Diapers have gone from cloth to disposable. Thumb-suckers now have their pick of a mind-boggling array of "binkies," and childhood vaccines have nearly eliminated once-feared diseases like polio and whooping cough.
Ask Frances Taylor, 86, what kinds of changes she's seen in motherhood over the years, and she'll cite a small invention that changed everyday life:
"Sippy cups! We didn't know what they were," Frances said with a chuckle.
Frances' daughter Karen Brooks, 52, and granddaughter Courtney Vevea, 25, laughed heartily. Courtney's 15-month-old son NJ — short for Nate Jr., after his dad — clapped his hands, enjoying the moment.
NJ raced from the room, perhaps in pursuit of his sippy cup, a simple creation that makes it a snap to wean tots from their bottles. Many mothers of past generations once dreaded that chore, expecting hours of crying from their little ones. Now, for many, the transition goes unnoticed.
While some gadgets have made life easier at Courtney's Land O'Lakes home, her mother and grandmother say the fundamentals of good parenting have remained constant over the years. Love of family and personal growth top that list.
"Don't wish your children to be something they aren't, at the same time help them be the best they can be. Enjoy them for the best that is within them," said Frances, adding that deep faith and being honest and forthright are extremely important.
"Helping a child to feel self-worth is so important. It's great satisfaction to see your children become independent, competent, capable adults," said Karen.
"I want NJ to know he can be anything he wants to be, but the most important thing is to be a good person," Courtney said.
Frances became a mother in 1952 when son Serge was born. Soon came daughter Ardis, followed by Karen, who was the noisy one — so much so that her crib was moved to the kitchen so her parents could get some needed rest. She was cheerful, just noisy.
Frances was a stay-at-home mom. Courtney is, too.
"Even though I love it and wouldn't change it, there are pressures on young women to work," said Courtney. She has a degree in advertising and marketing, but felt it was important to stay home with her son during his youngest years.
Karen, whose three children are grown, was a working mom, spending many years in the cruise industry. But she and her husband, Dave, made sure to focus on family time when they gathered at home.
"My mom created a great atmosphere, and I just loved coming home and being with her. I never felt we were lacking because she was working," Courtney said.
Karen listened closely, tears welling.
What do these three generations of moms see as the toughest roles of motherhood?
"I don't remember having a hard time. I think we just felt so blessed," said Frances.
"It's hard watching your kids struggle and feeling helpless to help them, like when a girl broke my son's heart," said Karen.
"There is such pressure on young moms now to do everything the right way, going by all the rules," said Courtney. Young mothers rely on the Internet for information, she said, even though some of the advice comes from businesses eager to sell the latest thing.
"Motherhood is a very normal thing," Frances said. In fact, she said, if she were a new mother now, she'd still do things pretty much the way she did them in the 1950s.
Except when Serge threw away his bottle, one of those sippy cups might have come in handy.
Gail Diederich can be reached at [email protected]