I tried parenting like it's the 90s, bring on the Sunny Delight

‘Come home by dinner time!’ my mum would cheerily wave as she sent me off for a day out with my friends, with no parental supervision whatsoever.

Did I have a coat, drink or lunch? Nope. Did I have the best days out? Absolutely.

Fair enough, I grew up in Devon which is a bit safer than a city, but the heady days of being a child in the 90s were a mix of finding our own fun, running amok and loads – and I mean loads – of Sunny Delight.

But now that I’m a mum myself to a four-year-old boy, Felix I don’t know how my mum wasn’t constantly living on edge.

There was the time that I was airlifted from the beach because the tide came in, and the occasion where I jumped into a seemingly shallow pond and got stuck in mud up to my armpits – only to be released when my friends screamed at adult passersby to help.

There are thousands of books, articles, and well-meaning advice on how you should be parenting in 2023.

Popular rules include no sugar, limited screen time and scheduling their every waking hour.

But from gentle parenting and helicopter parenting, to permissive parenting; if you look at today’s many different parenting styles it’s easy to get yourself in a twist. But being a child in the nineties, there seemed to be no particular parenting style.

It was commonplace to wake up in the morning and watch endless hours of Live and Kicking while scoffing big bowls of sugary cereal.

But there were lessons to be learnt too: being bored was considered good for you, toys were only given on very special occasions, and friendship was everything.

Reflecting on my own childhood has left me questioning whether there could be a simpler way to parent my own son? Am I making things hard on myself by having so many rules?

I decide to give 90s parenting a go for a week to see how it fares in today’s society. But the question is, can my nerves handle it?

Now I have a confession to make. I have to make a few rules and can’t let my son, Felix, run completely amok as he has a bleeding disorder, Glanzmanns, and is only 4! But when it comes to regulations, food and bedtimes, maybe I can be a bit more relaxed.

Question is, can my nerves handle it?


I start the week off by buying as much 90s inspired food as I can find. Billie bear style ham, Bernard Matthews chicken, potato waffles, Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts and Sunny Delight.

Felix, has no idea what all this food is as I only ever give him organic meat, fish and vegetables, but he is ecstatic with all the brightly coloured packets.

I tell him (painfully) to eat as much as he likes. I also know in the 90s that our kitchen table was rarely used for dining, so I tell him he can eat it on the sofa with our new TV on.

He has no idea what TV is, I’ve borrowed one from a friend to show him and he can’t understand why you can’t skip the ads. After a couple of meltdowns about said adverts he’s settled down for a cultivated cuisine of sugar, carbs and processed meat.

He sniffs it cautiously and I watch as he devours all the different picnic bits, not even bothering to separate sweet and savoury. Suddenly he’s bouncing with energy, and declares he wants to make a ‘dance party den.’

Remember, 90s parents didn’t try to navigate the situation so I tell him to go ahead. He grabs every single pillow, cushion and duvet in the house and then wants the ‘volume up’. He sits for three hours straight to watch continuous TV.

While I watch his eyes get more and more saucer-like, I wonder if I’ve done the right thing. Is he going to sleep tonight?

But then suddenly he says he’s tired and his eyes start closing… he’s come down from the sugar rush! I carry him to bed and of course, in true 9’s parent fashion, I just take his trousers off letting him sleep in his daytime top, not bothering with the pjs. Result.

Adult life happens

As a child, my dad once took me to a snooker tournament. All I remember was being handed a coke and a packet of ready-salted crisps and saying, ‘sit there and don’t move.’ Indeed, I did sit there for several hours watching the game and listening to all the adult conversations happening around me… and I had the best time ever.

I decide to adopt a similar approach and take my son out to eat with a friend. We don’t go at the silly child-friendly time of 4.30 pm but go at proper dinner time at 8pm and indulge in pizza, salad and vino aplenty.

Felix is bored in two seconds and the waiter kindly brings over colouring equipment which he loves. We chat all things adult and when Felix begins to get fidgety we include him in the conversation which goes surprisingly well. When he gets fidgety again, he makes friends with the boy next to us and they have a good chat and show each other their toys.

There are no meltdowns, and despite the later time he seems to be on top form, and even sleeps in for a bit in the morning. We’ll be back!

Be bored

Boredom in the 90s was commonplace. Minus the odd dance class, we weren’t chauffeured around from event to event all day.

These days it seems every waking hour of a child’s life must be filled with costly activities. And God forbid if they are not amused at their every waking hour! Without it, they can become bored, agitated and restless.

But according to psychologists this is where the magic is, and with less to do, children have to use their imagination.

I give it a try and take Felix out to the ‘grown-up’ park with no toys and no suggestions on what he should be doing. Felix has a bleeding disorder, Glanzmann’s, so he can’t use bulky climbing frames or apparatus, so this is a great introduction into a vast park with nothing but grass, trees and a few flowers for amusement.

He looks a bit inattentive but I don’t comfort it, I just let him sit through it.

Suddenly he notices some birds in the corner and wants to investigate. Then he finds some sticks which he says are magic wands. We walk around spotting all the different things and he even makes friends with a boy of similar age.

Plus being in the outdoors is good for children’s mental health and lets them run off a bit of steam. Perfect.

No weekend bedtimes

I remember being told by a well-meaning mum that I met at baby jamboree that I must always keep my child to a schedule, right up to the teen years, as if not, ‘it will all go to pot.’

I was horrified. What will actually happen?

As a child in the 90s, we were often allowed to stay up late, particularly if it was the summer holidays and light outside.

We’d have a run around the garden in our nighties picking blackberries and making perfume out of petals.

I have already let my four-year-old stay up later in the evenings at the weekend and believe it does him no harm when in context.

And of course, with our new temporary TV, he’s delighted to watch something longer together snuggled up on the sofa. And I must admit, I find it pretty relaxing too.

Free playdates

Playdates in the 90s were, just that, a playdate. We would visit each other’s houses, the mums would gossip away, and the kids would play.

Nowadays it’s all about gigantic soft plays, theme parks or taking them somewhere expensively ticketed for the day.

While I still need to monitor Felix, I let him bring a friend around and don’t buy any extra treats or organise a place to take them to, just a good old-fashioned playdate.

Often Felix will cling to me, asking me to play and of course, I usually cave in, but this time when he asks me to play I remind him his friend is here to play with him.

They are soon engrossed in a game of Hot Wheels and Playmobil without a yawn in sight or a tug of the sleeve. Sometimes a bit of encouragement is all that’s needed!

Small rewards

In the 90s, toys weren’t a weekly thing. Heck, they weren’t even a monthly thing!

They were for birthdays and Christmas and even then you wouldn’t get a mountain of them.

When it comes to having a treat, a mini bouncy ball or a plastic slinky would suffice and be a great amusement for hours on end.

I decide to adopt the same approach with Felix and tell him he has £1 to spend in Poundland.

He spends a very long time deciding. There are a couple of toys that are a fiver but I say nope, £1 is all you have.

He picks a plastic slug! I’m laughing all the way home but the plastic slug soon becomes incorporated into so many games, mainly that we have to save it from coming to any harm.

The next day he wants to take the plastic slug out, it now has a name (Rex) and yesterday he asked if it could sleep in bed with him!

The verdict

In summary, while our schedule has been off-piste, food has been quick, easy (and sometimes pretty naughty!), and bedtimes have completely wavered, we have had a pretty pleasant week.

I think for children it’s the memories that shape us – and sometimes being a bit more relaxed is just the ticket for child and parent. Plus, I really enjoyed less cooking and eating copious bowls of Lucky Charms.

While it’s safe to say the world has changed drastically since I was a child in the 90s, but the freedom and adventures live on in my head.

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