The Grim Emotional Legacy Of 1970s Parenting

As middle-aged adults with complex lives, we’re still catching up

Jae L


Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash

I was born in the 1970s, that golden era of parenting by benevolent neglect. As kids, we had free run of the neighborhood as long as we were home for dinner and wiped our feet on the doormat before coming inside.

There are some people of my generation who idolise this time; mistaking freedom of movement for abundance and confusing material provision with care.

Caring for children looked a lot different back then. It was entirely possible to be emotionally neglectful while appearing to the world as a model parent provided you kept a nice home and sent your children out the door fully clothed.

Emotional nurturing and curiosity about children’s thoughts and feelings wasn’t required to be a good parent. This was a reflection of the low priority given self-awareness generally. Anything that looked like self-reflection was summarily dismissed as self-indulgent naval gazing. A silly waste of time and a distraction from the real business of life.

Children weren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings because it just wasn’t a thing that people did. We basically inherited our parent’s emotional illiteracy. It may have served them well enough but failed to equip us for the significantly more complex lives we were heading into.

No-one cared about how you felt, only about what you did. More to the point, whether you did something capable of attracting external approval. Awards at school. Sporting achievements. Things that had a currency that parents could trade as they congratulated each other on what a fine job they had done.

How the child felt about these achievements was irrelevant, it was all about how it reflected on their parents. It was assumed they were jolly well grateful for the opportunity they were given. There was no room for the ambivalence of achievements that came with the cost of exhaustion, overwhelm or just lack of interest. It was not about the child after all.

We didn’t have any say in decisions that affected us. I don’t remember being consulted about the extra-curricular activities my parents (more specifically my mother) signed me up to.



Jae L

Queer, neurodivergent and in the business of defying expectations. Doing my best to answer the questions I keep asking myself.