Today I want to write about different parenting styles and their likely outcomes, about the history of parenting manuals, and about the gendered nature of the genre. Much of the advice given in prior eras, or by certain promoters today, is abusive and may be unpleasant or unwise to read if you are a child abuse or neglect survivor. Consider this a content warning to prepare yourself or skip this post.
Parenting advice has long been printed and much of the early literature was published by male doctors. These men had generally not been involved in the rearing of children, but sexism allowed them to be seen as experts and to portray the women they sold their books to as ignorant, naive, and in dire need of guidance and correction. Improved awareness of germ theory and access to clean water led to increased infant survival rates. This in turn, led to the rise in the parenting experts.
Maternal instinct was contrasted with masculine science and mothers were admonished not to give in to “feminine” impulses. Mothers wanted to kiss and coddle their babies, so men of science declared that was wrong. Cuddling was limited to ten minutes a day or else outright despised. Crying was a sign of tyranny and mustn’t be caved to. The lack of disposable diapers and washing machines made early toilet training a greater desire and many downright awful methods of accomplishing this goal were suggested and sold.
From the 1700s to the mid 1900s, the most prevalent and popular parenting advice generally agreed that an authoritarian style was best, and that children were willful, naughty, smelly beasts that needed to have their wills broken. Childcare conditions ranged from neglectful to abusive, with children often thought of resentfully as financial burdens particularly in central Europe. Girls in particular were unwanted and infant death by intentional exposure was not uncommon.