Liat Hughes Joshi, author of book New Old-fashioned Parenting says it's time to stop making our lives revolve around our children
There's been a remarkable shift in the way we parent and in our family lives over the last generation. It's now so much more 'all about the kids': we’re tripping over their toys all across our homes, spending our ‘spare time’ taxiing them between their parties and activities and booking our holidays, choosing our dinners with them very much in mind. Such a contrast to the days of children being popped outside the pub in the car with a bottle of cola and pack of crisps because Mum and Dad fancied a drink, or being dragged around a Cistercian monastery on holiday because Mum fancied it. And woe betide any complaining children as ‘only boring people get bored’ (or so we were told).
The way we tend to parent now is all because we love them and want them to be happy but might we be taking the child-centricity a little too far? Is it really good any of us in the long term to have family lives which revolve all around them?
I’m not advocating we turn the clock back 25 years with our parenting – not that this would be possible anyway as the world has changed. There are plenty of aspects to childrearing typical of previous generations that we should be glad to consign to the social history books: smacking and the idea of their real anxieties and fears being largely dismissed. It’s wonderful that our children have more protection and rights now and feel more listened to when it matters but in other ways have we run too far in the opposite direction from the old ways?
Our parents’ generations tended to have quite authoritarian approaches to bringing up us kids: there was a lot of “because I say so” and “I’m the adult do as I tell you”. At the other end of the scale, nowadays we all see instances of mums and dads no longer quite knowing how to impose boundaries and going with an incredibly liberal ‘the family is a democracy’ parenting style. It’s not everyone, but it’s certainly out there. We seem to have lost the confidence to say no when it matters and to mean it, and to teach them that there’s a time and a place to have fun (because there is and should be plenty of that but not when it’s driving the other customers in the café or patients in the waiting room mad).
Authoritarian parenting can be stifling and uber-liberal ways meanwhile can leave children ill-mannered, ill-behaved and ill-prepared for adult life. I think we need to help parents get the balance right between these two styles – to find that middle-ground. 'New old-fashioned parenting' takes the best of contemporary and traditional parenting ideas, but also brings a dose of fresh thinking to some of the common parenting issues of our time, from managing screen time and behaviour to encouraging independence and getting the balance right between not being a Tiger Parent nor too uninvolved.
My book, New Old-fashioned Parenting has been called ‘the antidote to sometimes over-indulgent modern parenting’. But above all the practical advice I hope readers can find in it, I think it’s also about making us all take a step back from the noise of being a mum or dad in today’s world, so that we can look at what’s best for our children not just now, but also to prepare them for being happy, well-functioning adults too. Amidst all the helicoptering, the crumbling to commercial pressures to buy them this or that (because hey if you don’t, the underlying message is that you’re not doing your best for them), and all the Tiger Parenting temptation, it’s that long term happiness I’m worried we’re letting them down with.
How to be a new old fashioned parent
- Stop organising every minute of their lives. Some unstructured playtime is as beneficial, if not more so, as all those extra-curricular activities. Plus it’s free.
- Children do deserve to be heard and air views but you have decades more life experience; have confidence to make a final call when it matters.
- Parenting isn’t a popularity contest – sometimes the right way to go won’t make them like you but is in their best interests.
- Watch out for the “easier life pitfall” – it’s simpler to say yes or ignore bad behaviour in the short term but stores up trouble for later on.
New Old-fashioned Parenting by Liat Hughes Joshi (Summersdale Vie, £10.99) is available to buy now