Life Update: This Isn’t The Olden Days

And so here we are, thrown back into the deep pit of lockdown confusion. Each of us with a different and unique inconvenience or disaster: some have lost jobs, some are caring for the sick or elderly, many are suffering with their mental health, lots are working in risky situations or working when they shouldn’t be working. Some people are incredibly bored, others can’t find enough hours in the day to get everything done, there are people who have found their lives largely unaffected and those who have welcomed the changes, others who have refused to make any changes whatsoever…

(A few have “all the time in the world” and are learning how to cross-stitch, speak Cantonese and correctly prune Bonsai trees but we shall ignore them for now.)

My own personal Mastermind specialist subject (Lockdown Edition) is “working from home with two very young kids”, a specialist subject shared by many and only truly understood by those with first hand experience. It’s like being in a high-energy high-stakes gameshow, let’s say Crystal Maze, but a gameshow that never ends. There’s Richard O’Brien standing at the door playing the flute as you try to conduct a crucial work call and wipe a child’s bottom at the same time, he’s constantly telling you that you’re running out of time and that the door’s going to lock and you’ll be trapped in the room…the door’s already locked Richard!

I learnt from Lockdown version 1.0 that to survive being trapped with small children 24/7 you need to consciously kiss any kind of freedom goodbye. And try be OK with that. You have to wipe all plans for any kind of personal development or achievement, even if the height of your ambition is “trying to find some new recipes so that the family can get more nutrients into their diet”.

You have to learn to function on a reduced service – essential tasks only – and not be frustrated if you can’t fit any of the other stuff in. Like sleep. Reading. Leaving the house for exercise. Talking to an adult human that isn’t sick of talking to you.

And that’s just about doable, but bloody hell it’s tiring. Bone-deep exhausting, in fact, and the sort of mentally draining trial of endurance that makes you want to drag yourself up into a tree and hide there for an indefinite period of time.

But anyway, you plough on as best you can through the exhaustion fug, until you see annoying comments underneath online articles saying things like:

“why have kids if you don’t want to look after them?”

“erm, how did these people who are desperate for schools to open not know having kids would be hard?”

and then, the inspiration for this post, one that sent me cross-eyed with incredulity:

“all these parents whining about being stuck with their kids: what do they think people did in the olden days?”

Ah, the olden days. What did people do with their kids in the olden days, “Ducati821”? Enlighten me. Just the fact that you’ve managed to squeeze the entire history of humankind pre-2020 into one easy category suggests to me that you won’t have properly thought this one through.

Is it “the olden days” of the eighties, for example, which I have firsthand experience of? Because I can tell you that we used to spend most of the day playing on bits of old carpet, sliding down an embankment that ran alongside a busy road. We stayed out for hours. In fact, most kids I know who were brought up in the eighties barely saw their parents in daylight hours, unless it was for a quick lunch.

And speak to Mr AMR, brought up in the seventies, who used to play on the motorway with his siblings and walk himself to school. (The way he tells it he was frying his own cooked breakfast at three and chainsawing trees down by the age of six, but I suspect he is prone to exaggeration when it comes to childhood memories.)

How olden days shall we go, Ducati821, because I think you’ll find that the further back you delve, the less time parents probably spent with their kids. In centuries past, if you were rich then you didn’t look after your own offspring at all – poor parents sent theirs out to work as soon as they could convincingly wield a set of dangerous-looking tools. And if the kids weren’t working, they were running about the manure-strewn streets getting kicked in the head by a horse, or shot through the thorax with an errant arrow or enslaved by an evil Sheriff.

Basically, children have for the most part either gone to school or they’ve been put to work, depending on historic era and/or socioeconomic circumstances. Very rarely do people voluntarily decide to spend every single waking hour with their progeny once they have graduated from nappies.

Look at my parents’ generation – their parents used to boot them out of the door at about six in the morning with a heel of granary bread and an apple. And they used to get into all sorts of mischief finding horrendously dangerous places to amuse themselves. Marshes. Train tracks. Quarries.

The parents knew that the kids were up to no good but they kicked them out for the whole day anyway. They basically had the option of swimming in an old, deep sinkhole, swinging from rusty, broken scaffolding or shooting at tin cans with the rifles their dads had brought back from the war. The safest playtime activity was probably having picnics in the scary wood where the “strange man liked to watch them”.

“Will you be away and out of my hair Liam and don’t be getting sucked into that bog like wee Patrick and little Malachy before him and Jerry before him and all of those other poor boys who keep getting sucked into the bog I should probably tell you not to go and play in.”

I digress: my point is that spending all day and every day with your kids is quite wearying. 100% of the time is…a lot of time. No relationship is designed to be that relentless, even if the other person is Tom Hardy. (Ha! Had to get him in somewhere.) You can see why women with many, many children (my granny had eight, that wasn’t unusual or even notable) got the eldest to look after the youngest and then sat there chain-smoking roll-ups and staring forlornly at the mangle.

Tell me, as a sort of sociological/historical factfinding experiment: how much time did you spend with your parents when you were young? Did they constantly play with you, sit and watch films with you, make dens and forts with you, or did you get sent out into the garden/street with your siblings and the boy from Number 9 who was eight years old and owned a replica Rambo knife? (Complete with sewing kit in the handle.) Comment below, please, and update me on your lockdown status: Bored, Surviving or End of Tether.

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69 Comments

  1. Clare S
    February 3, 2021 / 4:37 pm

    Ha, yeah growing up in 70s / 80s we got up to all kinds. My fave memory is when my sister knocked her front teeth out on a bike ride and we all got back on our bikes to go and look for them :-) Or making a den by digging a a big hole underground in next doors garden…
    Take no notice of the naysayers, everyone is having some kind of difficulty in this pandemic and if you cant have a moan then what can you do?

  2. Maya
    January 27, 2021 / 12:21 am

    OMG! I was just googling a Nuxe review and landed on your website. Between this article and the accidental Zoom sex footage one I’m now hooked. Both made me laugh out loud- a much needed activity I’ve not engaged in lately. Thank you!

    • January 27, 2021 / 8:36 am

      Haha! Welcome to the madness….

  3. Gabi
    January 22, 2021 / 3:02 pm

    Hi Ruth .Here in Poland in 80’s when i was a kid most of my free time after school was playing with my friends in playground or riding a bike around our residential area or running thru gardens or swim in the lake or help parents in garden or help in the field.Mom was working as a teacher in high school and dad was on semi retirement but also worked in another school part time. in 80’s we did have tv but 1 or 2 channels.no computer or video. phones were a luxury items. so my parents did play with me but the simply didn’t have much time.My much older sister was studying in another city to become doctor.So i don’t know how would we survived a lock down.especially with the political climate of that time.

  4. Helen
    January 20, 2021 / 11:00 pm

    Hi Ruth , so good to have you back ! As usual your wit and honesty have brought a smile to my face !
    I’m home schooling a very bossy albeit super clever 8 year old who when it comes to school work loves to correct me at any given minute! I dread Sunday evenings as this is when her school send a complete forecast of the school work to be completed that coming week and and can you believe there’s PE on there ? Now don’t get me wrong I think Joe Wicks has done a great job but being on a zoom call and seeing all the children with their feet in the air really does tickle me ! Today they were learning about netball skills ! My house is just not big enough ! That said I am grateful that it does allow me to sit down with a cuppa for 15 minutes . Also if I hear ‘mum can I have a snack one more time I think I’ll explode !! Xxx

    • January 23, 2021 / 1:04 pm

      Yeah my five year old has PE set too! We never do it though, I’ve had enough after literacy, phonics and maths. : )

  5. Cathy Brodie
    January 20, 2021 / 9:10 pm

    ‘Ducati-whatever’ and their mates are obviously childless, for now at least. I wonder if they’ve made the conscious decision to be that way or they simply haven’t yet met the life partner who will lure them into the tender trap of parenthood. Surely I can’t be the only one who went into it with a pair of rose-coloured glasses firmly fixed on my nose and had no idea how relentlessly tiring and soul-sucking it would be? Didn’t we all think we were so much more enlightened, caring and capable than our parents had been and that we would do a better job than they did? Only to find ourselves exhausted gibbering wrecks full of self-doubt and fear that our failings would end up ruining our kids’ lives. I started out with intentions that I would never use the TV as a babysitter, but two babies too close together and it didn’t take long before I invited the gentle presenters of Play School into my lounge room so I could get on with a few things. But that was just the thin edge of the wedge and it became just so much easier to let them watch the whole ruddy morning of kids’ programs. No fighting, no pestering, just the sweet relief of two little hypnotised girls gazing silently at the screen. Oh, the guilt. But that was a long time ago now and they survived. Thank goodness my girls are adults and I haven’t had to deal with them in these strange and difficult times. My thoughts go out to the parents dealing with homeschooling and 24/7 lockdown while trying to do the very best they can for their kids.

  6. Alison
    January 20, 2021 / 7:54 pm

    Hi Ruth you’re so right. We used to live next to the local cattle market and that was my second home. I was there on market days hanging over the pens with all the animals and then after they’d all gone home used to climb the shed walls and jump into the piled up used animal bedding (full of dung!) or pretend to be a cow for sale and run round the ring or pretend to be the auctioneer! I can’t remember spending much time with my parents at all, apart from at mealtimes! I didn’t expect anything from them in terms of entertainment, it was my job to fill my time. It was totally different bringing up my own children, wouldn’t let them out of my sight! I do feel for you, it’s so intense but like others have said am sure they will remember what a great time they had with you x

    • January 20, 2021 / 8:50 pm

      Oh to have been a fly on the wall when you were a cow for sale, ha!

  7. January 20, 2021 / 7:03 pm

    High five to all this. I have two kids (7 and 3). I don’t remember ever playing with my mum, or her fussing over me providing me with craft projects etc. We were just left to it. We got bored, and then we invented stuff, and then that meant that when we grew up, we knew how to invent more stuff, like smart phones and social media (and destroyed our own lives). Not sure what my point was here, but just presenting myself as an ally. Of sorts.

  8. Amy
    January 20, 2021 / 5:34 pm

    Bored/surviving here. I grew up in the 90s and was lucky enough to live in a village with woods and a river, in good weather that’s where we’d go, or play in the street on skateboard and roller skates. Otherwise hours playing with toys or drawing. If Mum went out we’d either have a babysitter or play in the pub garden. Every school holiday would be spent with our grandparents or dad – the adults I remember playing/doing activities with. Mum had too much to do and her own problems! If it’s any consolation you’ll probably have a much better relationship with your kids as they grow up, because you’re there, trying, and that means a lot.

    • January 20, 2021 / 5:50 pm

      Thank you Amy, I hope so. That’s a really lovely thought, I shall cling to it! : )

  9. Lisa
    January 20, 2021 / 5:05 pm

    Child of the late 60s and early 70s here. Same experience as my contemporaries. From five years onward, walking to school in all weathers, including several feet of snow. Free time spent outdoors, with no limits on distances and places, as long as we were home by mealtime. Until the lake ban, that is.
    My brothers (we are “Irish triplets — the three of us 11 months apart) made a homemade raft and tried to sail across when they were 5 and 7. It sank. My younger brother couldn’t swim. A stranger fortuitously was within earshot of my older brother’s screams. One of the few times much-promised spankings occurred (I wasn’t there, so naturally I was secretly pleased).
    When subzero temps made long stretches outside too cold, indoors we read, played games, and most of all fought endlessly, until my mother kicked us outside.
    We also did a lot of chores. Cleaning (my special responsibilities were the bathrooms), dishes (no dishwasher), laundry, lawn, shoveling, gardening, etc.
    As soon as it was legal (11 yrs old) the boys got paper routes, and I began to babysit. The summer I was 12, I cared for an infant who was just 8 weeks old when I started. Eight hours a day for an entire summer. I earned 15$ a week. Every Friday and Saturday night, I wrangled up to four younger kids.
    Thinking back, this might have influenced my choice to be childless….
    My heart goes out to you, Ruth, and all the other moms out there in the same boat. Though without direct experience, I have an eight year-old niece who is being brought up under modern parenting standards. I’ve seen how my wonderful SIL dedicatesher on my niece. 24/7/365 (as does my family bread-winning brother, in his free time).
    These lockdowns are pretty much driving my SIL into near-breakdown status.
    My whip-smart niece has always been a handful — headstrong beyond my belief (though not yours, I suspect). A master negotiator from the age of three, she simply wears down her parents until “no” turns to “yes” from sheer exhaustion. She is accustomed to commanding complete adult attention, making grownup conversation impossible when she’s around. I’ve been completely wrung out just spending two or three hours with her.
    And now, the lockdowns. During which she’s decided she’s done with Zoom schooling. Nope. Hard “No.”
    It would be easy to say she’s spoiled, it’s her parents fault and now with COVID19, they are reaping what they’ve sown.
    But it’s not that simple and easy, is it?
    After all, they haven’t done anything different from their contemporary parents.
    You’re all expected to keep the kiddies within eyesight at all times — anything less is “legal neglect,” right? You’re expected to be “enriching” every waking minute, providing pre-planned, structured “experiences” in which you can offer “teachable moments.” You must prioritize the kids’ “personal choice and autonomy” at all times. They must exist only within a “positive atmosphere” where they can “express their true feelings.” Usually at the top of their lungs.
    You must negotiate every minute decision with your children as if they had the reasoning skills of UN ambassadors debating human rights expansions. You must always ensure every whim, opinion and fleeting desire is “validated, respected and valued,” instead of “forcing children into inauthentic expressions imposed by social norms.”
    Translation, in the case of my niece: she does not have to say “I’m sorry” when she pushes another child to the ground because the other kid picked up her doll. Unless she really IS sorry. Which she never is, of course.
    It’s NUTS.
    I’m wondering if this season of multiple lockdowns is going to finally make the child- rearing pendulum start swinging back again.
    But until it does, the insane pressure to be 100% perfect, perfectly devoted parents will remain, especially for moms. It’s really unfair, and I’m sorry for that.
    Meanwhile, you all have my deepest, deepest respect and admiration for doing this absolutely crucial job.

    • January 20, 2021 / 5:50 pm

      It is nuts, when you put it like that! Mr AMR are always discussing how different it is for kids now and how to strike a balance, but so much of what our parents did would now be frowned upon… I don’t know whether anyone really has a clue what they’re doing!

  10. January 20, 2021 / 5:03 pm

    Excellent and entertaining as usual Ruth. I completely get where you’re coming from. I am 35 with an 11YO daughter and an 8YO son. I feel like the only sound I hear all day is a constant cry of “mummy, Mummy, MUMMY, MU-MEEEEEE!!!!!!” It’s not all bad. We are spending quality time together, and having fun, but it is exhausting, and the mess!!! When I was the same age as my daughter is now, and my younger sister was the same age as my son, we spent all our time in and out of our neighbour’s houses who had daughters the same age as us. The side gates were always unlocked, and we just used to pop in and out through each others kitchens, saying hi to their mums on the way through. Our houses backed onto our school playing field, so we were constantly jumping the fence and skulking around the school site during the weekends and school holidays, hoping we didn’t get caught out by the school caretaker who lived on site.

    • January 20, 2021 / 5:48 pm

      YES to the empty school – there was something incredibly thrilling about it!

  11. Cecily
    January 20, 2021 / 4:11 pm

    Ruth, this post comes across as insensitive and tone-deaf.

    “Working from home with two very young kids”…? I say this respectfully – and perhaps you’re only trying to seem relatable to your readers – but what you do has very little relationship with true work.

    You have the privilege of being in a bubble, safe at home, with your children at school and needlessly in nursery. You write a few words here and there, post a #ad, and tinker with new makeup.

    You absolutely DO NOT have to juggle full-time childcare alongside the stress and obligations of a full-time career.

    My Dad’s currently in hospital with Coronavirus and the doctors and nurses there are working relentlessly to save lives. That’s work. But then, you know that… and simply flatter your ego to think otherwise.

    • January 20, 2021 / 4:16 pm

      I don’t think it comes across as tone-deaf to the millions of other parents who are also working from home. Yes it’s a privilege to be at home, and to have everyone safe, of course it is.
      I’m sorry about your Dad and wish him a full and speedy recovery.

      • Sorrel
        January 20, 2021 / 8:12 pm

        Cecily, firstly I’m so sorry that your Dad is in hospital. That must be very stressful and upsetting,

        Ruth I don’t think your article is tone deaf at all. It has cheered me up no end this evening! I’m on maternity leave – so I don’t have to juggle any semblance of work right now. However, juggling home schooling a reception child, looking after a 10 month old and everything else that comes with every family member being at home all the time (the laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, endless tidying) is exhausting. Going to the toilet on my own is a luxury! Being back at work right now would be 100% easier.

        All credit to anyone who is a stay at home mum in normal times!

        • January 20, 2021 / 8:49 pm

          Ha, it is indeed a joy and a luxury to have a toilet break. I’ve hidden a book behind the pipes!

  12. Lesley
    January 20, 2021 / 3:33 pm

    Child of the 60s – wonderful parents and grandparents who played, read with us etc and fully involved. Also very involved in the PTA and all school activities. Also a great street full of other children. All the parents kept an eye on everyone playing outside. My mother built dens and camps in the garden for us all, provided refreshments, took us to the library, made flour and water pastry for us to bake cakes.

    Both my north London based grandparents were faced with sending their children off to heaven knows where as evacuees during WWII they chose to keep them at home but the worry each day that your children’s school could be bombed was ever-present.

    Now my mother is stuck in a rehab unit after a stroke a year ago and I’ve seen her three times since last March for half an hour – the December visit was the first time I’d been able to hug her and hold her hand since the start of Lockdown 1 and there have four visits through a closed window for a visit of five minutes.

    Suddenly I’m now my mother’s parent but I can’t tell you how much I’ve looked back and reflected on the wonderful childhood my parents and grandparents gave us and the most important thing was their time and an all-enveloping feel of love.

    If it’s any consolation your children will look back on this time with love and affection.

    • January 20, 2021 / 4:08 pm

      I’m so sorry about your mother, that must be really, really hard. x

      • Lesley
        January 20, 2021 / 5:56 pm

        Thank you so much. It is hard but she’s “all there and halfway back again” and that is a real blessing. She’s very stoic about her situation and her view when the family are upset at not seeing her is if you’ve lived through the blitz you can face anything. She WhatsApps all the family and grandchildren and she’s just so darned brave I could weep with admiration. She’s always been a glass half full person and thank heavens for that.

  13. Gillian Pidler
    January 20, 2021 / 1:44 pm

    I am 52, so a child of the 70’s, I’m also bored but surviving.
    We were very lucky as kids, there were four of us, two boys and two girls. My Dad went out to work and Mum was a sahm. So we always had someone to spend time with if we weren’t playing together. Mum would take us to our cousins to play, or for a walk, or shopping. When Dad wasn’t at work we’d go to the beach (sometimes before he went to work), for picnics it seems like every weekend and on camping holidays. So we did spend a lot of our time with our parents. Mum would let us build forts etc and we had a huge garden, and as I said cousins that lived very close, so we always had something to do. When we moved from Essex to Devon when I was 10 my sister and I would spend more time out, so we’d take a picnic and sit under the bridge down the hill, next to the sewerage works, ergh! Or we’d be out on our bikes for hours on end.
    Those were the days. I for sure can’t imagine having to homeschool my kids, that sounds like an absolute nightmare and boy am I glad my kids are grown for that reason alone! Good luck to you all, hang in there.

  14. Sharon
    January 20, 2021 / 1:27 pm

    I am one of the lucky ones, being too old to have to deal with children during these times. Believe me, I know it…I can’t imagine being cooped up with young children 24/7 and having to educate them as well! My grandchildren are 15 and 12, and I thank my lucky stars they have parents (my son and his wife) to handle all of it!

    I grew up in the 50s and 60s…we saw our parents for meals. Outside or at school the rest of the time. My father worked but mother stayed home until I was 15…cleaning, I suppose. Not entertaining the kids! Oh…I am in the U.S…

    Ruth…do you have a book deal in the works? If not, you should. You are gifted!

    • January 20, 2021 / 4:09 pm

      Ah thank you Sharon. Would love to work more on my writing but other projects keep getting in the way!

  15. Susanamantha
    January 20, 2021 / 11:43 am

    Luckily for me and my sister, our parents instilled in us the importance of self-reliance. This was the 50’s. TV was no help, with only 2 channelsand we weren’t allowed to watch TV during the day. We had bikes, balls, and best of all, a great basement where we played school, hotel, forts, and hide and seek.

    If bikes became boring, we would roller-skate for hours on the sidewalks, play kickball, badminton, or sneak back into the verboten woods to have safaris or witch hunts. There was a partially burned house back there that in no way were we supposed to enter. So, of course, it was a great adventure, finding a way inside without falling through the broken floorboards. I still remember the missing ceiling in what was the livingroom, looking up at a toilet, hanging above us, suspended by its plumbing. I guess we could have been killed by a falling WC. What a story that would have been.

    Anyway, we were a lot freer back then, no Child Protective Services lurking around every corner. I don’t think any schoolmate of mine died an accidental death until one was killed in an auto accident in high school.

  16. Nicola
    January 20, 2021 / 11:09 am

    i actually for the 1st time ever feel lucky not to have children right now! i was an 80’s child, however my dad was born in the 50’s and obviously remembered what he got up to so we were never allowed far on our own. his biggest fear was something happening to us.
    Talking to friends now i feel very lucky. As although my parents worked, they still spent time taking us places (we werent rich so it was usually the beach or conker picking) telling us stories about when they were kids etc. But my friends didnt hav that.
    What i realise now is, my mam must hav been knackered. She cleaned the house top to bottom daily and still worked, most often 2 jobs. To all parents, i take my hat off to u! xx

  17. January 20, 2021 / 11:08 am

    As your (probably) oldest reader, I can comment on the 60’s and 70’s. We spent any free time when not in school out and about with our friends. You might come home for lunch, then back out the door again. Step outside early in the evening and you would hear mothers calling kids’ names, summoning them home. No one ever went missing, was molested, killed etc… though I do recall a lot of concussions (what do you expect if you want to play Batman off the garage roof?), broken bones, sprains, scrapes and cuts. I don’t recall my parents ever playing with my brother or I and we had a very good childhood and lacked for nothing considering the family budget was modest. Mom was the day to day lawmaker (she used to complain about being the “bad guy” all the time). The threat of “right, wait until your father gets home” had you petrified for the rest of the day. The old man seldom spanked you (yes people, spanked. No I was not abused, ffs.) but when he did it kept you on the straight and narrow until the next time. But society has changed drastically from that time. SAHMs are rare now, the cost of living means you usually need both parents working. More single parent families than ever before. My daughter is a single mother and I can tell you its no picnic for her. I’m incredibly proud of how well she does. We all spend too much time on tech and here in Britain, the roads are so crowded I’m not sure its safe to let your children out unsupervised any more. Makes my hair stand on end to see the speed some of the neighbours go through the narrow residential streets. The best thing about the first lockdown last March was empty roads and seeing children out on the streets on bikes! I agree, you are not meant to spend every waking minute with your children, so its important to try to teach them to be independent early on. Even a toddler can learn to amuse themselves for short periods (an adult is near by of course). Let’s face it, once they are teenagers you no longer exist except as a bank/taxi service, so perhaps its best to enjoy this cycle while it lasts?

    • January 20, 2021 / 4:10 pm

      Haha, yes I probably should! x

  18. Laura
    January 20, 2021 / 11:01 am

    I lived next to a forest and most days were spent inside said forest with one or two friends. We used to pretend to be ghosts and would hide near the footpath ready to wail at unsuspecting walkers. Delightful children!

    One time we actually did get stuck in a bog- I lost one of my welly boots :(

  19. Kristin
    January 20, 2021 / 9:32 am

    Hey Ruth!
    Loved the post — so glad you’re back!! :)
    I’m without children, which is why I follow the maxim: no children? No opinion. (True for so many things. Don’t have a uterus? Then don’t tell me I that, surely, it can’t hurt that much. It can and it does. But I digress.)
    My point is: I agree entirely with you on the subject of telling parents how they should feel or what they should do (particularly if you yourself don’t have children).
    Btw I grew up in the early 90s with a working mum and over-worked dad who taught us early to amuse ourselves because they didn’t have time to do it. We read a lot and played pretend or rather beat each other to a pulp etc
    Lots of love from Hamburg! xo

  20. Kathryn
    January 20, 2021 / 8:59 am

    Hi Ruth, I am so glad you wrote this. I am working part-time, husband working fulltime, also homeschooling 2 little ones and trying to write my Masters dissertation! I feel like I am in a mad dream where no matter what I do I can’t escape
    I was born in 1982. My dad worked abroad a lot, so my mum didn’t work. We lived in a rural village. I had an older brother and from the age of about 8 I was never at home. I have no memory of my parents playing with me, other than the odd game of cards in the evening. Occasionally dragged to a stately home on a Sunday. How we didn’t die of dehydration I have no idea because we never had money and just got a hastily guzzled glass of squash at lunchtime! Also never ever got snacks, yet I am constantly making them (opening a packet). Played in the park, the fields, the graveyard, anywhere that was as dangerous as possible. There was a fierce network of nosey neighbours so could never risk any very bad behaviour.
    I also wonder what our kids will be like when they grow up. Will they be independent? Adventurous? Self-sufficient? I hope so as I have no intention of them living here forever!!!

    • January 20, 2021 / 4:11 pm

      Oh my God I thought this the other day: the whole “stay hydrated” thing! We NEVER drank water!

      • Sally
        January 22, 2021 / 8:50 pm

        We used to drink from the stream! (70s) After we had swum in it, dammed it, tried to find the source under the road bridge and various other potentially dangerous activities!

  21. Fleur
    January 20, 2021 / 8:19 am

    I spent most days cycling round and round an old airfield with my cousin, climbing in and out of extremely dangerous, rat infested buildings, probably followed by the village paedo …. ahhhh, them were the days.

  22. KatyG
    January 20, 2021 / 8:19 am

    I’m trying to make life more like the 80s here! I lived in a small Scottish town, and would really never spend time with my parents! My parents never had bikes, so no “family bike rides”, just me and my brother out on the street! If you didn’t eat your tea, tough – there’s nothing else being prepared for you! From the age of 12 my friend and I got the bus into the bigger town (25 miles away!) and had the time of our lives on a Saturday, trying on clothes in Jeanster and pretending to be under-12 for the cheaper cinema tickets!

    I find it worrying (even in normal times) that parents engineer their lives around keeping their kids engaged, it’s utter tosh, let them roam free! If they never make mistakes, how will they grow?

  23. Nicola Wright
    January 20, 2021 / 8:17 am

    So true Ruth, this really made me laugh. We spent our days playing in woods, swinging on unsafe tyre swings, lighting fires, rescuing snakes from rivers( I think it was an adder who was probably enjoying a cooling swim). I also remember being left in the car (for hours it seemed) whilst my parents enjoyed a cup of coffee or three with their friends.
    Ah yes, those were the days.

  24. Caroline
    January 20, 2021 / 8:09 am

    I have so many things to be grateful for, but still…. End of Tether.

  25. Tessa
    January 20, 2021 / 8:02 am

    Parents never played with us. Played with my brother or friends. In my bedroom, garden or out in the woods or around the village. This free roaming was probably from 6/7. Used to love playing in the woods or in the “den”. The den was a big hollow rhododendron in the garden. We often used to climb the garden fence and run about in the primary school next door. Using their play equipment etc.

    Fun times!

  26. Liv
    January 20, 2021 / 2:34 am

    I think you’re all amazing! I’m from New Zealand, the 6 weeks of lockdown we did last year nearly killed me. Working and home schooling simultaneously was impossible. Hoping things get better for you in the UK very soon !

  27. Susan Schaefee
    January 20, 2021 / 1:32 am

    Here in America, in a small town in Upstate New York, to be specific, we played outside all day. Rode bikes, played in the creek, went to the park, drank from the garden hose. We just had to show up at home for supper “when the streetlights came on”. We walked to school unescorted by any parent or grownup. I was a young child in the 60s, and we had such freedom.

  28. Sophie
    January 19, 2021 / 11:42 pm

    I occasionally spent some time with my dad by going with him on a trip to B&Q! I loved doing that. I’m an 80’s kid and my parents were always busy and we were expected to entertain ourselves. I used to pile poor unsuspecting pets (guinea pigs, rabbits and dog) into the car and pretend to drive them on holiday. Wild times

  29. Amber
    January 19, 2021 / 10:07 pm

    I’m somewhere between surviving and end of the tether. I have a 7 year old I’ve been homeschooling since August, a 5 month old, and I’m for some reason I’m in my last semester of uni, classes are remote so I get to/have to tend and/or nurse the baby whilst taking notes. : /

  30. Donna
    January 19, 2021 / 9:51 pm

    You are right Ruth! No one ever spent this much time with their children. I really do feel for parents of young children during these trying times especially the ones who have to home school. I don’t know how I would have handled it having to work as well & I only had one child (an adult now). Yes, when I was young growing up in Texas in the country, we ran wild. It’s really sad that children can’t do that now. Our parents weren’t responsible for our entertainment.

    Hang in there! Won’t you have some stories to tell the grandchildren when you are old❤️

  31. Beverley
    January 19, 2021 / 9:42 pm

    Like Mr AMR I also grew up in the 70’s an only child. We lived in the middle of nowhere and I remember af age 5/6 just bimbling around in the farmers fields, playing in streams or walking across a road (there were no cars in the 70’s to run me over lol) to play in the woods with one of the dogs for company. I had no concept of time but always managed to get myself home for meals and never got lost. Would never afford my 9 and 11 year old this sort of freedom now personally and they have watches and phones!

    Sending home school hugs and best wishes. I’m doing a drink January here – its helping.

  32. Denise
    January 19, 2021 / 9:34 pm

    I went out for the day during the school holidays armed with a bottle of warm squash. A peanut butter sandwich and 2p for an emergency phone call. I was 8 years old. Me and my friends would cycle for ours or play in the woods or at the edge of the army firing range. X

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:41 pm

      Haha, the firing range! Honestly, when I think back it’s just MAD what we got up to!

  33. Alice
    January 19, 2021 / 9:22 pm

    Also attempting to work with two young children, here. Wouldn’t it be nice to just have one task to concentrate on at once!
    My 90s childhood involved playing in the cemetery. We built a den in the nearby woods and not long after a dead body was found there!

  34. January 19, 2021 / 9:21 pm

    End of Tether … Abso-Bloody-Lutely… i mean, It’s gone 9pm, I’ve just about handed in the 3 google-classroom assignments for Harley the 4 year old (toddler Margot can Luckily go to Nursery 3 days a week) my Husband is still settling Harley – who has told me today that I won’t Ever, Ever be his best friend again (!) Probably because we are spending Too Much time with each other – like you say 100% of the time. My Mum took him for a 2 hour adventure on the bus to Putney yesterday- and I was SO pathetically grateful!! (went for a ridiculously long walk on Wimbledon Common with a girlfriend) Anyway, I had a similar thought today: how would Our patents have coped with Lockdown with small kids? Not brilliantly I suspect…. i feel So depleted this evening I can’t even be arsed to drink (any more) wine…

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:42 pm

      I think our parents’ generation would all have just upped the drinking quota and smoked a lot!

  35. f
    January 19, 2021 / 8:45 pm

    Hello Ruth,
    Long time reader, first time commenter here.
    In the olden days, in the sixties in my case, my parents worked 6 days a week, 15 hours a day. My older brothers were away (boarding school) so after school I could read myself silly or engage in any dangerous activity you can name.
    Now? I work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, essentially because there are people who have refused to make any changes whatsoever. Am I at the end of my tether? Not yet, but not very far away.

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:43 pm

      Oh God. Can I ask what you do? I get the feeling it’s going to be something we’re all incredibly grateful for… x

      • f
        January 20, 2021 / 9:24 pm

        I’m a civil servant (not in UK), drafting legislation. Since February 26th we try in every way to protect the population without encroaching their liberties, to little or no avail. For most people, to be sensible is definitely not the new black. But I shouldn’t be grumpy: intellectually, it is the experience of a lifetime.

  36. Jenny
    January 19, 2021 / 8:43 pm

    Brilliant and spot on as always! Growing up in the 80ies we never spent time with our parents bar a trip to the video shop on a saturday afternoon to chose a film for that evening. Sometimes I find myself falling into the trap of judging my own parents based on the standards of today. I do wonder how the different parenting approaches will pan out in the long run. Im on lockdown with 2 small children but one of them has just turned one so its been my maternity year thankfully as I wouldnt have been able to get any work done with them.
    It is groundhod day/relentless/im desp for just a bit of time to myself but I still go to bed each night excited to see them the next day.

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:44 pm

      The video shop!!!! I need to do a list of all the things that are now obsolete!

  37. Beka
    January 19, 2021 / 8:25 pm

    Thank you for your post.

    I am currently surviving. Pregnant for the first time, at 20 months. I’m working full time: nannying half the time and working in a high school the other half of the time. It’s been a weird time, for sure.

    My parents used to have my sisters and I ( born in 1988) go outside and play for most of the day. We would explore the local area, ride horses bareback and generally get up to shenanigans ( that weren’t always safe). I had many concussions by age 12, haha!

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:44 pm

      Wow, that is a LOT to handle. Sending my best wishes xx

  38. Sarah
    January 19, 2021 / 8:20 pm

    God yes!! I am only 33 (yes only, before anyone starts) and I remember fondly being encouraged to leave the house every day with little friends from about 7 (I seem to remember that the deciding factor on age of egress was when I could tell the time on my analogue watch, punctuality was obviously of great concern in the 90s).

    We loved being out and about in our village by the sea and would roam up to about 2 miles I think. Activities included walking along high walls when the owners weren’t looking, climbing big trees when the owners weren’t looking, dragging old matresses and other detritus up into said trees, getting chased by cows when the farmers weren’t looking, and going over the handlebars on my bike when no one was looking.

    I mourn for my kind of more dangerous, free range childhood with broken bones and gory wounds and scabs to show off and tellings off from strangers that would turn the air blue. Do children still break bones nowadays? I’m sure it’s harder to manage at soft play than in some dubious woodland. Does weird woodland porn still exist? Who did distribute that? Ah nostalgia!

    I think a huge part of the reason why I don’t intend to have any children of my own is that you can’t just let them roam about doing their own thing any more. Being a mother seems to entail being a 24/7 children’s entertainer as well. Parents used to be able to buy toys and we children were expected to play with them and shut up if at all possible. That was the point of buying toys surely, so that you didn’t have to play with the children yourself? And even if you wanted to break the mould nowadays and let your child cross the road at 14 unaccompanied you couldn’t, there’s always someone ready to report you, the children living near me aren’t even allowed to walk to the park 300 metres away! The park! I can’t believe how much things have changed in only a few decades and on a more serious note I do wonder whether childhood anxiety and depression that seems to be rising all the time has a lot to do with contemporary children’s complete lack of freedom and unsupervised time away from adults.

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:46 pm

      Yes, I only remember playing with other children, never really my parents. There’s this expectation to entertain, you’re right, and I don’t know where it stems from! Maybe if I’d just done what my own parents did and hadn’t engaged in any outside info on what “should” be done… They actually play brilliantly together without any input, so not sure why I feel the need to DO stuff all the time!

  39. Louise
    January 19, 2021 / 8:05 pm

    Mr AMR is absolutely right. I am also a child of the 70s – my parents were/are perfectly good parents, but perfectly “of their time” too. They didn’t ever “play” with me (nor did I expect them to), they totally shoved me out of the house for hours on end (I vividly recall an 11 mile bike ride with my older brother – he was 9, I was 7) and expected me to get on with it. I would not have DARED bugger about at bed time (my kids take the p*ss on this front relentlessly, and I just “let them get away with it”, as my mum/dad/mother in law constantly remind me). Don’t even get me started on walking home from school in all weathers/all levels of dark/on my own if older siblings weren’t available/couldn’t be a*sed. I can safely say my parents NEVER spent as much time with us as kids as I’ve spent with mine in even one of these lockdowns, let alone TWO!

    • January 19, 2021 / 9:47 pm

      Yeah, I can’t remember ever messing my parents about too much. My Dad only had to look at us and we’d be good! Haha. The thought of that working on mine…

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