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Parenting Across Generations

Parenting Across Generations

As part of my work as The Parent and Baby Coach, I am often told by parents that they feel utterly bombarded by the amount of information out there on how they should be parenting. In modern society, parents are easily bamboozled by the onslaught of well-meaning advice – from their parents, aunties, sisters, education settings, blog posts, Facebook groups, Instagram, parent groups and forums – the noise of advice can be overwhelming when a parent is feeling tired and just wants to cut straight to the source of advice that is actually going to make a positive impact for them and their family.

Personally, I know that I have had many well-meaning comments from the older generations, including family, because my job may seem a little strange to them because “in their day” they just got on with it! I hear these comments often but they don’t make me upset because I understand that our generation of parenting is slightly different to generations that have gone before. There’s no competition between the generations; we are all parenting during different circumstances. One of my favourite sayings is “let’s be realistic” – if you have worked with me you will have heard me say that a lot! Things have changed significantly in parenting  and will continue to do so; one key thing that I believe is that consistency is key when making a change in our parenting and, however that comes, sticking to something is going to be far more beneficial than jumping from tip to tip and from technique to technique.

What are the main differences between now and generations gone by?

The obvious one for me is that we live apart from our parents and close family, whereas the norm for our parents’ generation was to grow up and have babies at home with help from your Mother, Aunties and Sisters, we now often live isolated on our own – perhaps with neighbours we don’t even know. Whether you are city-based or not, the main difference from now to 30-40 years ago is that we don’t live near family for support in raising our children.

In 2020 I asked my Instagram following some questions on their experience of generational support and over a thousand people replied to me. When I asked: how many of you have family members close by childcare? 48% said they do. So less than half. 

76% of those I asked on social media said that they have to pay for childcare, rather than leaving their children with family members. 

I know that childcare has always existed in some form but, as you’ll know from previous generations, childcare used to be so much more informal within families – with no need to “repay the favour”. I, myself, remember being dropped next door to Ray and June, our elderly neighbors when Mum perhaps had to pop to the dentist or the shops – we now live next door to an elderly lady but there’s no way I would ever dare to ask if I could drop my boys with her! We now live much more isolated lives – it’s just different.

Another difference is that many mothers now go back to work. This isn’t to say that previous generations didn’t work but, nowadays, both parents in a family often work because things are not affordable without two incomes. With most households only breaking even with parents working and paying for childcare, keeping a home, raising socially emotional beings and working mean that the pressures of modern day life are REAL!

I have looked into how approaches into parenting have changed over the years. One behaviourist I researched from the 1930s wrote in his book “never ever hug and kiss [your children]”! Can you imagine?! It is fascinating and shocking all at the same time how such an idea could have been published to support parents! Even in less than 100 years, we can see how such an attitude to parenting has changed from this one example.

Dr Spock, who I am sure a lot of people have heard of, was a household name with his “Baby and Child Care” publication, which carried the message of “don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense” – which was a new approach when it came out. He insisted parents should show love and affection to their children; his advice included “hug your child and feed them when they’re hungry” – this may sound basic but it is a thing he was telling people to do! He believed in discipline with words – again this was quite revolutionary at the time. His most controversial advice was that parents ought to follow vegan diets for children under 2 and to put babies on their front to sleep; which nowadays we advise against. He did, however, ensure that children were getting more love and attention from their parents, compared to previous generations that had gone before.

Texts from the 1950s advised parents to “mother” for just two hours a day – think how guilty we feel if we are not present and mindful with our children at all times of the day! This is yet another example of how attitudes to parenting have changed. It could be argued that a few hours of mothering a day is more realistic with everything we need to do now – I am certainly guilty of thinking I need to do All Of The Things all of the time. Perhaps if I thought of playing with my children and mothering for a couple of hours a day I might feel less Mummy Guilt! 

There are over 1000 parenting titles, if you search on Amazon, which tells us that we’ve become more comfortable knowing there’s no right way to parent. From attachment parenting to a strict parent-led style or perhaps somewhere in between, nowadays there are so many different approaches to parenting that you can find support online. For me, my main message is that life has changed, parenting styles have changed and the problem now is that there is too much information out there! Although our understanding of emotional intelligence and child development has really come on, we could perhaps argue that we’ve almost become failures of our own success. There are so many opinions, forums and websites that can be helpful but, also, detrimental for modern parents. Think how many times you have been in those spaces – we are all guilty of it! Many mums I work with find the amount of information too much to handle and anxiety-inducing, which makes me wonder if, really, the noise of too many opinions can sometimes get in the way of trusting our paternal instincts and doing what we believe is right for our children. 


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