From grandmother to mother to aunt: Here is how parenting has changed over three generations.

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The world has seen more progress and transformation in the past 150 years than ever before. Modernisation and globalisation have changed the way that we live, work and eat, and the way that we parent is no exception.

I began to wonder how different life would have been bringing up a child 50 years ago, compared to the way my little cousins are being brought up now. I decided to interview my grandma, mum and aunty about how parenting has changed over time and what their personal experiences parenting their children were like.

They all had a wealth of knowledge and advice to share.

My grandmother Zora, 75, mother to three children.

Natalia with her grandparents Tom and Zora. Image: supplied.

What was your experience parenting toddlers like?

Looking after your mum and your aunty when they were little was very hard for me. I’d come to Australia a few years before and was working as a hairdresser, but I didn’t have anything when I came over. I met your grandpa and we got married, and your aunty and your mum came pretty soon after, but I had to keep working in order to survive.

There was a 12-year gap between my second and third child, and when he was born we were better off financially and the two girls were older and independent, so things were a lot easier the third time around.


What did a typical day parenting your toddlers look like?

Your grandpa would work at night so he’d be with the girls during the day, and then when I came home from work I’d make dinner, bathe them and put them to bed while he went off to work. Then when they were asleep, I’d get on with the housework.

He’d come home early in the morning and sleep, then I’d get the girls ready for the day and he’d wake up when I went to work. It was exhausting but we got through it.

Who was your support system?

We didn’t really have any help – all our family was back at home [in Croatia or Slovenia] and we didn’t have a telephone, so I couldn’t call my mother or my sister and ask any questions. We had to figure it all out as we went.

"All our family was back at home [in Croatia or Slovenia] and we didn’t have a telephone, so I couldn’t call my mother or my sister and ask any questions." Image: Pexels.

What did you feed your toddlers?

I breastfed all my kids for as long as I could, and then they ate whatever I made for your grandpa and myself.

Growing up we’d eat a lot of soup because it’s nutritious and it fills you up, so I’d boil vegetables with meat to make stock and then mash up the vegies and soft pieces of meat for the kids. I’d give them milk every day, eggs, and whatever else it was that we were eating.

We were lucky in Australia to have a wider variety of foods available to us. When I was growing up on the island in Croatia, we didn’t have a lot of foods that we’d now consider fridge staples. My family were fisherman, so fish was our primary source of protein. We didn’t eat much meat at all. We didn’t have eggs because we lived right on the water and we didn’t have enough land to keep chickens. We would have some goat’s milk if we traded our fish or vegetables (that we grew ourselves) with other people on the island. We’d have to go to the mainland to get other produce, and we didn’t do that very often because it took a few hours to row or sail across to Zadar on a small boat.

What were some of the challenges of parenting toddlers?

When your aunty and mum were little we didn’t have a car, so that made getting around really difficult. When your uncle came 12 years after your mum was born, we’d bought a car and your mum and aunty were already at school, so it was easier for me to take him with me to do the shopping or go to see a client to do their hair.

Disposable nappies also didn’t exist back then, so I had to hand wash all the cloth nappies as well as all of our clothes.

What advice would you give to parents with toddlers?

Toddlers are a tricky age because you’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head otherwise they can get into all sorts of trouble, but pretty soon they’ll be all grown up, so enjoy every stage of their lives while they’re in it.

My mother Lidia, 47, mother to four children.

Natalia's mother Lidia - pictured here with her husband Robert - has had four children. Image: supplied.

What was your experience parenting toddlers like?

Having four kids under the age of six had its challenges, but I was privileged to be able to stay at home with you all.

Back then your father’s income meant that we could all be really comfortable, but it’s hard for families to survive with kids on a single income now, so I’m grateful that I had the ability to be at home with you all.

What did a typical day parenting your toddlers look like?

It was very busy – we’d always be going to the park or going swimming, taking you to dance lessons or the boys to soccer. We’d do a lot of things as a family: we’d go out to shows – I can’t count how many times you kids saw The Wiggles in concert – we’d go on picnics in the park, we’d go away up the coast. We were lucky to be able to spend so much time together.

Who was your support system?

I was lucky to have a lot of support when you were all growing up. You had all your grandparents actively involved in your lives, as well as all your aunts, uncles and extended family. There weren’t really many mother’s groups when you were all little, but lots of your dad’s cousins and my friends had kids around the same time as me, so we’d go over to each other’s places a lot. You kids would all play together and entertain yourselves, so it would give us mums some time to relax and chat about how we’re going.

That time with other mums was important for me, and it also meant that it was easier keeping an eye on you all when there were a few of us there together.

What did you feed your toddlers?

You kids were all breast fed until about 12 months, and after that you’d have a bottle of formula in the morning and at night and eat whatever we’d eat.

You’d have mashed up Weet-Bix in the morning to make sure you had fibre and lots of fruit for snacks. I’d puree vegetables for you, I’d make a lot of soups and you’d have the soft boiled meat that I used to make the soup, which was similar to what I had growing up. I’d soft boil eggs and break them up with a fork or you’d dip toast soldiers into them.

Lidia would make a lot of the same foods for her kids that she had growing up. Image: iStock.

I made sure to expose you all to a variety of foods and it’s great that none of you have allergies now. When I was pregnant I ate everything – but that said, things like sushi weren’t widely available, so they weren’t a part of my diet at the time.

What were some of the challenges of parenting toddlers?

Your parenting style changes when you have multiple kids depending on the child’s personality. You were such an easy-going child. You’d be happy to play on your own, sit inside quietly and read, draw or play with Lego.

But your brother, my second child, was completely different. He was very active and would climb up on everything and then want to jump off whatever he’d climbed onto. He was strong and fearless and liked learning through physically exploring. He was probably the hardest child to look after because if I took my eyes off him for one second, he’d be gone. On one hand it’s great that he was so confident and willing to try new things, but it was a bit of a mission to try to keep him safe at all times.

What advice would you give to parents with toddlers?

Now that I work in early childhood education and children’s services, I think the most important thing for parents is to try to remain calm. It’s easy to be overwhelmed, but when you’re confident in your decisions and what’s right for your child - because all kids are different - it’s easier to give them the space to learn, play and develop at their own pace. The only things kids really need is love and the proper support and nutrition to grow up happy and healthy. Try to enjoy it because it goes by so quickly.

My aunty Michelle, 30, mother to two children.

Natalia's aunty Michelle with her husband and two young kids. Image: supplied.

What is your experience parenting toddlers like?

Every parent will tell you that raising toddlers is tiring. And it is – it’s exhausting, but it’s very rewarding. With my first son I was lucky enough to be able to stay at home and focus all my attention on him and the housework, but now that my youngest is a little bit older, I’m back at work.

Trying to parent a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old while working, as well as taking care of the housework, is really hard. With my background in early childhood education means that I put a lot of pressure on myself to be really active and involved with my kids, so it’s hard not to feel guilty that I have to be away from them when I’m at work. It’s easy to overcompensate and then physically exhaust yourself even more when you are with them, because you don’t want to let a moment go to waste.

What does a typical day look like for you?

When I’m at home with the boys, our typical day involves doing lots of activities – I set up arts and crafts with them, we go for walks or go to the park, we read and they play numeracy and literacy games on the iPad – they’re constantly engaged and doing fun things.

Who is your support system?

They’re lucky that they have a lot of cousins and friends their age who they get to see regularly, so they’re very social. They also have all of you [extended family] involved as well. I’m also lucky that I have four sisters and my mum who are always there to support me with any questions or problems that I’m having with them and I know I’ll never be judged.

"Every parent will tell you that raising toddlers is tiring." Image: iStock.

What did you feed your toddlers?

My boys loved being breastfed and I had a hard time weaning them off. I breastfed my first for about a year and a half and then eventually got him onto formula and then cow’s milk. They are both great eaters – they’ll try everything and eat everything that we eat. In the mornings, they’ll usually have eggs with toast, sometimes with avocado or cheese, as well as their milk.

Lunch and dinner times are a little bit more flexible as they eat whatever we eat; usually it’s some kind of meat with vegetables and salad. I’m really lucky that they’re such good eaters: they love sushi and Mexican food, they love pasta and Croatian food – whatever it is, they’ll eat it.

What are some of the challenges of parenting toddlers today?

One of the hard things about parenting toddlers today is social media. It’s great that we have information available to help us, but it’s easy to feel inferior with some mummy bloggers who portray an unrealistic expectation of what parenting looks like.

The internet - while it can be a place of support - is often also a source of judgment. When someone online criticises the choices you make for your own children, it can be heart wrenching, so it’s important to remind yourself that you’re doing the best that you can.

What advice would you give to parents with toddlers?

My advice to new parents is to do whatever you need to do for you and your child. Every child, every parent and every home situation is unique, so block out any negativity and do what you feel is best. The more confident in your own parenting decisions you can be, and the less that you listen to external criticism, the happier you and your children will be.

How has parenting changed in your family over the years?

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