Today, parenting styles tend to lean toward warm and nurturing. This style is a modern trend.
For much of history, children lived hard lives, without much of a childhood. Childhood as we know it is a Victorian invention.
A parent’s job is to prepare children for life as productive members of society. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were no books by Dr. Spock or What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Parents relied on religious and cultural traditions to teach them parenting skills.
Time to Parent
By the 1910s, family size had decreased, allowing parents time to focus on individual children. Science — and medicine’s newest specialty, pediatrics — was confirming that a child’s mind and emotions go through several changes while maturing.
Still, parents were warned not to indulge their children with much affection because it would make them grow up spoiled and soft. Parents were told not to hug their children or have them sit on their laps. Instead, they were to shake hands.
Before the late Victorian era, children were believed to be empty vessels needing filled with the appropriate skills and knowledge. So instead of an abundance of affection, children lived structured lives. They were taught to work hard and to obey their parents without question. If they misbehaved, either at home and at school, children were disciplined.
Children are Different
Views changed and children were no longer thought of as miniature adults who needed their moral character shaped. They were unique individuals with unique issues.
Starting in the mid-19th century, novels and short stories were written specifically for children, and schooling became compulsory. Toys and games became more commonplace.
But children were still expected to do chores, and many worked outside the home.
It wasn’t until the post-World War II era that parenting styles transformed into what you would recognize today. That means your grandparents and great-grandparents probably grew up in an environment that was much more authoritarian than you did.
Are there any stories in your family that illustrate this change in parenting styles? I know of a couple instances in my family, including a story about my great-grandmother, who was born in 1900, being punished for asking her parents to buy her ice cream.
Updated: 19 October 2020