A Short History Of Parenting Advice, Mommy Olympics, Fretting, and All Those Mothers Doing Everything Wrong

Let's play a game. This game is called Parents These Days.

As in, "Frank Bruni, journalist with The New York Times, thinks that Parents These Days have cornered the market on being anxiety-addled know-nothings, and that parenting experts are something that Al Gore invented along with the Internet, and let's see whether or not Frank Bruni is right."

Read the quotes below. As you're reading, see if you can spot which quote is about or directed to a Helicopter Parent, Permissive Parent, Anxious Parent, Authoritarian Parent, Authoritative Parent, Natural Parent, Tiger Parent, and every other kind of Parents These Days that any parenting author, expert, or guru has ever slapped with a moniker. 

Fun part? All of these quotes are from before the year 1930.

Everything old is new again. And everybody under the sun since time immemorial has had advice for parents. Aren't you glad you didn't live next door to Aristotle? What a busybody.

(Below are direct quotes from other blog posts, books, and articles as linked in the subheadings.)

Parenting advice from Ancient Greece 
Well, then if we employ all our ingenuity to keep our growing child all through these three years from the experience of distress, alarms and, so far as possible, pain itself, the growing soul is all this time being rendered more cheerful and gracious. ~ Plato 
After the children have been born, the manner of rearing them may be supposed to have a great effect on their bodily strength. It would appear from the example of animals...that food which has most milk in it is best suited to human beings; but the less wine the better. ~ Aristotle 
Those who are wrong who in their Laws attempt to check the loud crying and screaming of children, for these contribute toward their growth, and, in a manner, exercise their bodies. .  ~Aristotle
And more Ancient Greece 
Raising children is an uncertain thing; success is reached only after a life of battle and worry. ~Democritus
Parenting advice from China, 1st century B.C.
Keep babies quiet, and do not stimulate them. Only after behavior emerges from inside can proper guidance begin.
Parenting in Medieval Europe
Mummy-style swaddling bands were...intended to ensure that the limbs grew straight, a purpose based on medieval ideas of physiology, which held that a baby's body was so pliant that pulling or pushing on a body part determined how it grew. 
While it was learning to walk, the child wore a padded bonnet to help protect its head against injury.
An English law of 1181 required militia service from boys beginning at age 15.
Dirty Hands, 1877

Parenting advice from the 1700s and 1800s
From the 1700s until the mid-20th century...mothers were repeatedly criticized for being "anxious, well-meaning, but ignorant," as one 1916 book put it.  
A 1916 book warned parents not to bounce babies on their knees, as it would spoil babies and lead to "wrecked nerves."   
Scottish physician William Buchan's 1804 book Advice to Mothers informed them that "in all cases of dwarfishness or deformity, ninety-nine out of a hundred are owing to the folly, misconduct or neglect of mothers." 
In his 1877 book, Advice to a Wife, Chavasse informed mothers not to nurse for too long. Once the baby was past 9 months of age, nursing could cause "brain disease" in babies and blindness in mothers.
The Spoiled Child, by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1765
Pro-breastfeeding debate from The Maternal Physician, 1811
That there are many instances when the mother's health will not permit her to suckle her child I will allow; but I must believe those cases would less frequently occur if the attempt were persevered in.
My first child had the thrush when about a fortnight old. I had previously suffered great pain from an exuberant flow of milk, and was greatly weakened by it. Now I took the humour from his mouth, and for two months he seldom sucked without throwing up fresh blood afterwards, which he had swallowed with his milk. The torture I endured can better be conceived than described. Many of my friends with tears entreated me to wean my child, and dry away my milk, which, owing to loss of appetite and fever, occasioned by excess of suffering, might then have been done with ease ; but my own mother...exhorted me to persevere with fortitude, nor let anything I endured tempt me to tear my babe from the breast, and by improper food occasion ill health, if not endanger his life ; for amidst all my distress I had the inexpressible delight of seeing him thrive surprisingly.

And from the same text, the 1811 Mommy Olympics argument over how to best cleanse a child: with cold water or with spirits.
I have now a fine boy, scarce four months old, who was born in the winter, when the weather was most inclement; yet this did not deter me from insisting upon his being thoroughly washed with cold water before he was dressed; and the practice has never been omitted a single day since ; and now he will spring to the basin, evidently wishing to put his hands in the water, and laugh while it trickles down his neck. 
Many good women have called me cruel, and protested it was unnatural thus to deluge a poor little innocent with cold water ; asserting that a little spirit of any kind was much better. Now I would ask which is the most cruel or unnatural; to lave its little limbs with the pure element, designed by a beneficent Creator for our purification, and consequent health, and beauty ; or with ardent spirits, which, when applied to the skin of a new born babe, already perhaps in many places excoriated, must occasion intolerable smarting and pain. 
And When Oh When will the mothers of 1811 finally do away with the unnecessary baby gadgetry that grandmothers of the 1700s used?
For this, and other reasons above enumerated, it may be best to suffer [toddlers] to tumble about a carpet, or lead them whenever they show a great desire to walk, until they voluntarily venture alone... 
Happily, those pernicious inventions the go-cart, standing stool, and walking stool, are rapidly growing obsolete, and nature begins to assert her sway in that as in many other particulars of infant management; and I sincerely hope they will ere long be consigned to complete oblivion, together with the scull caps, forehead cloths, swaddling bands, and stays, in which our great grandmammas used to imprison their hapless offspring. 
I have heard my grandmother relate, that one of her sons walked down cellar in a walking stool and almost killed himself.

Parenting advice from psychologist John B. Watson who wrote child rearing advice articles for "popular press" in the 1920s. Excerpts from his parenting book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, 1928.
Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss [children], never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when you say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning.
The fact that our children are always whining and always crying shows the unhappy, unwholesome state they are in. Their digesting is interfered with and probably their whole glandular system is deranged.

And finally, a 1928 Bookman article "Bringing Up Mother" by Rachael O. Kallen, in which Ms. Kallen reminds us that criticizing Parents These Days was a hobby long before the Internet was around.
Why is Mother a menace? Because she is closest to her child, most intimately in contact with him during his most plastic period of life. And her contact with him is not ruled by understanding, but…by emotion (mother love is the name this usually goes by), ignorance, and a combination of laziness and selfishness…. 
I figure the retort which arises in the mind of the typical American mother who reads what I have just written. It has been made to me times without number by mothers who suddenly find their children difficult. “Of course I am emotional about my child. I can’t help that. And perhaps I am ignorant compared with psychologists, but I think a Mother’s instinct is truer than all the reasoning in the world. Nobody knows my child as well as I do. But I resent your saying I am selfish and lazy. Why I would give my life for my child, or work my finger to the bone!” 
And then Mother proceeds to spoon-feed two year old Mary because Mary gets so dirty when she is allowed to feed herself. Mary is quite capable of using a spoon and would learn to hold a fork if given half a chance! And Mother dresses five year old Willie from head to toe because it is so much easier than teaching Willie to dress himself.
Ah well. 

At least I know now that when I'm being criticized for whatever it is Parents These Days are being criticized for, I'm in good company. 

I wonder if the mom living next door to Rachael O. Kallen pulled down her blinds and poured herself a cold adult beverage every night after the kids were asleep. And went to bed dreaming about the invention of blogging about her cranky neighbor.

Read more Josette at PennLive.com No shortage of 'experts' to address laundry list of modern parenting foibles

Here's a great piece by Parentwin from BlogHer Yes, Frank Bruni of the NYT, Parenting Is Confusing


Sarah said...

I love this compilation!

Alexandra said...

Lost me at "the less wine the better"

josetteplank.com said...

I was just thinking that maybe parents who gave the most wine had a secret for quiet, well-behaved kids. :-)

Jack Steiner said...

I can't imagine a time where people didn't wonder if they were screwing up their kids.

There are probably more who wonder now than there were before,but...

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