Children haven’t changed over the last 50 years but our parenting styles have. What
on earth would 1960s mum make of baby-led weaning and naughty steps? Bernice de Braal
takes a stroll down Memory Lane
Right from day one, the life experience of sixties and seventies babes was quite
different from today. While a third of seventies mums stayed in hospital for over
a week post delivery, six-hour discharges aren’t unusual today – and a quarter of
Mums head home the same day! And the idea of plonking a newborn on Dad’s bare chest
while his wife rested after birth was generally unthinkable for the sixties man.
Breast versus bottle
Breastfeeding began to fall out of fashion in the fifties and bottle-feeding really
took off in the sixties thanks to both advertising, and social change – more women
worked outside the home.
By 1975, half of all babies were bottle-fed from birth and today, Britain has the
world’s lowest breastfeeding rates. Only 1 in 200 babies is breastfed after the first
Current advice is to milk-feed exclusively for six months before
gradually introducing solids. By contrast, many fifties parents weaned at four months
on bone broth! ‘Babyled weaning’ is growing in popularity. Forget weaning spoons,
babies choose their food from a selection on offer and ‘feed’ themselves. Yes, it’s
as messy as it sounds. Grandparents – keep schtum and resist the urge to do the aeroplane
Few fifties households had fridges, so instead of heading off to a coffee morning
mums found themselves trawling the High Street daily to source perishables. In the
swinging sixties, shop-bought jars of puree became very popular. Home-cooking declined
daily shops became weekly, thanks to a boom in car ownership and
Convenience was king in the seventies as the number of working
mums hit two-thirds. Two key influences on children’s meals were the seventies boom
in freezer ownership, followed by the eighties microwaving craze.
The nineties saw a growth in all things organic and by 2014, organic items made up
almost two-thirds of ‘finger food’ sales.
According to Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) research, just one generation
ago most parents smacked – 77 per cent in the seventies. Two-thirds (67 per cent)
still smacked in the eighties, but this figure plummeted to 36 per cent in the noughties
as the concept of children’s rights spread.
Teachers and most parents nowadays take time to explain why
children are being punished and how misbehaviour means ’time out’ or the removal
of certain privileges for a period of time. Happily, the norm is now ‘positive parenting’
in the form of praise and encouragement.
Work and childcare
British family life is unrecognisable from the 1950s stereotype. Numbers of stay-at-home
mums have fallen by a third since the mid-nineties to a record low of 10 per cent.
Most families now depend on childcare. Today, a third of Britain’s working mothers
are the main family earners and stay-at-home mums find themselve prone to comments
like ‘so you’re a housewife?’ Despite a growing acceptance by society, there’s
little change in the number of stay-at-home dads, at around 1 per cent.
Until the nineties, working parents tended to forge their own
childcare arrangements. Often these were informal – relatives, friends or neighbours
– but some parents used nannies, childminders and nursery schools.
Everything changed in 2002 when the government introduced free
nursery provision for four-year-olds in England (570 hours per annum – usually taken
as 15 hours x 38 weeks) extending to all three-year-olds in 2004 and some two-year-olds
Undoubtedly, previous generations
had more freedom to roam. Until
the nineties, many children stayed
out playing until teatime and walked
themselves to school, encouraging
Today’s parents are more fearful.
Alarming coverage in the media and on
the internet, and 24/7 communication,
fuels anxiety about ‘stranger danger’
and health and safety. But evidence
suggests that the world is no more
Many mums in past generations left their babies outside in the pram to get some fresh
air (even in winter) while they tackled the housework – unthinkable today, along
with leaving a child (sleeping or not) in the car seat while you pop into the shop.
But there were restrictions! Toddlers generally wore reins when out walking in the
sixties and had their indoors adventuring curtailed by playpens. Not to mention being
told to ‘be quiet’ and play upstairs when the grown-ups were talking…
In the fifties, toy factories hadn’t returned to pre-war production levels. Parents
dug out their knitting needles and made their own soft toys. Presents were strictly
limited to birthdays and Christmas for fear of spoiling. Compare that to today’s
regular trips to Toys’R’Us and average spend of £150 per child at Christmas!
Are more expectations placed on our children? Starting school at just four (globally,
most begin at six or seven), they’re introduced early to formality, testing and homework.
Their predecessors were free from SATs and parents didn’t fret over league tables.
Meet the gurus
These parenting experts have been hugely influential in shaping attitudes over the
last 50 years, each offering different advice
50s and 60s
American paediatrician Dr Benjamin Spock’s
Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care
is an all-time bestseller, encouraging parents to
be more affectionate and to treat children as
individuals. A refreshing antidote to early 20th century guides that discouraged
cuddling, Spock asked parents to trust their instincts and lighten up on routines.
70s and 80s
Psychologist Penelope Leach’s Your Baby and
Child: From Birth to Age Five (1977) argued
that one-to-one attention was vital for infants’
development. Leach wanted to liberate parents from traditional advice like rigid
routines and to embrace childcentred parenting.
Critics say she makes parents feel guilty that they’re never doing enough.
90s and 2000s
The former maternity nurse and so-called
Queen of Routine’s ideas divide opinion! The
Contented Little Baby Book (1999) promoted
a regime of set feeding times to establish
routines. It recommends ignoring a crying child to restore sleeping patterns in some
circumstances, and avoiding eye contact
before bedtime to prevent over-excitement.
Professional nanny and TV star, Supernanny Jo
Frost has reached tens of millions of viewers
with her positive parenting techniques. She uses incentives for good, and deterrents
for bad behaviour along with the famous ‘naughty step’. Critics question whether
changes in behaviour only last while the cameras roll!
Technology and social media
Countless seventies parents fretted over their children’s love affair with the ‘Gogglebox’,
and in the eighties and nineties home computers were added to the worry list. Today,
that iPads are over-used ‘digital dummies’. Since ICT has become a core part of the
school curriculum, most advice focuses on managing screen time and finding a healthy
Most mums (68 per cent) now use social networks and texting as a
parenting prop, claims The Changing Face of Motherhood report (Social Issues Research
Centre). Previous generations tended to display a more stiff upper lip in public,
sharing concerns only with close family.
Health and safety
The eighties saw a boom in child-proofing gadgets, but sixties
and seventies mums were advised to ‘train’ children to avoid home hazards in the
first place. There were lots of ‘NO! Fire is dangerous, darling!’ Conversations!
Thanks to an ever-expanding NHS immunisation programme, most common childhood illnesses
aren’t a big deal anymore. Prior to the programme’s launch in 1956, parents had the
likes of diphtheria,
polio, smallpox and tuberculosis to worry about! Today’s children enjoy protection
from mumps, rubella, measles, ‘flu, rotavirus and some meningitis strains. How lucky
we are. Today’s parents probably do have more opportunities – it’s how we use them
DADS’ CHANGING ROLE
• 94 per cent of today’s dads are present at births compared with 58 per cent in