Peter Hitchens appeared on 'The House I Grew Up In' this morning, giving him the opportunity to expatiate on life in the 1950s. He wasn't deterred from generalising from his own experience. He grew up in a southern English, middle-class, nuclear family with a father who was in the navy and where he and his brother were boarders at public school. He reckoned the things that children didn't do back in the 1950s included getting into your parents bed if you were scared, using (or even understanding) swear words and knowing about sex. You had to wait until you were an adult to comprehend raciness in language or deed.
His experience of the 1950s is obviously a touchstone for his reactionary political views. And I have no doubt that such a childhood was experienced by many. But it was hardly universal. I checked with my Dad, who's about ten years' older than P Hitchens: he often slept with his grandmother when he was little, knew all about the mechanics of sex from his earliest years (having seen it on the farm) and also knew just about every swear word there was (having heard them from his uncles and the farm labourers). You might say that his childhood was unusual, but a lot more people lived and worked on the land back in those days. And even more didn't grow up shuttling between the restrained household of a navy officer and an English public school.
Sexual behaviour was less regimented than P Hitchens would probably credit too. The grandmother whose bed my father shared when little was known in her younger days as Lizzie Droppy-Drawers - she had two (or possibly three) children out of wedlock, all of them being sent off to North American for adoption (and another six more conventionally with her ill-starred husband).
It's tempting to generalise from our own experiences, to assume common reference points. P Hitchens may have a point in desiring a restoration of traditional morality and conventional taboos with regard to the family - it would certainly be a good thing for more fathers to stay with their children. But his particular ideal wasn't just bounded by time, it was also bounded by place and class. A significant portion of society has always been more morally lax than the broom-up-the-backside lot would have us believe.
I have little idea what implications this observation has for policy, for how people might be made to behave better. But I suspect that whatever they are, they're not encouraging.