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Mad Mentor


Mad Men character Don Draper’s daughter Sally can make a dandy Tom Collins. My son can’t. Granted, I’ve never asked him to, and we all know why: Because the wrong amount of club soda ruins it. OK, OK, it’s because children shouldn’t be bartenders. (Maraschino cherries are choking hazards.)

When Mad Men debuted in 2007, it was beloved as much for its sharp characters and storylines as for depicting the rather boorish culture of the 1960s. As Wikipedia puts it, Mad Men highlights “cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, feminism, adultery, homophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.” It’s the perfect dramatic series for raising a family. Take, for instance, Betty Francis, Don’s ex-wife, who smokes nonchalantly through her pregnancies. But don’t blame her; medical science had nothing against it at the time.
“It was just beginning to emerge that smoking was bad for the baby,” says Alan Greene, M.D., a pediatrician in Danville, California, and author of Raising Baby Green and Feeding Baby Green. “It was believed that to get lung cancer, smoke had to get into the lungs, and baby’s lungs weren’t even working yet. The medical thinking was that the baby was totally isolated in the womb.”

But alas, babies don’t grow in a fully protected cocoon. In fact, half a century ago, they were lucky to get out unharmed. Pregnant women who gained too much weight were prescribed diet pills. Severe morning sickness was combated with thalidomide, a sedative that caused birth defects. Things weren’t much safer out here. “When traveling, children were not in car seats or using seat belts,” says Dr. Greene. “They just roamed around the back seat.”

In our world of “mompetition” (my baby spoke Swahili before your baby), we look at the parents in Mad Men with condescension. But keep in mind, 22nd-century parents will judge us. When asked what’s the “smoking while pregnant” of our generation, Dr. Greene is quick to discuss the toxins and endocrine disruptors in plastics (which have been linked to increased rates of ADHD and cancer) and the majority of American children getting processed white flour instead of whole grains. So imagine a mom and dad in the year 2111. They tune into channel 13,657 and watch in horror as parents microwave plastic baby bottles and feed toddlers white bread and white rice. Hindsight is 20/20. Foresight is 20/400.

Is there anything we can learn from parenting in the 1960s? Absolutely. Pregnant women were spoiled and perhaps a little overprotected. Moms-to-be were assigned a lot of bed rest. They were warned not to carry anything too heavy or reach for anything too high. But Dr. Greene says there’s a more important lesson from that era. “There was a confidence that things would work out OK,” he adds. “Today, more knowledge equals more concern.”

Recipe for 1960s parenting: two parts pampering with a splash of blind optimism (but not too much or you’ll ruin it). That sounds pretty good. Where do I get a mod suit and a pack of Camels?