That was then



That was then...this is now















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 birthday.




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 spoon manoeuvre!


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 and

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 from 2016.


Daily life


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


Dr Spock

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


Penelope Leach

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


Gina Ford

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, there’s concern

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 balance.


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 that counts!



94 per cent of today’s dads are present at births compared with 58 per cent in the seventies.


98 per cent changed nappies in the

noughties compared with 68 per cent

in the seventies.


91 per cent now put baby to bed

compared with 70 per cent in the






May/June 2017

All information is correct at time of publishing