Pernickety Parents: Catherine Deveny embraces 70s parenting

Catherine Deveny decries helicopter parents, attachment parenting, yummy mummies, kids in cafes and trampolines with fences around them - in favour of 1970s-style ‘blimp parenting’. (Benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference.) And she looks back on a childhood where kids were sent out to buy smokes for the grown-ups, advised to ‘get some colour on you’ (no sunscreen required) and given the independence to ride bikes, climb roofs and run barefoot down at the creek.

Yesterday I tweeted this.

I’m not a helicopter parent. I’m a 1970s parent. Benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference.

‘Home with a 9 year old who has severe breathing and speaking difficulties. Closed in throat, assuming asthma/hayfever induced croup. My question is – do I get him to unpack the dishwasher or put washing on the line?’

Suddenly I was inundated by all these well-meaning do gooder busy bodies suggesting I take him to a hospital. A HOSPITAL!

I tweeted back:

‘I’m not taking a kid who’s wheezing a bit to the doctor. He’s the third of three boys. I only had him for spare parts. I’m spending the day teaching him how to blow smoke rings. After he’s finished mowing the lawn.’

I’m not a helicopter parent. I’m a 1970s parent. Benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference.

You’ve heard of helicopter parents haven’t you? They hover. I’m more a blimp parent. You don’t see me much and when you do, I just float around a bit and occasionally I catch fire.

Lunchbox/Soapbox: Catherine Deveny on Pernickety Parents

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Let’s get this into perspective…

In 1975 I swallowed a coin. Mum took it out of my pocket money.

In 2012 my nephew Harry swallowed a coin. My sister-in-law calls an ambulance.

In 1979 my brother chased a ball onto a road. The driver whacked him, then the neighbor whacked him. Then mum had a crack.

In 2012 my friend Fiona became estranged from her brother for telling her six-year-old niece off for swearing at her. Apparently it hurt the little girl’s feelings.

1974: My sister was playing in the back yard and my brother shot her in the leg with a BB gun. She told Mum. Mum’s response? Play in the front yard.

2012: Trampolines have fences around them.

What is going on? I mean seriously … are you all insane?

Lenore Skenazy's nine-year-old son Izzy hit headlines when she let him ride the subway by himself, sparking the Free Range Parenting movement.

Lenore Skenazy's nine-year-old son Izzy hit headlines when she let him ride the subway by himself, sparking the Free Range Parenting movement.

These days parents can’t leave the house with a kid to visit the neighbor without water, juice, crudités, humus, pawpaw cream, rice crackers, spare shoes, a Baby Gym iPad app, and organic yogurt without permeates.

(By the way, I don’t even know what permeates are, but I want them back.)

And what’s with the BABYCINO? Why do kids have to pretend to drink coffee? Here’s the thing, if it’s attempt to make them European, here’s a flash for you. In Europe kids would have coffee WITH Marsala in it.

And what are they doing in cafes anyway? Thugs, grubs, louts and yobbos. The lot of them.

In the 70s, dummies were being dipped in a range of substances (from beer to honey) and popped back into baby’s mouth. And went to sleep in the back of the station wagon with their five siblings, wearing no seatbelts, winding around the winery district while their parents got progressively pissed. And chain-smoked. With the windows up. While swearing.

'What's with the BABYCINO? Why do kids have to pretend to drink coffee?'

'What's with the BABYCINO? Why do kids have to pretend to drink coffee?'

My five siblings and I have ten kids between us. We were talking about growing up in the 70s. It came up that my brother and sister both ate cat food. My brother defended himself ‘I just ate the dry stuff, she ate the wet stuff.’ Mum told the story of our six-year-old cousin in Prep who was told to ‘take a can of drink for her lunch’. She did. A UDL. And drank it.

There was the story of my best friend’s brother who cut off his little finger ‘playing’ with the circular saw. She found the digit two days later.

Jenny, our neighbour, had ice cream with topping every night after school. The topping? Bailey’s Irish Cream.

My brothers talked of the lighters-plus-hairspray-equals-blowtorch science experiments they did when mum was out and we were latch-key kids.

And the cousins who tied their youngest to a pole and lit a fire under him playing cowboys and Indians. My aunt only found out because she found the melted shoes.

Froot Loops with Tang for breakfast. Our uncle saying ‘If you go to the shop & get me a pack of B&H extra mild you can get yourself a Sunnyboy.’ Teacher smoked. Doctors smoked. Parents smoked. They let us light their cigarettes! In our own mouths.

Those were the days.

Being told to get out of the house and don’t come back until dark. ‘Unless you’re bleeding.’ ‘Get some colour on you.’ Sunscreen? Forget it. We’d be down the creek, climbing the roofs to collect our tennis balls, riding our bikes, no helmets, no shoes down the creek, through building sites and occasionally TO THE TIP. Fast forward to 2012. ‘Where you going? Have you got your mobile – I’ll drive you. Don’t forget your hand sanitiser. LOVE YOU LOVE YOU!!! LOVE ME BACK!!!! I’m needy!!!!’

Helicopter parents. From *Time* magazine, 2009.

Helicopter parents. From Time magazine, 2009.

We had detention. My kids have reflection.

We were in a class. My kids are in a learning community. We had disruptive kids. They have interactive learners.

We had dickheads. They have friends with issues …

They don’t do subjects. They have areas of inquiry.

They don’t ask questions. They conference.

Kids aren’t told to behave. They are told to hold themselves accountable.

We were told we were being naughty. They are asked ‘are you making the right choices?’

Kids were bad then. Now they are ‘over-energised’.

There are no punishments. Just consequences.

Refusal to participate is called negative self-selection and being an arsehole is now oppositional defiance disorder.

I was away with a few families a few months back and we were talking about holidaying when we were young in the 70s: camp pie, sunburn, nylon sleeping bags and snakes and ladders. From inside the holiday house we heard one of the mum’s sing-song voices: ‘Arlo, Huxley, hop off the iPads and come down and eat your sushi.’


To be honest, I reckon parents have disappeared up their own arseholes.

The ‘because I said so‘ argument for parents doesn’t work nowadays. My girlfriend Ruth works in childcare. She recently had a new little girl in her room. The parent’s instructions? ‘No one says no to Freya.’

Recently I watched a toddler wander across a road with the mother pleading from the curb. I thought to myself: ‘I get that there are times for reasoning but that’s not one of them. And you’re an idiot. A pleaser who had to have kids so you had friends.’

The antivaxers, the clipboard-holding school shopping parents, the Four Wheel Drive Pram pushers – and don’t start me on the Steiner and Montessori parents. Or as I think of them, the ‘I’m not in a band but have friends in a band’ people.

Just get over yourselves. Why do some parents feel the need to create this perfect trajectory for their perfect child to ensure they have some perfect life they feel they themselves missed out on? How did they think it’s even possible? Why do they think it’s a good idea? I want my kids to be brave, resilient, optimistic and independent.

I love the Jung quote: ‘The heaviest burden a child carries is the unlived life of their parents.’

For many children these days, their burden will be that their parents had no life.

There has never been more time, energy and thought spent on the raising of babies, toddlers and children, and it’s detrimental, counterproductive and narcissistic. It’s suffocating our children and oppressing parents, particularly women.

The ‘Are you Mom Enough?' Time magazine cover story about attachment parenting really summed the whole thing up. Remember the picture of the yummy mummy breast-feeding the five-year-old?

Attachment parenting is the epitome of this competitive parenting as an extreme sport. The parenting cult where you wear your baby everywhere, never let them cry and all sleep in a big bed together. It leads to dysfunctional co-dependence and is simply set up by needy parents to enable their own abandonment issues.

And coincidently I have never ever heard a father initiate the idea of attachment parenting. I have seen some strap on a fake smile and go along with it.

It’s a crock so big not even Steve Irwin would dangle a baby in front of it.

The narcissism that parents are the only people able to care for their children and that their kids want to be with them all the time is breathtaking.

I’m sorry super mum and super dad. Not only are you not that great – you are annoying.

You know what I practice? Detachment parenting.

I’m a 1970s parent: benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference. Total 1970s, just with the seatbelts, sunscreen, pool fences and without the smacking and smoking with the windows up.

Love them, cuddle them, play with them and tend to their needs? Sure. Smother them, micromanage them, pander to them and enable some creepy co-dependent relationship with them to fertilise abandonment issues and a total absence of resilience? Forget it.

Portrait of Catherine Deveny

Catherine Deveny has been a comedian, writer and professional speaker for 23 years.

She’s the author of seven books and over 1,000 columns for the Age newspaper, and is an ABC regular. She has appeared on Q&A five times — sitting next to John Elliott, Tony Abbott, Corey Bernardi, Peter Dutton and Archbishop Peter Jensen.