journeymom, my parents grew up in the Great Depression, too. And my mom really loved school. She was the oldest of five children, and from what she says, it sounds like the stress of raising a family became too much for my grandmother. She said Grandmother would spend practically the whole day out in the garden, and she expected my mom to care for her younger siblings (who mostly just cried for their mama and wouldn't let my mom comfort them) and keep the fire going. Keeping the fire going was the worst part, because they had an old wood stove that didn't work very well, so "keeping the fire going" meant pouring gasoline on the flame before it went out, as it threated to do several times a day.
My mom was too scared to pour the gasoline on, so the fire usually went out, and then her mom would yell at her about how she wasn't expected to do very much so why couldn't she do that one thing.
Mom said that at school, she felt competent because the things that were expected of her were things that she was actually capable of doing. So she loved going to school and hated being at home.
I agree that "carefree childhood" probably hasn't been the reality for the majority of people. The poor ones have too many responsibilities, and the rich ones have parents' expectations to fulfill. My mom, for example, couldn't understand why I wasn't thrilled to have the opportunity to be in so many extracurricular activities. She would have loved the opportunity to be in Campfire Girls and earn all kinds of badges, and when I was unmotivated, she earned the badges for me and sewed them right onto my little jacket.
When I wanted to sign up to sell only the bare minimum of boxes of candy, she insisted on signing me up for the maximum amount, and when I got tired and quit, she got out there and pounded the pavement while my dad berated me for sitting at home and leaving all the work up to my mom. When I got the award for the most boxes of candy sold, a lot of resentment was directed at me by the other girls and mothers who had seen my mom out doing all the work, and the leadership ended up deciding that the award should go to the other girl who just hadn't managed to sell quite as much candy as my mom.
I'd never cared about the award anyway, and it wasn't fun having all these people giving me dirty looks. I was glad to give it up.
So neither my mom nor I got the carefree childhood we'd wanted. And of course, I vowed never to make my own children go through what I did. My younger dd seems fairly happy, thus far, with a more unscheduled life. But my older dd would like more structure and more competition, so we are working on helping her get more of what she wants.
I hope we're evolving, and giving our children something better than what we had, but I guess only time will tell.