The Natural Family in Peril

This past summer, I attended my 50th high school class reunion, in my hometown, Des Moines, Iowa. A near-classmate of mine at Theodore Roosevelt High School was Bill Bryson, who went on to become a bestselling author of volumes such as A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything. Among these books is also The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir of growing up in Des Moines during the 1950s and early 1960s. His early chapters delightfully relate my own experience, as well. One of these he entitles, “Welcome to Kid World.” Bryson writes: "The most striking difference between then and now was how many kids there were then. America had thirty-two million children aged twelve or under in the mid-1950s, and four million new babies were plopping onto the changing mats every year. So, there were kids everywhere, all the time, in densities now unimaginable. . . "[1] We—he and I and our classmates—were the children of the famed Baby Boom, a remarkable and unexpected episode in family formation that occurred during the two decades after World War II. Not far in the background were our mothers, then happily self-labeled as homemakers. Bryson recalls a contemporaneous article in Harper’s by one Nancy B. Mavity, condemning the two-income family where both husband and wife worked outside the house to support a more ambitious lifestyle. “I’d be ashamed to let my wife work,” one man told Mavity, and her tone showed that she expected most of her readers to agree. In this regard, Bill Bryson’s mom was unusual, but in a telling way. She worked full-time as a journalist for the local morning paper. However, she did not cover politics, or business, or sports. Rather, she was home furnishings editor, who—in her son’s words—offered “calm assurance” to homemakers on “whether the time had come for paisley in the bedroom, [or] whether they should have square sofa cushions or round.” As the exception then, she actually proved
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