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Karen Kay - should memories of our childhood be used as a yardstick to judge younger generations?

PUBLISHED: 10:28 17 April 2015 | UPDATED: 10:28 17 April 2015

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

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But should memories of our own childhood and growing up be used as a yardstick to judge - or criticise - the younger generations? Karen is doubtful

How often have you heard someone commenting on something, referring to the fact “it didn’t used to be like that when I was young”?

It might be in relation to the manners of children around a dinner table, the diction of newscasters or the service received in a retail outlet. Perhaps it might refer to the use of mobiles in public, or the language on television dramas.

This simple little phrase seems harmless enough; a poignant recollection of how things once were. There are, of course, a plethora of reasons why someone might look fondly at their past, but the implication of this phrase is that things were always ‘better’ the way they used to be.

It is, then, a loaded statement. This rose-tinted view of the world perpetuates a delusional notion that our lives are in permanent decline. It seems to be the prerogative of each generation to believe that youthful existence was better than that of their offspring and, in turn, their offspring.

How many times have you switched off when a parent, aunt or grandparent grumbles that “things aren’t like they used to be”? If you’re anything like me, you continue to go about your business to the murmur of such disparaging comments.

I confess, I tire of the constant barrage of criticism about contemporary lifestyles. Yes, the world has changed. Sometimes it doesn’t work for the best, but we have to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Vast swathes of society seem to relish the opportunity to pick holes in modern life, believing an austere wartime childhood was somehow a blissful existence. Yes, the necessary prudence of the ration years meant few material possessions and a need to adopt simple pastimes to, well, pass the time. Children played in the street, and adults existed in a pre-feminist era of busy housewives so hardworking breadwinners could come home to dinner on the table and a pristine house. I’m not sure that was all good.

The concept of a ‘stay at home’ mother was taken for granted, and is often cited as the holy grail of parenting. But I’m confident that for my parents’ generation’s childhood, that mother was almost as hands-off on a day-to-day basis as a modern working mum, given the labour-intensive chores she undertook. The laundry required hours stooped over a mangle, rather than an automated machine wash, then a spin in the tumble dryer, which hopefully negates the need for ironing. A pie for dinner meant preparing fresh pastry and cooking an entire meal from scratch rather than ordering a ready-made one online and having it delivered.

Personally, I feel privileged to enjoy the wealth of technology available to free up time to do other things. Some older people believe mobile phones and social media are good for nothing, and that email and texting has left us unable to send a thank you note or have a phone conversation.

When it suits, most of us can put forward a vivid description of both the terrible challenges we faced and conversely, the conveniently trouble-free existence we enjoyed. Talking of mortgages and getting on the property ladder, or dealing with getting a job, let alone a career, frequently generates comments along the lines of “It was tough then, you don’t know the meaning of the word”.

I once vowed never to be that person, prattling on about my own early years in some half-hearted attempt to make younger people feel uncomfortable. From the recipient’s perspective, it’s a very unattractive trait, and achieves nothing but resentment. So why do I hear similar words being uttered from my lips? It is, after all, me that experiences discomfort when I hear myself harking back to days gone by, in an ill-advised bid to compare a life already lived to one being lived now? What a harridan I must be.

Why should my daughter repeat my childhood in a world that is markedly different to the one I grew up in? Why should her behaviour replicate that of someone living in a time irrelevant to this one? What is that makes generation after generation do this? Yes, we learn from our experiences. Yes, the process of living gives us a set of morals that provide boundaries for a civilized existence in our community. But, of course, this moral framework needs to adapt to each new generation. If this wisdom has any value, surely it is to share lessons learned in a constructive way with those who may benefit. It is not our place to cast aspersions on the lives of our progeny, but to help them carve their own path in the world, applying the acumen of their forebears to their future.

If we constantly insist that our descendants mirror our own lives, we’d be living in the dark ages. So, here, in print and with you as my witness, I vow not to complain that “things aren’t like they used to be” ever again.

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