MARSHALL - Students from SMSU's early childhood education department gathered on campus Monday to hear first-hand how parenting has changed over the span of five generations.
LeAnne Syring, who teaches a class on parent and child relationships, brought in her grandmother, mother, son, and two grandchildren to help students understand generational differences found in raising children. Syring's students had told her how much they enjoyed two panels that were held earlier in the semester (one on adoption and another with representatives from PFLAG) so she decided to end the school year with a more personal panel. The panel included great-great grandma Lydia (Honstad) Helleksen born 1916, great grandma Barbara (Helleksen) Pronk born 1940, grandma LeAnne (Pronk) Syring born 1961, father David Syring born 1981 and sons Tyler and Ryan Syring born 2003 and 2007.
Lydia Helleksen explained to the crowd that her parents had immigrated from Norway and that they initially didn't speak english. "Neither one of them," Helleksen said. "As time went on my folks learned English. Dad knew some of it because he worked at the elevator. But my mother picked it up from us kids, never went to school."
Photo by Anna Haecherl-Smith
Great-great grandma Lydia (Honstad) Helleksen and great grandma Barbara (Helleksen) Pronk (both seated) are pictured with Ryan Syring, LeAnne Syring, Tyler Syring and David Syring. Ryan and Tyler are David’s sons and the grandchildren of LeAnne.
Helleksen grew up on an acreage with seven siblings, her two parents and occasional stays by two of her uncles during the winters.
"We were 12 at the table," Helleksen said. "It seemed to work, but how my mother ever done it, I will never know."
School mostly took place in a country school house for the first three generations at the panel.
"I went to country school, a one-room school with eight grades and about 14 kids," said Barbara Pronk. "So, when you're in first grade you could hear everybody else's lesson and that was more interesting sometimes."
When she entered sixth grade, Pronk was able to attend school in town.
"At first the bus was really fun and after a while it really got to be a pain in the neck."
"Town school was my first male teacher. I was very intimidated," said Pronk. "I didn't need to be, he was a nice guy. We had never even had male teachers in Sunday School or anyplace. It was always the women in charge of that."
Helleksen also attended country school but wasn't able to finish. "I had two years of high school," Helleksen said. "And then in the Depression in the '30s it was my choice that I should go out and make my own living as much as I could. I was offered $1.50 week and I thought that was a lot of money. It didn't buy a whole lot, but I managed to get along."
Each person on the panel answered students' questions concerning discipline and how they raised their children. Pronk recalled the phrase "cut that out" being used many times in her childhood home.
"Dad was always reading. I don't know if he was aware that we were being nasty until mother would say 'cut that out,'" Pronk said. "By the second time she'd say 'cut that out' he'd be on his feet and it was time to move on."
The panel also fielded questions about using the same parenting techniques as their parents.
"I'm sure I said I didn't want to do things the same as my mom," LeAnne Syring said. "Because when you're young you think you can do a better job than what your mom could do. So, then you think you're going to do everything differently, but you find yourself repeating it because she didn't do that bad of a job."
David Syring said he sees himself as a different parent than his father because of his active participation in many of his sons' activities.
"I try to be involved in all my boys' activities. They're in sports. I'm an assistant coach with some of it. I like being around my kids, so I'm not gone as much."
When asked what the hardest part of raising children was, Helleksen couldn't come up with anything that caused her too much trouble, until they started heading out on their own.
"I didn't find it too tough because we were out in the country so far that I felt that I had control," Helleksen said. "Until they started going out, then just forget it."
"But there were deadlines," added Pronk. "Be home by a certain time or else."
"But I remember pacing the floor until you came home and I saw car lights coming down the driveway," Helleksen said. "Then I'd jump into bed and acted like I was sleeping."
"I think that life was so different at that time than what it is now," Helleksen said. "Now when you turn them out the door you're really wondering what's happening out there. But you can't go with them."
The family also took some time to talk about traditions that the older generations started that the younger generations still do.
"We make lefse," said Pronk. "We used to make lutefisk."
"You had to put the kettle outside for a bit to air it out," added Helleksen.
Now with the children, grandchildren, great grand children and great-great grandchildren, they are a family of close to 90. "Counting the in-laws, too," said Helleksen. "As well as the outlaws!"
The final questions asked at the panel was wondered what everyone thought was the best way to have a good relationship with your child.
"Encourage them," said Helleksen.
"Let them have what the want to do... within limits," said Pronk.
"Talk to them about everything," said Syring.
Syring's son chuckled and added, "I like listening better than talking because I had a mom who talked a lot."
When asked how he felt about being able to have his children interact with so many generations and members of his family, Syring's son said, "I consider myself lucky."