PARENTS

Are We Worse Parents Than Our Mums And Dads?

14/08/2014 16:58 | Updated 20 May 2015

Happy grandfather and grandson together at home

Looking anxiously out of the window of our home I breathed a sigh of relief as the cavalry pulled up in their car outside – my mum and dad. With two sick children in the house, the place in a complete mess and both me and my wife up to our eyes in work I had called in the only people I know that I can always rely on, my own parents.

Since my first son was born we seem to rely on them more and more. From worried calls when the children show the slightest sign of unhappiness to emergency childcare when we just can't cope any more, they are our rock.

My wife and I are desperate to be the best parents ever. But I have begun to wonder whether the generation that went before were simply better at this stuff.

As a mum and dad to two boys we have found the first four years of parenthood uplifting yes, but seriously challenging too.

We're lucky enough to have two healthy children and good jobs. Yet we're constantly worn out as we juggle the demands of work with our desire to give our little ones the best start possible in life.

I've lost count of the sudden panics we've had about their welfare, behaviour or future.

Yet ask my parents what it was like bringing up three boys on much less money and they will shrug their shoulders and say: "Pretty easy to be honest."

I look at them mystified – could they have simply forgotten this carnage? Or perhaps they are just looking back on the whole thing with rose tinted spectacles.

I don't think so. They really did find it all more straightforward.

Of course, they had some things in their favour. Firstly they were younger. I became a dad for the first time at 37 and my wife a first time mum at 35. My dad was 29 and my mum was 28. This is a national trend. Since the 1970s, when I was born, both fathers and mothers have been starting families later in life.

One of the reasons the two of us left parenting so late is that we were, frankly, having too much fun. Now a part of us resents the fact that our bins go out more regularly than we do.

But, being older, we simply have less energy to cope with the physical onslaught of looking after young children.

Add to that the fact that as a society we also seem to be working harder than ever and you've got a recipe for a potentially stressful and unfulfilled family life.

Recent research by the Co-op found that parents today get an average only 90 minutes to themselves. When I was a child my mum was at home for most of the time and though my dad worked hard he certainly seemed to work shorter hours.

The same study found that eight out of 10 working parents these days dream of an escape from the grind of their daily routine with 64 per cent of those polled felt they spent 'most of their time' working.

This lack of time means we also tend not to feed our children as much fresh food as my parents' generation. Partly through guilt, weariness and peer pressure we also give them far more treats.

Many parents these days are also less equipped with basic, practical skills needed to keep a household running smoothly and keep costs down.

A study by retailer B&Q found that the over 50s are much better at DIY than the younger generation. And true to form, whenever I need anything done I put it on a list for my dad to sort when he's next down. As a young man he restored our whole house. I can barely wire a plug.

Our generation is guilty of over parenting too. We're simply too obsessed with making our children happy all the time. One recent study found that as many as one in four parents won't even discipline their child for fear of upsetting them.

My parents wanted us to be contented, but they didn't dote on us every minute – we often had to entertain ourselves, which we didn't mind. In turn, this meant that they were able to get on with their own lives.

They were also less paranoid if we were out of their sight for five minutes. My feeling is that this mollycoddling isn't making today's parents or children happy.

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Ultimately my parents' generation simply worried less about parenting than we do. And ironically, by being more relaxed about it they often ended up being more successful. They saw being parents not as another job, as many modern parents do, but as something instinctive and natural that you just got on with.

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When I asked my dad what their secret was he said simply: "We just didn't worry as much. I think basically you've just got to be a bit more chilled out about the whole thing."

That seemed to say it all.

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