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Do we give our children too much attention?

(20 Posts)
SpeedyGonzalez Sun 18-Jul-10 22:13:22

I recently read an interview with the lovely Jacqueline Wilson in the Guardian, in which she raised a point which has got me thinking. Here's the quote:


"When I was brought up in the 50s most children were on the periphery and mummy and particularly daddy's needs were put first." What effect does she think it has on the children? "I think it's lovely for anybody to be the centre of attention, and it's lovely that we're much more sensitive to children's needs, but occasionally" ? she laughs, to take the sting out of it ? "You think, 'OK! You've had your moment now, little so-and-so.'"


I've been thinking about this in the light of news stories such as the parents who trained their primary school-age children in road awareness and then let them cycle to school alone. I used to walk to school/ brownies/ the park alone at that age - school and brownies was probably about 1/2 mile from my home, maybe a little more. I was allowed, at age 10/ 11, to take my 2-3 yo brother out on shopping trips a mile away (no buggy, he walked) - crossing busy roads. He's now a brilliant PhD student and very much alive and well! I think it was a great way to foster a sense of independence and responsibility in me.

And as far as the 'attention' thing is concerned, I certainly wasn't given the same, intense level of ongoing attention (providing activities round-the-clock, ferrying me from this playgroup to that gym class, etc etc) that children seem to get these days.

Is Wilson right? Are we shooting ourselves in the foot - from both our and our childrens' perspectives? Are there (god forbid) things that we can learn from a 1950s approach to parenting?

cory Sun 18-Jul-10 22:48:16

Well...errhmmmm...considering the amount of time I spend on Mumsnet, I don't think I can be accused of smothering my children with attention.

cory Sun 18-Jul-10 22:48:39


SpeedyGonzalez Sun 18-Jul-10 22:51:00

grin - hey, the kids are in bed, right? This is your time!

OrdinarySAHM Mon 19-Jul-10 10:13:01

Aha, this makes me feel better about the school summer holiday coming up. Each year I feel I need to make a plan before the holiday of what activities I will provide for them every day. I haven't really made one this year.

But maybe it will be good for them to sometimes just make up their own games to play in the garden or do their drawing and sticking things together in the house without it being a 'directed' activity.

UptoapointLordCopper Mon 19-Jul-10 10:21:43

Luckily my children don't do "directed" activity. They day dream when "directions" are given out and then play their own games anyway. I have given up. grin

TheMoonOnAStick Mon 19-Jul-10 11:01:09

I think a lot about this too.

My parents - probably in the style of many 70's parents - were quite selfish.

They loved me, but being 'parents' wasn't time consuming or something that they worried over.

There were no grand holiday plans, in fact we never did anything much in the holidays.
We had occasional days out but they were very occasional. Worrying about my amusement just wasn't a factor. They just carried on as normal and went to work. I was on my own (an only child) a LOT. Childcare? Er..nope

Nothing was geared around me. No 'playdates', they weren't expected to help at school as we are, no special birthday parties and I walked miles to and from school from a very young age. No help with homework either.

As I say I was an only child and when I see all the angst on here about that and how a child might feel about it, I do have to smile, cos again my parents never let any such thought cross their minds.

At the time it all seemed fairly ok. Well maybe, I suppose. I think to some extent we may as a society have gone too far the other way today. BUT - I do feel my parents should have tried a bit more, and in retrospect I feel quite resentful on behalf of my younger self, who I think was in fact quite a lonely little girlsad.

My parents wanted a lovely house and by god everything in terms of time and money was sacrificed to achieve that aim. I think they went too far with that goal and so I try (with lovely dh) to do things differently.

I do much more for my own dc. I want them to have happy memories of their childhood and to feel they were really wanted.

It has to be balanced though in terms of making them into nice people - I hate spoiled kids who are handed everything on a plate. In terms of material things they don't have nearly as much as their peers, but they appreciate what they do have.

In terms of attention though, I don't feel there should ever be a finite amount of that because I really wish I'd had more of it when I was growing up.

I do think many children do have too many planned activities. They don't get the free time they crave just to play, mess about and to dream. Those moments are very important. There seems to be a worry that children left to their own devices and not at 'an activity' of some sort reflects badly on a parent. I don't think it does at all, provided the parents are interested.

It's funny though because my parents now they are grandparents seem quite bemused at our level of commitment. I think it probably throws up their own parenting into stark relief but, typical of my mother hmm, she seems unfazed and is quite adept at re-writing little bits of history in her head and convicing herself that they did then what we do now. It's utter tosh of course, but there's nothing to be gained in pointing that out to her other than falling out over it.

OrdinarySAHM Mon 19-Jul-10 11:17:25

Moon, I think that's a really good point about so long as you show an interest in what the children are doing when they are doing something they have made up themselves, then you aren't bad for not providing a set activity for them yourself. What's wrong with letting them get on with something and every now and then observing what they are doing and talking to them in a positive way about it. Surely that must be just as good as a 'set' activity. I agree that it must be nice for them also to look back and remember that 'Mummy/Daddy did this cool thing with us because they loved us enough to make an effort to do something with us they knew we would like', rather than if the parents never do anything like that.

whensmydayoff Mon 19-Jul-10 11:28:57

Oh no, something else to worry about!

TheMoonOnAStick Mon 19-Jul-10 11:32:15

Yes that's it - I try to let my know I am really interested in them but in a laid back supportive way. Rather than stomping in and taking over with a great organised timetable.

Eg if they want to make a tent under the table I'll come up with the necessary sheets and blankets and the odd suggestion if they're stuck, but leave them to it then say how FAB it is when it's done and let them have their lunch in it. Dh follows it up with a bit of camping, even if it's just in the garden..that sort of thing.

I also try to give them time to talk to me and ask if they're worried (if they seem worried). I don't want them to bottle things up or feel they must be present a perfect facade to their parents the way I felt I must.

pamelat Mon 19-Jul-10 11:47:07

I worry about this too grin

DD is 2.5 and DS is 8 weeks. DD is so demanding, I genuinely do not have a second without her needing my attention or making a demand of some sort. Even if she plays alone for a minute its "mummy WATCH ME". I am hoping this is an age thing but worry that I caused it. Every second of her baby days was us going out to a child related event together, baby massage, baby talk, baby yoga (more for coffee and cakes!)

My MIL has said that I am "much more tolerant than she was a parent" which may be translated ( I think) to a push over!! however, I love her etc etc and have some guilt over working 3 days a week and her being in nursery. Maybe if she was with me every day she would be a bit more relaxed? Or bored of me grin

DH and I find weekends tough as we base the entire day around their needs and are now tired out and craving "me" time.

dweezle Mon 19-Jul-10 13:46:32

Wouldn't want to go back to times when children were seen and not heard, but see much evidence with friends and family of this going too far the other way.

DSIL defers to her 8 yo DD all the time to the extent that if she has made plans for the family to go out together at the w/e and DNiece decides she'd rather stay home and watch TV, then they all stay home. I must look like this shock sometimes!

DNiece is also absolutely incapable of amusing herself for more than 5 minutes. It must be exhausting for her poor mother from the time she gets up at 7.00 am to the time she goes to bed at 9.30 - 10.00 pm, leaving DSIL very little of the day to herself, or to do anything not connected with DNiece.

To me, being part of a family means everyone is important, but no-one is MORE important than everyone else, and there has to be some give and take.

OrmRenewed Mon 19-Jul-10 13:51:00

I think there's a difference between attention, talking and listening to, and doing things for, children. I talk with my DC a lot - they are very central to my life and by and large I like their company. But I do, for example, expect them to walk back from school alone, and have a lot of indepedence in different ways.

SpeedyGonzalez Tue 20-Jul-10 00:12:27

Interesting thoughts on this thread. Moon - our childhoods were quite similar in a way, except without the loneliness (poor you) as I had 3 siblings and neighbours the same age, who I grew up with.

But we all made our own fun, and rarely relied on our parents to do it for us.

DS is 3 and has a sister aged 9 weeks. He asks us every day 'what are we going to do today?' and finds it hard to come up with his own suggestions when I ask him to. However, if I leave him to his own devices, sometimes he'll beg me to play with him, and other times he'll just sort himself out. I think I'm going to start finding ways of enabling him to rely on his own ideas more. I think it's a really important part of childhood.

I was saying to DH the other day that although I never would let him do this at such a young age, I think he is perfectly capable of getting himself to our local park by himself. This would involve walking to the end or our road, around the corner, and crossing a busy road using the pelican crossing. Like most parents, I've trained him so well that he knows exactly how to behave safely on pavements/ roads, and I never have to remind him what to do when we're out. With time, and within his own limits, I would like to instil the same level of self-reliance in him across other areas of life.

IMoveTheStars Tue 20-Jul-10 00:21:46

I was thinking about this today. Our parents did very little with us, insisting the gardening/car washing/hoovering/never ending DIY was far more pressing, not to mention the mind-numbingly boring trips to M&S with all 3 of us (me and 2 younger sisters) in tow.

I remember literally a handful of outings specifically for us (perhaps birthday related) but usually we were left to our own devices.

It was shit, it was boring, and weekend were dull dull dull.

I don't give DS too much attention (he's only 2.6, but he's very good at playing by himself with a little encouragement/input) but I do make a lot of effort to take him out as much as possible.

cory Tue 20-Jul-10 08:59:22

I don't think my family has ever worked on the principle of only-daddy's-needs-matter, at least not since the Victorian era. My parents and my grandparents were pretty much the same as me: they did not feel they had to entertain their children every waking minute of the day but at the same time they did often end up doing things together as a family because they enjoyed it.

pamelat Tue 20-Jul-10 10:13:27

good pont cory, maybe we lucky that we can afford to be more family focussed?

Ie) take car to car wash rather than spend 3 family hours doing it

When I was child we had very little oney, never mind a car, and now we are comfortable and its normal for dd to go to places, activity, swimming, private nursey each day, means she expects and demands though which gets tiresome (with having newborn)

Bonsoir Tue 20-Jul-10 10:33:49

As long as the attention focused on children is, for the most part, dedicated to their developmental needs and not to instant gratification of their immediate wants, why not?

Developmental needs can also be served by leaving children to get on with things on their own, providing the environment they are left in provides plenty of opportunities for creativity and imagination.

CarmelitaMiggs Tue 20-Jul-10 10:35:19

I do very little organised stuff with the dcs, who are 8 and 5, partly because I am massively lazy and partly because I want them to learn to enjoy their own company, rather than looking to others (or games consoles etc) to provide entertainment

They do one after-school activity a week. I take them to the park or friends' houses and otherwise they rattle around at home. I believe/hope that this is a good way of making reading seem immensely attractive wink

I'm probably mirroring the way my parents raised me -- my memories are of doing lots of solitary (and happy) imaginative play, and spending hours reading on my bed

2babyblues Tue 20-Jul-10 11:14:58

I remember a lot of time playing in the garden with my brother and the neighbours children who were similar ages. Also remember getting up early at weekends and my parents locking themselves in their room so we wouldn't disturb them!! (hoping that was for sleep reasons!) Also, being told to go off and play a lot! Also, my dad taking us out for walks etc at weekends so my mum could have a break (we were at school all week and she didn't work so not quite sure why she needed a break!). They then moved abroad and we were sent to boarding school so my mum could carry on getting that all important rest she deserved!

Payback time now, my mother is first point of call for babysitting duties!

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