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Motherhood Through the Decades: 1940s and 1950s

In honor of Mother’s Day, we interviewed a military mom from each of the past eight decades. We enjoyed hearing what has changed and what has stayed the same. From fads to parenting techniques to timeless advice, moms have an opinion on it all. In addition, each interviewee holds a special place in the interviewer’s heart.

For more from this series, check out Motherhood Through the Decades: 1960s, here. And the 1970s, here.

I had the pleasure to interview my paternal grandmother for this article. She is one of my favorite people in the world, and I am fortunate to have her in my life. Born in 1921 in Kirksville, Missouri, she has lived through many major events in history. In addition to being a military spouse, two of her sons graduated from the United States Air Force Academy. 

Marietta, 96 ½ years old (Kirksville, Missouri)

Relationship to interviewer: grandmother of the author

Three children: Randy (1944), Marty (1950), and Tom (1952)

Wife of a WWII Navy Veteran (gunnery officer in the Pacific)

Marietta, somewhere around 1940, in Kirksville, Missouri

WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN BEFORE KIDS?

I taught middle school after college and before kids. I also loved fishing with my brother and dancing. 

WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN AFTER YOU HAD KIDS?

I still played bridge and was very active in things in town. I still do enjoy those same things. (Side note: Marietta continues to be very active in the community. She is involved in several local organizations and still hosts luncheons and other get-togethers at her house. Although she loves to cook, she now delegates some of those responsibilities to her co-hosts for big events.)

DID YOU HAVE DATE NIGHTS? 

Yes, we loved to go dancing! When he was growing up, my husband would come home from school everyday for lunch and practice dancing with his sister. He was a very good dancer. 

WHAT WAS CHALLENGING AS A MOM?

Having three boys was a challenge for me. 

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT THAT YOU WERE PREGNANT? DID YOU TELL PEOPLE? WHEN DID YOU KNOW THE GENDER BEFORE THE BABY WAY BORN?

In those days, it wasn’t easy. The doctors couldn’t even find out, so it took a while to be sure. We did tell people when I was pregnant but didn’t know the gender. There were no ultrasounds. If “the rabbit died,” you were pregnant. 

WHAT WAS CONSIDERED THE NORM FOR FAMILY SIZE? WERE YOU INFLUENCED BY THAT?

A mom, a dad, a boy, and a girl. I suppose I wasn’t influenced since we had three boys!

DID YOU HAVE A NURSERY? WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

Yes. It was just a separate bedroom. My oldest was born while my husband was serving in World War II. I was fortunate to have my parents nearby.

WERE YOU A FREE RANGE OR HELICOPTER PARENT? WHAT WAS COMMON AT THE TIME?

I was never a helicopter parent. It wasn’t common to hover over the kids, although there were still parents like that. By 6 or 7 years old, my boys were able to leave the house alone and be gone for the day, and I wasn’t worried at all.

WHAT WERE THE PRESSURES OF NORMAL, EVERYDAY PARENTING (E.G., BABY ON BACK, BREASTFEEDING OR NOT, HEALTH, EDUCATION)?

The only thing I remember was that babies didn’t sleep on their back. After my first baby, I didn’t worry a lot.

I tried to breastfeed but wasn’t very successful. They said that I had plenty of milk but it didn’t have any nutrients.

We didn’t have classes for parenting, but I tried to read everything I could find before I had a baby.

WHAT DID DISCIPLINE LOOK LIKE?

There was a lot more discipline than there is now. I never did anything physical to them. My kids were denied privileges when they misbehaved. My husband was an excellent disciplinarian. 

DID YOU PACK SCHOOL LUNCHES? WHAT DID YOU PACK?

Yes, but not very often because we only lived two blocks from school, so the boys came home for lunch for many years. If I did pack a lunch, it was sandwiches, fruit, candy, and maybe potato chips.

WHAT WAS THE WEIRDEST FAD/TREND THAT YOUR CHILDREN WERE CRAZY ABOUT?

I can’t remember fads, but there were lots of toys that wouldn’t be allowed now.

The children’s chemistry kit contained cyanide, arsenic, and mercury. My oldest made his own toy soldiers by melting lead, pouring it in a mold, and then painting it later. There was also a children’s wood burning kit. It contained a poker that you plugged in and it got VERY hot. Then they used the poker to burn a picture into a piece of wood. Our children’s tool kit also contained a real saw. 

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH OTHER MOMS WHEN YOU HAD TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND HAD YOUR KIDS WITH YOU?

I took them to something that would entertain all of us, like a program or a movie.

WHAT WERE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS WITH OTHER MOTHERS LIKE?

We got together a lot. We compared notes on parenting.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND DO IT ALL OVER, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY AS A PARENT?

A lot of things. For one thing, I would have kept Tom (my youngest) back a year in school (He started kindergarten 5 months before his fifth birthday). I was a year ahead in school, and I knew he was smart enough to get by but forgot about everything else, like sports.

WHERE DID YOU FIND SUPPORT OR DID YOU FEEL LIKE IT WAS DIFFICULT TO FIND?

My mother was a huge support and was probably the stronger speaker in her opinions. My husband was a good disciplinarian as well.

WITH THE CURRENT TECHNOLOGY, IT IS EASY TO FIND AN OPINION ON EVERY ASPECT OF PARENTING. WHAT DID YOU DO? 

I would go to programs at some of the clubs for young mothers, and I would read everything I could. I tried to get all of the help I could.

DESCRIBE YOUR FAMILY SITUATION? DID YOUR HUSBAND COME HOME AT 5? DID HE TRAVEL FOR WORK? DID YOU WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME?

My husband was home a little after 5 every night. He eventually started coming home for lunch as well. When the boys were young, they came home from school for lunch and my husband had lunch with his father to discuss legal cases (they were partners in a firm). After my husband’s father died, my husband started coming home for lunch. But by that time, the school served lunch, so the boys were not coming home anymore. So I always had to fix lunch for someone!

I taught middle school before children and did not work while they were little. I was a substitute teacher when the boys were older.

HOW DID THE DIVISION OF LABOR WITH THE CHILDREN AND HOUSE WORK FOR YOUR FAMILY?

My husband was a very good father but wasn’t much help around the house. It all goes back to my commenting on his spaghetti. We were at Baring Lake (Northeast Missouri). He and a friend had fixed the worst spaghetti I had ever had in my life. It didn’t have any tomatoes in it! The friend’s wife and I kept commenting on it. Finally, both of the men said, “Alright! We are never doing anything in the kitchen again!” And Dad never did! I cannot speak for the friend. That was his excuse.

The boys had a few chores like mowing the lawn and other outside work.

WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE CHORE?

I like to cook, but I hated cleaning up after meals. I tend to make a huge mess and actually have an apron that says,  “Dinner for 4, dishes for 400.”

DID YOUR HUSBAND HELP WITH THE KIDS?

Yes, he set a good example and taught them the right behavior. I don’t know how he would have done with girls, but he did very well with boys. He took them to the farm and taught them boy things.

WHAT PARENTING ADVICE IS TIMELESS?

Teach your children the important things in life, and enjoy your kids.

WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR A NEW MOM?

Read everything you can get your hands on.

Grandma and me at her 95th birthday party in 2016.

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