Pernickety Parents: Catherine Deveny embraces 70s parenting

By Catherine Deveny

catherine_deveny_inpress_1Catherine 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.

‘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.’

Video: Catherine Deveny on Pernickety Parents

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.

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.

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.

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.


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

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.

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.

are_you_mom_enough 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.

This is an edited version of a Lunchbox/Soapbox address given at the Wheeler Centre last month.

Related reading: ‘Why Is It (Still) the Mother’s Fault?: A Response to Catherine Deveny’ by Jessie Cole.

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30 comments so far:

I really like the tone of your address and the idea of letting kids develop independence through the emotional and physical freedom of running around just being awesome. I was just wondering about something you didn't address, but perhaps alluded to in one of the last paragraphs of your article - where do you think all these helicopter parents came from? If they're old enough now to be having kids and buying them iPads, then doesn't that mean quite a few of these parents would be the result of 1970's parenting themselves? You said "It leads to dysfunctional co-dependence and is simply set up by needy parents to enable their own abandonment issues." What would be your response to the idea that these abandonment issues are perhaps a result of the blimp parenting style you're advocating?
An '80's latchkey kid.

05 December at 09:07AM

You make your point in a very amusing way. I agree with you, especially the bit about the coin swallowing, it rings a bell.

05 December at 11:12AM

You make your point in a very amusing way. I agree with you, especially the bit about the coin swallowing, it rings a bell.

05 December at 11:13AM

Very entertaining article but I wonder if these 2012 parents are the way they are because of the way they were brought (?) up in the 70s. Your family car trips sound hideous but reminded me of my father's Morris Oxford filled with cigarette smoke when we were driving along too. Kids are over-protected now to a certain extent I think but then we hear of awful incidents like Daniel Morcombe's disappearance and it's difficult. There are definitely DIFFERENT dangers these days. Curiously, I don't remember hearing so much about bullying in those days but cyber-bullying is one of parents' and teachers' 2012 nightmares to deal with I would suspect.

Pamela Nathan
05 December at 11:41AM

Very entertaining article but I wonder if these 2012 parents are the way they are because of the way they were brought (?) up in the 70s. Your family car trips sound hideous but reminded me of my father's Morris Oxford filled with cigarette smoke when we were driving along too. Kids are over-protected now to a certain extent I think but then we hear of awful incidents like Daniel Morcombe's disappearance and it's difficult. There are definitely DIFFERENT dangers these days. Curiously, I don't remember hearing so much about bullying in those days but cyber-bullying is one of parents' and teachers' 2012 nightmares to deal with I would suspect.

Pamela Nathan
05 December at 11:41AM

There really aren't that many different dangers these days. It is just that while we used to organise our ways of living around what probably will happen, we now organise them around what might happen. Sure, Daniel Morcombe was snatched relatively recently (9 years ago), but the Beaumont children disappeared in 1966.

Sarah T
05 December at 12:49PM

I'm with Zoe. I actually agree with much of what you say too, Catherine (with some areas of difference) but I do wonder if some of those current parents are, as you say, 'working out their abandonment issues' as a result of their 70s parenting. I know some people who grew up with parents who pushed the benign neglect thing pretty far (loved their kids, but were very 1970s-me-first) and have been in therapy since childhood as a result. And are determined to do better by their own kids.

05 December at 02:43PM

Wow Catherine Deveny - you're a bit of a nasty pasty.

This article is distressing to read, you're giving more shit to parents who already face a tirade of judgement everywhere else in society. I guess it's all funny ha ha for some people, but I find this offensive. I really don't care if you practice 'detachment parenting' - by the way I saw you tweet that months ago, so I am guessing you're pretty proud of that. Find some new material?

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

It's great to have commentary and to discuss things - but I think this is an attention seeking, unhelpful, judgemental piece of drivel.

The 70's were nearly 40 years ago - get over it.

Lily Mae
05 December at 09:09PM

Here here Lily Mae.

Who gives a shit about parenting styles/labels. All that should matter is if your child becomes a good human being. End of story.

05 December at 09:54PM

Geez Louise Catherine, most parents I know (even the obsessive helicopter ones) are trying their hardest in the ways they know how and not responding to a particular "trend" in parenting. Very easy for you, I suppose, to take aim for the sakes of a "humor piece" but in my opinion it is really just lowest common denominator writing....

06 December at 12:11AM

I agree with about half of your points! There are good ideas in all parenting methods, and I think kids and parents are all different in what they can do and what works - and that it changes constantly as your kids grow up, if schools or teachers change, if you move, when family dynamics alter, if it's daylight savings or dark winter nights or maybe just the fourth Monday of a month containing the letter "r". So I promised myself to never assume anyone doing it differently from me was an idiot.

I firmly believe the best things I can give my kids are independence and confidence and inquisitiveness, the willingness to engage with the world and go see what's out there. And I'm privately horrified at people who don't value independence and competence and other things that make a good adult (isn't making good adults what a parent's job is?), and totally up for a quietly raging war with any social force that tries to insist I smother my kids in protectiveness. But I'd also be considered an "attachment parent", I guess - because at the very young age of my children I think emotional independence and physical independence are still linked to each other and also heavily to emotional confidence. So we do do all those things like cosleeping, time in, wearing them (when they were light enough to do so), and my husband initiated / believes in these practices as much as me (if not more, he's the nurturing protective one of us). And, also in the name of developing independence, the kids get quiet time where they have to do things on their own, they get sent outside to play while I tell them I'll keep an eye out from the window (but really go sneak myself some chocolate), they get left to resolve their own arguments if there are no weapons involved, and I look forward to them being old enough to cross the road safely so I can send them down to the creek to fetch me tadpoles. They get yelled at when they do things that they know are naughty, which is out of the 1970s book, but as often as possible we structure things in a way we know they will cope with without having to be naughty, even if it's a bit challenging for them to do so - and that's a very modern approach. I also use stuff I learnt from animal training that has resulted in what people comment on as remarkably well behaved kids when we go out to shops and other places, and that's not in either the 1970s stuff or the attachment parenting.

There are techniques from all sides that work, and the thing is they don't all work on both of our kids or with both my husband and I, we have to keep adapting. So I'm reluctant to throw out all the "new" stuff in favour of the old, because not all of the old would have worked with the kids any more than all of the new stuff works with them.

06 December at 01:36AM

Love this article. I think most of the attachment parents are actually a result of the " free love / hippy" parenting styles of the late 70s. As an elementary school teacher I find the attached children, needy, self centered, get bored easily, have trouble following scheduled, sleep deprived (due to co-sleeping) entitled and selfish.... Also they seem to have trouble making friends with kids that are different then them. Just my experience.

Stacey B
06 December at 05:53AM

I have a TON of friends that co-sleep. Not a single one of them sleeps more the 3-5 hours in a row before someone is woken up. Every single one of those woman also get VERY defensive when anyone talks about co-sleeping = sleep deprivation. It is hurting their marriages and yet they are still pro co-sleeping. I don't get it! I'm a grumpy, impatient, irritable Mommy when I don't get enough sleep. In our house, sleep is a priority!!!! My son was in his own room at 3 months and sleeps 12 1/2 hours a night and 1 2-3 hour nap a day. We never had to let him "cry it out" because we were very consistant in our routines. He knows that it's bath, stories and bed at 6:15 pm and sleep at 7:00pm. He is happy, easy going, relaxed and such a pleasure to be around. My friend's babies are cranky, whiny, high maintenance and sooo tired all the time. How is sleep depriving your child being a great parent? Again, I don't get it.

06 December at 06:33AM

SS- you may have just been lucky enough to get a baby that sleeps- not necessarily a product of your sleep routine.. I have my own children-none of them sleep long period of time, yet ive have 10 foster babies- who i had same sleep routine for as my children. 6 of these are 'good sleepers'- put them to bed, cover them up, quick pat and they sleep through the night. the other 4, 20 minute naps and wide awake and happy... sometimes its about parenting to the needs of the child.
for us, letting our children sleep in our beds means we can get some sleep and the child is between us, playing quietly, wide awake :-)

06 December at 07:52AM

I don't believe in luck when it comes to sleeping. All my friends who have consistent sleep routines, who's babies sleep in separate rooms, who didn't hold their babies while they slept and have very set bedtime and nap schedules and have done so since very early have NO problem with sleep. The mothers who co-sleep are not getting any sleep. I have been a nanny for many, many years and have a ton of childcare experience. I think it's crazy to hear co sleeping mothers talk about how they are waking up five times a night at ONE YEAR!!!! and then in the next breath saying that everyone should co-sleep.

06 December at 03:26PM

3 kids....
no 1, total introvert from day 1. couldnt sleep if she had been held and thus smelt of anyone other than me. loved sleep routine, loved sleep. refused bottle (please I would have loved a chance to be away from her more than 3 hours), went through a stage of only eating round food (thats a LOT of blueberries!) spent lovely long afternoons by herself under a tree HAPPY, never had to smack her.and is now a lovely teenager
no 2. total extrovert from day 1. slept like a log anywhere, anytime. (we lost him at a party....he was behind the couch, asleep. pushes boundaries, thought it was funny to run on road and see mum yell. I decided that a bottom smack wasn't such a bad thing. he stopped running on the road. spent lovely long afternoons digging up backyard. is now lovely teenager.
no 3. the sunniest child. easy going, eats whatever, really smart, and has just stopped sleeping with us. she has a bedroom, but it has been unslept in for years. we have sex in the bathroom, or the lounge, or when the kids are at friends houses. its rather fun actually... and she is well adjusted kid too
i just wish people would stop trying ANY cookie cutter parenting.
kids are all different, and need different things. if your kids all sleep all night its probably b/c they have inherited the same trait.

06 December at 04:06PM

Wow, I know it's supposed to be a joke, but this rant really pisses me off! I'm an attachment parent. Partly bc I believe it's what my children need and partly bc it's just easier. Being an attachment parent doesn't imply that I'm so attached to my children that I'll never let them go (Melissa George's character in The Slap doesn't personify attachment parenting). It just implies that I'm doing my best to encourage my children to be truly independent; when they're ready. And they're pretty independent and capable for their age too actually.
I have *the most* awesome babysitter, who was an attachment parent herself, 30 years ago. My kids love her and her (now grown) kids, are beautiful people too.
Also, I take my kids to cafes (not expensive restaurants tho). This is not bc I want to be European (I already am that!), but bc sometimes I want to have my coffee sitting down, without my kids running around on Anzac Parade!
I was under the illusion Catherine Deveny calls herself a feminist. here she disparages any woman who doesn't live life the way she does. Very disappointed!

06 December at 09:46PM

Catherine Deveny, I think you have the wrong idea about what attachment parenting actually is. Attachment parenting is NOT "helicopter" parenting. The basic idea is that you are there for your children while they are babies, and meet all of their needs, providing a solid and loving "home base" for them. As they grow older they are then able to go out and explore and be independent, since they are not afraid that their "home base" will suddenly be gone. But there is absolutely nothing about it which is akin to holding a child back. There is a huge difference between meeting your child's needs and smothering them, and I think most wise parents know the difference. We aren't total idiots after all, as you seem to think.

07 December at 06:22AM

We could always bring back the smacking and the wooden spoon too? Because that's how it was in the good ol' days and it is a lot easier than than using patience and reason...

Nothing is so black and white as you claim and your article takes some cheap shots for the sake of a laugh, very mean spirited.

Catherine if you want to do the "Free Range Parenting" philosophy a favour, please stop writing.

07 December at 02:02PM

Agreed Christine

07 December at 05:26PM

The world will be full of what I call 'Jelly Babies' & 'Idolescents ' if all this PC crap keeps being fomented by Non -parent Educationists.
Go girl &give 'em one for me too , a bit of toughness gives your child options beyond compare.
Look at all the people in NZ & Japan who could not cope for 3-5 days on their own; no campfires, tents, etc. Baden-Powell did a good thing with the Boy Scout movement. More Bushcraft & less Mall Fever !

William (Bill) O'Donnell
08 December at 05:16PM

I hear and understand what Catherine's saying, it's an important conversation to have. I really struggle with the glib judgement of other women. Catherine's smugness and righteousness just raises my hackles, in the same way that anyone who strongly espouses a parenting philosophy does (protesting too much). So much more complex and nuanced then Catherine is capable of communicating. One in seven women in Australia is now diagnosed with postnatal depression, this is the reality of the beginning of motherhood in modern society and something is obviously not right. So I say yes to intelligent discussions about why so many women are so anxious about childrearing in our culture, so over parenting wars. Give me Lenore Skenazy any day.

10 December at 04:50PM

I agree that spoiling kids results in painful adults but some of the examples u give as being better parenting in the 70s are simply neglectful or dangerous. Sunburn etc. (my friend has had melanoma). I think there are a lot of dysfunctional adults out there who were raised in the 70s, going the other extreme doesn't solve things but at least people are trying. Why condemn them for it. Finally, I know u were trying to be entertaining and you are a good writer, held yr argument well, and used some good anecdotes but u really lost me at the beginning with yr tweets. Each are way more than 140 characters, so the whole article just doesn't seem real/genuine, and makes me question what its point was, or am I misconstruing the context.

15 December at 07:51AM

I just got the chuckle of the week. As a sit there and watch a relative PhD do her kid;s homework, and the kid doesn't think anything is wrong. What is worse, the kid or the parent

You really hit the nail on the head . My parents were Blimps, but I think I am better for it.
Hovering parents are people that don't want to give up control, can't except their kids for what they!!!!!!!!!

The saddest thing of all is they are the next generation that will be looking for a handout!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Unable to make decisions, except responsibly for their own choices and a bunch of mental health professional will be making allot of mone

28 December at 01:24PM

Great laugh, knowing and true, however there is one great improvement in parenting and schooling that cuts through since the 70's and that's our awareness of the harm and the contemporary strong "no" to bullying. As children in the seventies many of us were pushed around and the benign attitude that Katherine is promoting, while great for taking on responsibility and other life skills, being benign does not work when ignorant bastards know they can go on the offensive and get away with it. I thank my daughter's school and knowing parents generally for not tolerating bullying.

07 January at 11:11AM

Why is it called 'helicopter parenting" if its all about over breasted mothering? - there seem to be no fathers involved in 'helicopter parenting'? - also - funny thing - there seem to be no 'males' in primary schools - not many in secondary schools?? some children do not meet a 'male' in authority until they are well into their teens ( ..this beside the demeaning and mocking tone with which this demographic talk about 'males' in general in public and across the meedya.
Perhaps these children merely need their fathers ? - perhaps their mothers have nothing to be 'obedient' to - that they are rudderless victims of the success of feminism?

Patrick McCauley
28 January at 04:09PM

OMG I love this!!! You sum up exactly how I feel (espically about attachment parents! ha!) your brilliant!

08 March at 05:05PM

Just bought a Wilkinet carrier and it's amazing for small babies! One difficulty you may encounter is transferring the newborn into and out of the carrier, this can be difficult if you are in a hurry.

05 May at 02:52PM

Been doing a lot of reminiscing about our shared 70s childhood on our primary school's facebook page recently and initially mostly positive. Lately however a few people have been piping up and reminiscing about how they were bullied for being 'wogs' or disabled or whatever and this has prompted my own memories of this. Also of some of the nasty teachers we had who would belittle and bully certain students. Most shockingly a few of us have been sharing stories of the jolly maintenance man who had a go at luring quite a few of us down to the maintenance shed with the promise of chocolates so he could kiss us or feel us up or whatever (and none of us ever thought to tell an adult). Has made me realise that maybe 70s childhoods weren't as rosy as people like to make them out to be. While my children sometimes seem like technology addicted, spoilt brats, I am glad that they learn to be PC (to a certain extent) at school and know their rights and are able to stand up for themselves when they need to. Also that current laws and screenings prevents creeps like that getting some unfettered access to them.

Empress Nasi Goreng
18 May at 10:45PM

Love it....... I have never laughed so much.

Kellie Thomson
11 May at 01:58PM

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