This trend for older parents is, I fear, creating unhappy, stressed and spoiled children

This trend for older parents is, I fear, creating unhappy, stressed and spoiled children

|

UPDATED:

15:42 GMT, 1 August 2012

When my first child was born, I was young and, like most of my friends who were also having families in their early 20s, I took having children in my stride.

My husband and I achieved this by taking no more notice of them than we could possibly help.

This sounds flippant, but I mean it relatively — compared with the mollycoddling and indulgence that passes for parenting these days.

My two sons, Will and Tom, went to bed when they were sent and did not sneak downstairs during the night because they did not dare.

They ate what was put in front of them — or didn’t, as the case may have been — and weren’t allowed to interrupt adult conversations.

We, the adults, came first — which meant no school runs or endless ferrying them around to ballet, music, sport or sleepovers like modern parents.

Liz Hodgkinson said she had children when the adults, came first  which meant no school runs or endless ferrying them around to ballet, music, sport or sleepovers like modern parents

Liz Hodgkinson said she had children when the adults, came first which meant no school runs or endless ferrying them around to ballet, music, sport or sleepovers like modern parents

I went to only one school sports day and vowed I would never waste time going to another to watch my children come last in the egg-and-spoon race.

Tiger mothers we most emphatically were not. Our child-rearing methods may have been a leftover from the days when children were supposed to be seen and not heard, but at least this approach ensured we parents had time for ourselves.

Back then, the children fitted round us rather than the other way round.

How different things are today, when 34 — not 24, the age I was when I had my first — is the average age for an educated woman to start thinking about having a family.

Recent news that the singer Adele is pregnant at the age of 24 caused astonished gasps from many quarters. Why should a talented woman with the world at her feet want to have a baby so young, people asked Isn’t there plenty of time later for that sort of thing

Yet in my day, a pregnancy at 24 would not have provoked a single raised eyebrow because that was the standard age for a professional woman to start a family.

It seems that even the Royal Family is following the trend towards later parenthood. The Queen was 22 when Prince Charles was born and Princess Diana only 20 when she had William. Kate and Wills, both 30, seem in no hurry as yet to produce the next scion of the Windsors.

'In
many ways, it may seem sensible to wait until careers, finances and
homes have been properly established before bringing babies into the
world.'

The Queen’s granddaughter, Zara
Phillips, and her husband Mike Tindall, aged 31 and 33, have stated that
they still have much work to do in their sporting careers before they
think about a family.

Clearly,
having children is not the urgent priority it once was. Today’s young
women want to live independently and have fun, making inroads in their
careers and savouring their freedom before taking on the onerous
responsibilities of motherhood.

In
many ways, it may seem sensible to wait until careers, finances and
homes have been properly established before bringing babies into the
world.

But I think, broadly
speaking, that the older the mother, the less discipline she employs.
The move towards later parenting is causing a disturbing new trend which
has come to be known as over-parenting, or helicopter parenting.
Helicopter parents hover constantly over their children, scrutinising
their every move, chauffeuring them everywhere and indulging their every
whim.

Diana, Princess of Wales leaves St Mary's Hospital, London, with baby Prince William

The Duchess of Cambridge leaves the National Portrait Gallery in central London.

Princess Diana, pictured left at just 20-years-old with baby William, while the Duchess of Cambridge, pictured right, is 30 and seems in no hurry as yet to produce the
next scion of the Windsors

These parents allow their children to choose their own bedtimes and their own menus at mealtimes, all the time complaining that they are permanently deprived of sleep. Well of course they are if their small children are allowed, even encouraged, to stay up late and then race around and bounce on their parents’ bed at 5am.

I blush to relate now that my husband and I used to lock our bedroom door so that the children couldn’t come in. It sounds outrageous, perhaps, but it worked: they soon got the message that they were not welcome in our room. Selfish, maybe, but at least we got some sleep.

For older parents, it seems that everything revolves around the children in the most intense of ways — something which does not happen with younger, more laid-back parents.

As I observe it, these older mothers and fathers run themselves ragged and become exhausted and unhappy trying to be perfect parents, when any sensible person knows there is no such thing.

Indeed, so worrying and widespread has over-parenting become that a conference on the subject was held recently in Sydney, Australia.

My son, Tom, was one of the speakers because he’s written a book called The Idle Parent. Addressing the conference, he urged today’s parents to put down their car keys, say ‘no’ to Saturday morning sport, sleep in and let the children entertain themselves.

'A perfect illustration of over-parenting
is the ‘baby blog’, a ghastly new trend where every tiny milestone in a
child’s life is recorded and posted on a specially produced website.'

He also paid us, his own parents, a rare compliment, when he said: ‘I think my parents did it well. They were so busy with their jobs that my brother and myself were ignored.’ He is referring to the fact my husband and I both worked long hours as journalists.

Yet Tom, 44, and Will, 42, the offspring of what would now be perceived as young, irresponsible parents, became helicopter parents themselves, along with all their friends and contemporaries.

They say they were having too much fun in their 20s to want to become parents, and when they eventually succumbed as thirtysomethings, were concerned about not doing a good enough job.

Tom is now addressing this, and feels that today’s older parents do too much for their children. /08/01/article-0-13DB3B15000005DC-54_233x423.jpg” width=”233″ height=”423″ alt=”Recent news that the singer Adele is pregnant at the age of 24 caused astonished gasps from many quarters, said Liz Hodgkinson” class=”blkBorder” />

Recent news that the singer Adele is pregnant at the age of 24 caused astonished gasps from many quarters, said Liz Hodgkinson

Yet today even the food a child eats is faithfully photographed, as are messy hands and mouths. These parents even post pictures of their young children performing on the potty — images which will probably cause acute embarrassment in years to come.

It seems having waited so long to start a family, modern parents behave as though they are the first people in the world to give birth.

There is another worrying aspect to all this. Today’s young women have become so used to having everything their way that they are unprepared for babies in their lives.

So they start to panic, and then compensate by over-parenting.

My goddaughter, Charlotte, is a case in point.

A clever and beautiful woman, she has a first from Cambridge in modern languages. Armed with her language skills, she embarked on a highly successful and well-paid international business career which she adored.

Charlotte married an equally successful, very nice man, and they bought a lovely house together which they kept in immaculate condition. As time went on, only one thing was missing from their perfect lives: a baby.

So, two months ago, aged 33, Charlotte had her first child — and has been in a state of terror ever since. ‘I haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to be doing,’ she told me, voicing a fear that will strike a chord with many career women.

Some older mothers have written hand-wringing books about the shock of motherhood, asking: ‘Why did nobody tell us what it would be like’

The answer is that we tried to but you didn’t listen; you were not remotely interested.

Maternity nurse Celia Williams, most of whose clients tend to be successful career women in their 30s, says: ‘These women have probably never picked up a baby before in their lives and have never taken the slightest interest in babies.

‘They’ve been so used to everything going smoothly and successfully that they are completely unprepared for the endless demands of this helpless little person they have produced. That makes them resentful and miserable, as well as terrified.

Maternity nurse Celia Williams said most of whose clients in their 30s, have probably never picked up a baby before

Maternity nurse Celia Williams said most of whose clients in their 30s, have probably never picked up a baby before

‘I’ve even had new mothers complaining that because of the baby, they can’t go to the theatre or out to dinner. They are totally shocked at the upheaval and re-adjustment required after many years of professional life.’

Older parents are hit hard by the reality of bringing up children in a way that simply doesn’t happen when you are younger.

When you are a young parent, there hasn’t usually been the time to become a high-earner, to establish a beautiful home or an exciting social life. You’ve never had these things, so you don’t miss or yearn for them.

Because our generation hadn’t known years of hedonism and pleasing ourselves, we buckled down to parenthood more easily.

Yes, we were probably more selfish, and possibly took less interest in our children than today’s parents, but a little bit of healthy neglect is not always a bad thing as it often leads to discipline and structure.

The other bonus of early parenthood is that when your children reach adulthood, you are still young and vigorous enough to truly enjoy your new-found freedom.

So perhaps Adele has the right idea after all. Maybe she heralds a new trend and younger parenthood will become fashionable again.

Given that she has the resilience and energy of youth on her side, I doubt that her having a baby will cause even a blip in her phenomenally successful music career.