Parenting: The Olden Days vs Now

Is it normal to have some sort of imposter syndrome about being a parent?

Sometimes I’m not sure I can even say I engage in any actual parenting, since I seem to spend most of my time either at work away from my son, or being micro-managed by my mother who seems to think that I need to be taught how to parent by an expert in the field (her), using the Join-the-Dots-Guide to Parenthood.  Indeed, our increasingly divergent parenting styles-hers “strict” and mine “louche” apparently-along with an article I recently read online about gentle parenting and avoiding the kind of outrageous parenting fails that lead to a lifetime in therapy for the sprog (“forced affection,” “being made to say please and thank you” and, most disturbingly, “saying “Good job!” as a form of praise”) got me thinking that not only has parenting in general become an utter minefield, but it must have been very different in the olden days.  So different, in fact, that I think it must have been something like this.

  1. The Olden Days

Children were seen and not heard.  Think of the scant appearances of Lady Mary’s son in Downton Abbey.  Children were to be formally presented to their parents in the drawing room each afternoon, wearing a sailor suit with a starched collar.  They must be decorative mutes, available on request for showing off to passing dignitaries, possibly with a genteel accomplishment such as piano playing, pious embroidery or rudimentary French to be showcased on request.


Children are both seen and heard.  Heard to trill “BEEP BEEP!” repeatedly at a high decibel level all around the pub on a Sunday lunchtime whilst the dignitaries eat their lunch and mumble about the olden days when children were decorative mutes; and seen running around, hiding under furniture and ducking under the legs of passers by.

2. The Olden Days

Tantrums are dealt with by a lot of shouting and a slap round the legs.


We have seen the error of our ways, thank goodness, so tantrums are now dealt with by a combination of strategic ignoring, cuddling, breastfeeding and whatever we think won’t end up with us being recorded by a passing Smartphone and sent to social services, or worse, judged by the Daily Mail.  Articles about gentle parenting spring up all over the place, largely to make us feel eternally guilty for bribing with ice cream that one (every) time, whilst members of the older generation hang around tutting about how everything was better in the olden days when children were all so perfectly behaved that they didn’t even have tantrums, at least not during the half an hour each afternoon when they were being formally presented in the drawing room.

3. The Olden Days

Everyone just muddled along, hoping that no one’s head got caught in the mangle or trapped in the spinning jenny at the cotton mill.  Jumpers for goalposts, everyone had their doors unlocked and prolific sex offenders marched around the BBC with impunity.  None of this nonsense about children having feelings and stuff, and perhaps not wanting to give the elderly neighbour a kiss or choose whether to eat their greens without being sent to bed with no dinner.


We are all terrified we are scarring the little bairns for life every time we utter a cross word or walk past a dead fox in the street.  We’ve gone soft, apparently, and the kids are walking all over us.  And I for one am happy about it.

Now I just need to make sure I don’t commit any Crimes Against Parenting, like saying “good job!” instead of giving “descriptive praise,” whatever that is.

Am I doing this right?  Someone please tell me I’m doing it right.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. I remember the slap around the legs from my mum when I locked my sister in the toilet and turned off the light! Some of the parenting nowadays I think is not strict enough or too health and safety let athe kids play outside in the mud pit and eat grass! I did and I’m fine (I think! ?) xx

    1. Min says:

      Oh yes, Piglet definitely plays in the mud and eats grass. I think it’s a good thing, but my mother is not so sure, hence we wind each other up all the time! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Ellen says:

    When I was little there were plenty of old ladies with grownup children of their own who subscribed to gentle parenting. They never forced up to eat food we didn’t like, or be still when we wanted to jump. They didn’t tell us off for making a mess, and essentially they understood the art of picking your battles, and not doing anything on principle when you could adapt to a baby or toddler’s needs. Yes, fresh air, walks outside, not much telly, jigsaws, colouring, early bedtimes, meat and two veg, but yes, cuddle a crying child, don’t mind breakages, no problem with mud, don’t expect children to cope in adult environment like a smart restaurant or even a noisy pub or miss their nap, because it doesn’t fit day’s plans. And no they weren’t grandparents, just somehow they saw things from child’s point of view, whereas parents can be so worried, so anxious so busy, so desperately angry, so tired? that things aren’t go to PLAN despite toys and books and fun and parenting manuals, that they cannot enjoy their kids much. Some of the best old fashioned nannies were like that perhaps, whereas parents were fixated on their children behaving/achieving, just as some parents are today. Although that “achievement” can be represented in a different way, be happy be reasonable fit in with our life, a millstone perhaps for a child with differing views of what being reasonable or indeed happy is.

    1. Min says:

      Completely agree! Thanks for your comment.

  3. Beta Mummy says:

    Oh god! I read that article about not saying “good job”! Now every time my kids do something vaguely impressive I end up not saying anything for fear of saying something meaningless like “good job”!

    I do think we over-think things these days, that’s probably the single biggest difference between then and now. It’s exhausting!

    Thanks for joining #chucklemums

    1. Min says:

      THIS. I was mortified when I read the “good job” thing and thought I’d ruined Piglet forever! Definitely guilty of overthinking it.

  4. Sarah Lawton says:

    Descriptive praise?! Hmm…I do think there’s something to be said for 80’s parenting though. I was a good kid – I’m a lax parent and my kid is a brat! #chucklemums

    1. Min says:

      Ha! I’m sure your little one is lovely! My philosophy is, if I think Piglet is good, he is good. Or something like that.

  5. MMT says:

    I think the lower class kiddos of ‘then’ were probably a bit less pampered and spent the day rolling around on the scullery floor or something?! Probably had way more fun than lady Mary’s lad!
    My approach to these parenting guidelines is to not read them, or certainly not worry about them… there’s one thing that’s worked through the ages and it’s called instinct. Here’s hoping anyway! X

    1. Min says:

      I’m a big fan of instinct! Yes, definitely would have been a bit more fun to be lower class, provided you didn’t get sent up a chimney or anything!

  6. Sarah Quell says:

    Hilarious so well written. But to be frank I’ve ground the error of my ways with gentle parenting and moved onto positive parenting…
    I’m catholic background so the old days were probably as month python portrayed: spitting out the 100 snotty nosed kid while scrubbing the clothes and Father deciding he can’t afford them and selling them off for scientific experiments because cutting his balls off is sinful.

    1. Min says:

      Haha yes, the olden days were definitely not so golden! Thanks for commenting.

  7. There’s too much “advice” out there about what to do and what not to do. I thought Gina Ford was bad enough but now there a whole villages of psuedo “experts” all imparting their pearls of wisdom. Those of us that are discerning enough to sort the wheat from the chaff at least have a fighting chance. But there are many confused parents out there who are struggling through no fault of their own and falling fowl of some of the ridiculous advice that is out there.

    Every child is an individual. There is no guide book on parenting a single child let alone 2 or more children who may have different personalities, interests and thus each potentially requiring different strategies to parent them. Don’t get me started on inteferring (maybe sometimes well meaning) parents or inlaws!! We all (with the help of some appropriate guidance) have to figure out this parenting thing as we go along and then just as you have it sussed the kids change and you start all over again!! Love it though and wouldn’t have it any other way : – )

    1. Min says:

      Absolutely agree. Every child is an individual. I only have one but I’m sure that if I had another they would have completely different needs that I would need to respond differently and parent differently. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Chantel says:

    Social media is the blame of everything!

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