There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and unsolicited parenting advice.

Most of us think of parenting “advice” as a modern phenomenon, ignited and fuelled by the speed and accessibility of the internet and social media. But “you should do this with your kid and not that” isn’t new. In fact, I’m certain mothers gave each other advice around the butter churn and in the sewing circle. And after that it was bridge club, then Jazzercise class, then outside the workplace on break, while inhaling Virginia Slims and complaining about the glass ceiling.

Whether it’s advice they gave their kids or each other, old-school moms cornered the market on tough-love, zero you-know-whats given in pursuit of practical solutions to everyday parenting dilemmas. Such popular gems included:


Baby won’t sleep? Bourbon in the bottle!

Teething? Rub a little cocaine on her gums!

Worried about your figure? Wear a corset while you’re pregnant!

Can’t quit smoking? Don’t worry, a few cigarettes a day won’t hurt the baby!


To recap, assuming the in-utero baby survived having his organs squished by a corset and his developing lungs filled with smoke, once he was born his mother was advised to give him both alcohol AND cocaine. FOR REAL. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t knock it till I’ve had to get up and milk cows before the sunrise. But still.

And once the children got older, old-school moms continued their tough-love, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger approach to parenting by steadfastly refusing to put their precious offspring on a pedestal. Back in the day, a mother’s advice wasn’t sugar-coated. It didn’t pussy-foot around and many nuggets of wisdom, therefore, were passed down like urban legends:


If you pick your nose you’ll scratch your brain!

Masturbation causes blindness!

Your face will freeze if you keep making that stupid look!


Ah, those were the days, the days when too much personal experimentation meant possibly losing the gift of sight; when living in a pre-Kleenex world meant taking your life in your hands (literally) every time you had a cold.

Gotta hand it to those old-school moms. They didn’t mess around.

When deciding if and how to implement retro parenting tactics in the modern era, it helps to understand the difference between advice that is logical and advice that is necessary. For example, if Liam has his fingers constantly embedded in his nostrils, as though attempting to manually change his mind, it is absolutely necessary to get him to stop because nose-picking is unhygienic and disgusting. But will Liam’s tiny, booger-encrusted fingernail actually make contact with his cerebral cortex? Probably not. And if it stops him from doing it, what’s the harm? Maybe little fear-based parenting is what we need to curb some of those nasty modern-day problems, like too much screen time or cyber-bullying.


Susan, put that iPad down before your eyes start bleeding!

Madison, don’t you know every time you leave a nasty comment you get another zit?


The only category of “advice” that hasn’t held up is the creepy, sexist stuff we used to tell our daughters about boys, such as “he’s mean to you because he likes you” or, “he pulled your hair to get your attention.” Most of these have (thankfully) been replaced by more sensible, twenty-first century wisdom, such as “he’s mean to you because he doesn’t understand how to talk to girls in a respectful way”, or, “he’s mean to you because he’s a little asshole.”

I personally prefer the latter.

Modern parenting, therefore, means considering the questionable (and sometimes horrifying) things our parents did and said, and deciding what to use and what to disregard. If you’ve ever opened your mouth to say something balanced and reasonable and instead heard your own mother come out, you know it isn’t easy to escape the past. But don’t worry, if the baby hasn’t used up all the alcohol and cocaine, you might be able to forget about it for a little while.  



Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @jennemillard or at

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