorry for many children who grow up with no rules, no discipline. Some of the rules I remember were, we could not lie down on the ground and watch TV, we had to sit properly, we had to eat whatever we were given with gratitude because of the starving children in Africa, we had to do our homework before watching any TV, ...

    Thank you for an interesting post, you made me think about then... Have a great day!

    1. It is quite a list! In retrospect, I suppose I'm glad, although I certainly wish I hadn't missed the Beatles performances on Ed Sullivan! I must have been the only kid in my class who missed it! I felt so left out!

  5. I just wished to add, that I could not reuse the rules I had, when raising my own children.
    My daughters always demanded an explanation for everything.
    Raising the first one was easier though. But I have had a lot of trouble with the younger one.
    I think, that the big age gap ( 12 years ) between them, had a lot to do with it.

    1. Thanks for this addition. And the raising of our own children certainly ties into the subject at hand; how it impacted us raising our children. I never gave birth to a child, but my husbands children lived with us after we were married; they were 8 and 11. I tried to instill in them my philosophies of life, habits, principles, etc. I think it took in some cases; in others, not so much. But I did the best I knew how with them. And that's all any of us can do!

  6. I laughed out loud when I read how your sister reacted when you were allowed the straight skirt at a younger age than she had been. I was the oldest girl of three, (with lots of brothers thrown in for good measure), and my middle sister and I can (and often do, even after all this time) name 20 instances where the youngest sister was not required to wait until the same age we were. We were so mad!

  7. Some of the same rules at my house but I guess I thought they were just "the norm". The one I hang on to is No Sitting On The Bed. I still make sure every bedroom has a chair in it and think it should be used.



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