When I first got my 1950s parenting magazines (read prior entries here and here), I thought I’d entertain myself with some ads, scoff at outdated (and potentially dangerous) parenting advice, and smugly reflect on unfair gender stereotypes of yore.
At first, all went as planned. One of the very first items I read was a quiz called “Are You a Model Mother?” According to the bullets, you are if…
- You make every effort to regain an attractive figure.
- You faithfully do any exercise your doctor may prescribe.
- You find enough time each day to keep your home neat, tidy, and fresh.
- You still make tasty and appetizing meals for the bread-winner to come home to.
- You don’t let your newly added duties prevent you from carefully grooming and dressing.
There are others, too, but those were the ones I laughed about. Bread-winner! Attractive figure! Cleaning my house!
Another article titled “Such a Pretty Mother!” gave beauty advice.
Make it an undying, undeviating rule never to appear at the breakfast table in pin curls without a glamour bandeau to hide them. And always remember the lipstick, please, for a bright morning face! … No reason for your husband to hide behind his newspaper because his little helpmate presents so dowdy a picture over the breakfast coffee!
I stayed up until midnight reading through my new/old magazines. I went to sleep and let my brain ruminate over how things were 60 years ago.
Then I woke up in the morning and looked around my house. It’s not filthy in the sense that there’s rotting food or dirty diapers lying around, but I’m not sure I’d call it “neat, tidy, or fresh.” There are newspapers stacked on my retro-’50s table, a pile of clothes waiting to be folded in the corner of a bedroom, and toys strewn everywhere. I haven’t vacuumed or dusted in…a long time. We eat out a lot. My daily beauty regimen consists of showering (hopefully before noon), combing my hair, and applying Chapstick.
I thought about all the conveniences I have that women in the 1950s didn’t (or likely didn’t). Dishwasher. Clothes dryer. Microwave. Keurig. Disposable diapers. Internet shopping. A husband who doesn’t care if my hair is coiffed (and would probably laugh if it were).
I started to realize there’s really no excuse not to have a spic-and-span house. Yes, I have three kids, and yes, they take a lot of time (especially the one I’m homeschooling, which most ’50s moms wouldn’t have been doing). No, I’m not eating bonbons and watching soaps, but I’m not busting my butt scrubbing my baseboards either.
One article gave home-making tips for after baby arrives. One of the tips was to keep clean, wet laundry in the icebox until you have a chance to iron it. Holy shirt! I think I own an iron, but I couldn’t tell you where it is. Yet here I am writing a blog post instead of taking my clothes out of the dryer because I can just put it on touch-up later.
Then I began to wonder if it was all a myth. Maybe the typical 1950s mom wasn’t as Leave-it-to-Beaver as the magazines would have me believe. So I asked my grandma, who had her first child in 1952.
She said her house wasn’t immaculate, but it was always tidy. She did her hair every day. My grandpa was quick to add that there was always a full breakfast on the table (and for them, that means eggs, some sort of meat, toast, fruit, milk, juice–the works).
That didn’t help. My kids think toaster waffles are a luxury. It doesn’t matter, though, because right now a science project is obscuring my access to the toaster.
I really have no excuse for the not-put-away clothes and the not-put-away toys and the not-put-away-box-of-Saltines-from-when-my-daughter-was-sick-two-weeks ago.
I thought that after reading these magazines, I’d feel a sense of superiority, but instead I feel extremely inadequate. I’m pretty sure I would have failed the 1950s.