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3 Things Growing Up in the 1980’s Taught Me About Parenting


The 1980’s were so many things to so many people. The hair was high, the clothes colorful, and the music catchy. The playgrounds were made of cement and tetanus and hitching a ride on the front handlebars of a bicycle served as the most coveted form of transportation. 

Those of us who grew up during this era remember it well……

We remember where we were when the Challenger exploded and when the Berlin Wall fell. We remember how to jump double Dutch in the rain and how to stop on roller skates when going down a hill. We remember when video killed the radio star and how to peg a pair of jeans like your reputation depends on it. 

We learned the facts of life from Tootie and Mrs. Garrett. We understood the value of the Care Bear Stare. We knew that waxing a car or painting a fence directly translated into kick-ass karate moves. And we weren’t afraid of no ghosts……not even when they were made of marshmallows (and full of carbs!).

The 1980’s, a decade of immense freedom, eventually grew up, swapping its Members Only jacket for something made of corduroy and elbow patches. In other words, it turned into a teacher, inspiring the children of its era as we evolved into parents.

And it taught me the following:

Individuality starts young

These years catered to individuality and that made it easy to express yourself. For me, they weren’t so much punk rock as they were Punky Brewster. In fact, I’m still waiting for her to respond to my many, many fan letters (a friendly reminder, in case she reads this).  

When I look back on who I was in grade school, I see a blueprint of who I am today….

……A nerd – While other kids were busy saving Princess Zelda, I was busy making sure my stuffed animals each had their own names and backstories. I also made sure they were never left face down, because that made it hard for them to breathe. 

………A worrywart – Teddy Ruxpin coming to life and watching me as I slept was one of my biggest fears (having to wear a headgear was up there as well).

…………A creative – In addition to my time-consuming letter-writing campaign to Punky Brewster, I mailed numerous notes to the Kenner toy company suggesting new ideas for Care Bears. To this day, I still take credit for Champ Bear. 

Questionable choices turn into funny memories

The 1980’s were certainly an era with relaxed rules. Case in point: I’m not sure how many packs of cigarettes I bought as a child; ironically, the only time in my life I’ve ever bought cigarettes was between the ages of 6-10. 

The local convenience store sold them to me whenever I went in and asked for Benson & Hedges. My grandmother always waited outside, sitting inside her idling t-bird, and waving to the cashier as some sort of secret code. He’d look at me from behind the counter before opening the case and pulling out a carton. “I don’t need to ID you,” I imagined him saying. “I can clearly see that you’re nine.”

I bought cigarettes from all sorts of cashiers when stores had all kinds of customers inside. And no one thought a thing of it. Perhaps it was a questionable choice on my grandmother’s part, yet I can’t help but look back on the memories and smile. It was an era that wasn’t about indifference; it was an era about trust.  

Children are extraordinarily resilient

I was technically a pre-1980’s baby, making my appearance in 1978. But the themes of the 80’s certainly began a few years before the actual decade, with a common tone and atmosphere. 

When I was eight days old, I went into heart failure; I was fine until I wasn’t. After a misdiagnosis that nearly cost me my life, the wonderful medical staff at the local children’s hospital saved it by successfully performing emergency heart surgery. 

Afterwards, they put me in the intensive care unit for several weeks. My dad stopped by to visit one morning and the nurses asked if he wanted to take me home. It wasn’t expected and my father wasn’t prepared. But it was a different time in a different world. 

He took me into the parking lot and placed me on the floor of the passenger side of his pickup – no carrier, no car seat. Then he drove the ten miles back to our house; he later recalled that he’d never driven as slowly or as carefully. 

If a situation like that were to happen today, it’d act of fodder for internet shaming (not to mention, get the parent in trouble with the authorities). Yet, in truth, it’s simply a reflection of all moms and dads, both past and present, at one time or another: a parent doing the best they could at that moment. While I don’t recommend putting a newborn on the floor of a truck three weeks post-heart surgery (or ever, for that matter), I survived. 

Not only that, I flourished. 


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