8 Skills Our Parents Had That We Don’t

Written by Anne Merritt

fifties parents

Photo by velvettangerine

When it comes to skills like penmanship and manual driving, mom and dad have got us beat.

My love of baking has always made me feel geeky, a bit granny-ish. In recent years though, Generation Y’s cool kids have all started baking blogs. They also knit, crochet, and grow vegetables in community plots. I once met a very urban couple my age who proudly admitted to making their own cheese. Cheese!

While twentysomethings are often painted as gadget-obsessed, we’re known as a nostalgic bunch too. These homebody hobbies are proof. Some babyboomer skills, however, aren’t trickling down through the generations. Below is a list of things our parents did: talents and hobbies that, however useful, have fallen out of fashion.

1. Driving a Stick

In 1950, half of the cars being bought in the United States were manual transmission. By the start of the millenium, more than 90% of cars purchased were automatic. Our parents may hold onto their manual cars, but as younger generations hit the road, the stick declined in popularity.

Why (pardon the pun) the shift? When the automatic car was first introduced, it was more expensive than manual, and the new technology was met with skepticism from car lovers. Now, automatic cars have levelled out pricewise and won our trust. Parents often feel automatics are safer for their children, as they’re easier to drive and run no risk of burning out the clutch.

People usually drive whatever kind of car they used when learning. My father learned how to drive standard from his dad, but preferred automatic. When it came time for my driving lessons, he hadn’t driven stick in decades.

storebought cupcakes

Photo by Rachel from Cupcakes take the Cake

2. Cooking from Scratch

My father likes to tell me a burn he heard once between gossiping wives, thirty years ago. “She’s the type of woman who would serve a store-bought dessert!”

I love this line for how telling it is of our generational differences. My peers wouldn’t bat an eye at bakery cupcakes or baklava at a dinner party. They’d probably cheer. We may watch Masterchef and sign up for weekend Thai cooking classes, but on average Generation Y cooks less than our parents did.

What’s more, when we do cook, we use more ready-made ingredients than the baby boomers. I’m not just talking brownie mix and instant pudding, but staple items that, in our parents’ day, would be cooked up from scratch. I mean the chicken stock, tomato paste, and ready-made pie crusts that even self-proclaimed foodies keep in their cupboards.

3. Soapmaking

If you made your own soap in middle school, you’ll remember how surprisingly easy it was: lye, water, and animal fat or oil. The cost? Pennies. While past generations would whip up large batches at home, the practice is almost obsolete today.

I remember my granny’s homemade bars of soap: cloudy-looking cut slabs with pointy corners. It was a world apart from the smooth, milky Dove bar in my bathroom today. The humble bar of soap has been branded many times over into a luxurious, multitasking product. Now, commercial soaps have added properties that aren’t easily replicated at home. You can buy a bar that is non-irritating, antibacterial, exfoliating, moisturizing, shaped like a kitty-cat, and smells like Clinique Happy. Even the fancy bars are still fairly cheap.

parents sawing

Photo by soundfromwayout

4. Simple Carpentry

My parents built their dining room table over thirty years ago.

My dining room table is a previous tenant hand-me-down. The one before that? A $70 Ikea number assembled from a box with an Allen key, and sold online when I moved.

Simple carpentry has declined in popularity, and not just because college kids have figured out how to build bookshelves with milk crates and 2x4s.

Furniture is now mass-produced like never before, making it cheaper and easier to replace when redecorating or moving house. Secondhand furniture, which used to mean shabby hand-me-downs from grandparents, has gained chic through fleamarkets and and popularity Craigslist. We can kit out an apartment for cheap without taking to the saw and hammer… though that Ikea Allen key is in the drawer, ever-ready.

5. Knife Sharpening

At a dinner party, an older and ever-practical friend pointed at my knife and asked, “Why don’t you sharpen it? It’s become dull.”

I nodded. “You’re right, I should.” I knew he meant to sharpen the knife myself. He knew I meant paying a professional to do it. Knife-sharpening is (I was told) a simple skill, but definitely on the decline.

With Gen Y-ers eating our more and cooking less, it makes sense that our knives don’t dull as quickly as our parents’ knives. A lot of knives today have no-dull guarantees or free sharpening included in their warranties. Large home supply stores sometimes offer free knife-sharpening too.

As for the Ikea or Target knives that most of my friends have in their kitchens? We don’t mind swallowing the $9 loss and just buying a new one.

leaky faucet

Photo by Alyssa Nicole

6. Home Maintenance

Sure, our generation can install an antivirus system and disable a firewall. I’m sometimes called to do so on my parents’ computer, while they eye their PC with wariness and distrust. They call me “handy,” and I know they’re just being nice. I call constantly for advice on banal home issues like replacing fridge lightbulbs.

When it comes to household maintenance, though, it seems we’re not nearly as handy as our folks. Faced with a leaky pipe or a door fallen off its hinges, Generation Y is more inclined to call a professional for help (or… our dads).

In the 1970s, over 70% of men learned basic home repair skills from their fathers. Now, the number is at 40%.

Why the decline? While our parents bought houses in their twenties, ours is a generation ofrenters, subletters, and condo dwellers. If something breaks, we can (and do) get a landlord to fix it.

7. Mending

My mother’s sewing supply kit takes up a full dresser drawer. Mine is a Ziplock bag of complimentary thread-and-shitty-needle packs, pocketed from hotel rooms. Even sadder? My “kit” gets borrowed a lot. I’m the prepared one among my peers. Yikes.

Most baby boomers can alter hemlines, sew on buttons, and mend rips in their clothing. Generation Y, not so much. Though many twentysomethings learn the basics of sewing from parents or in school, they’re rarely put into practice.

With the rise of cheap clothing retailers (H&M, Primark, Target), fashion has become a disposable, replaceable commodity. Our penchant for picking up cheap secondhand clothes affirms this too.

When we do have a piece that needs tailoring, we take it to a professional. Also, some people just get their moms to mend their clothes. You know who you are.

cursive writing

Photo by kpwerker

8. Cursive Writing

I’ve been conscious of penmanship ever since, two years ago, a Japanese student asked to see me write in “beautiful” cursive. I took my pen to paper, and only after a few blushing tries could I finally remember how to do it. “I’m sorry,” I told her, “I haven’t written like this since I was a child.” I’m sure that even my third grade self would have done a nicer job.

It turns out, most of Gen Y is in the same boat, Our parents learned penmanship as a valuable art, practicing it with hand-written essays and letters all through their lives. For my peers and I, the penmanship skills we learned in school have faded from lack of use. Our technophile generation rarely writes by hand, except for scribbling notes to ourselves. Though we can email, text and tweet more easily than our parents, mom and dad would smoke us when it comes to neat handwriting.

Cursive writing, according to teachers, helps muscle control and hand-eye coordination. Funny, my students say the same thing about the Nintendo DS.


What are some skills you admire in your parents? Are there talents you wish you had learned? Are there skills you hope to pass on to your children? Share your thoughts below.

Bonus: Ice Cream Honey

6 thoughts on “8 Skills Our Parents Had That We Don’t

  1. true_texan

    I’d like to see a list of “8 skills we have that our parents don’t, or wish they did”…..or something to that effect.

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