How much cotton wool is too much?

By | March 4, 2021

No doubt you have heard the term “cotton wool kids”. It is a popular description used for children from the late 20th century and into the 21st century. It is a reference used to describe those children and teenagers viewed as having been overprotected while growing up.

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On the flip side most people who use social media will have seen those memes that refer to the things done by children who grew up in the 60s, 70s or 80s – stay out until after dark, ride bikes without helmets, drink from the garden tap and so on. But highlighting that these “daring” children managed to survive.

I get it because I grew up during those times, I did the things mentioned in the memes, and I managed to survive. I am also a parent who has raised children through the 90s and early 21st century. I am a part of the cotton-wool parenting generation, and I confess that I have, at times, resorted to more cotton wool, proverbially speaking, than was needed.

The go-to response for many would be “it is a different world out there today”. And in many cases they would be correct. For example there are more cars on the road so riding your bike is more risky. Wearing a helmet while riding is a great safety measure, and of course it is also now the law. As a parent, ensuring the helmet is worn is essential – it is not about too much cotton wool.

The big question for many parents is when “to use or not to use that cotton wool?”

Within weeks of starting kindergarten my oldest child was almost begging to catch the bus like some of his friends. It wasn’t until near the end of Year 1 that I relented. The penny had finally dropped for me that the bus stopped at our front gate, and the bus drivers knew what school they went to by their uniform. Furthermore the drop off at the school was supervised. Similar circumstances applied for the afternoon.

Of course I struggled far less with letting the younger two travel on the bus because their brother had already proved to me that it was fine and was on hand to guide them. In all fairness I don’t know why I ever questioned it because as a child I had to travel an hour each day on the bus and I still have fond memories of those trips with my school mates.

I would not stand in judgement of the decision, or boundaries set by any parent with regard to ensuring the safety of their child.

However, I think we all need a gentle reminder that removing some of that cotton wool, allowing children to be adventurous, and establish skills for independence, is essential to their growth and development so that they can become strong, well-rounded, functioning adults. For example, letting a child ride a bus to and from school is invaluable in developing their confidence, as well as a sense of independence and responsibility.

I will also confess that in the early years of parenting I was heavily impacted by what others were doing and how my actions would be perceived if I didn’t follow suit. At that point, I think I was looking for external validation for my parenting ability because I lacked confidence and experience.

I’m going to take this opportunity to apologise to my oldest two children as I am sure they were subject to far more cotton wool than their much younger sibling, largely because of my own lack of parenting confidence.

By the time number three came along I had developed more confidence in my parenting decisions.

I had also realised that my husband and I were the best judge of what was right for our children. I no longer needed that external validation.

I can also proudly look at all three of our children today, note their work ethic, responsibility, independence and enthusiasm as young adults to know we got something right.

  • Mother-of-three grown kids, ACM editor Mumma Jak is familiar with the variety of approaches needed to help raise well-rounded humans.

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