Parenting is not an exact science. However, professionals in different fields have chastised parents over the years. Looking as far back as the 1900s, self-proclaimed experts provided weird and sometimes even shocking parenting advice. From criticizing mothers who feed their babies that “terrible” breast milk to beating toddlers with rubber hoses, I found advice that bordered on cruelty against mothers and children in every decade.
1900s — Mothers had to clean their nipples with acid
Although parenting advice in a book called “The Mother and Her Child” seemed pretty solid, their nursing advice was shocking. The authors, Drs. William and Lena Saddler told mothers to use soap and water to clean their nipples, but that wasn’t enough. Before feeding their babies, mothers should also rinse their nipples in boracic acid! They must have realized the cruelty of their advice because they warned mothers not to dread the nipple cleaning process. Mothers who “thoughtlessly” got irritable or angry before nursing time would cause raised blood pressure. If that happens, babies were sure to suffer colic and have convulsions.
1910s — Mothers should ignore their instincts to hold their babies
The 1911 edition of A Handbook of Obstetric Nursing by Anna Martha Fullerton warned new mothers not to give in to their fundamental instincts to hold their infants. Holding a baby anytime other than feeding and changing diapers amounts to foolish spoiling, which causes babies to grow up as little tyrants.
1920s — Mothers should not kiss but shake hands with their children
In his book, Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, behaviorist John Watson took the “no-touch” warnings even further. He wrote that sensible interaction with babies builds strong character. He said mothers should never kiss and hug their children, nor should they allow them to sit on their lap. A handshake in the morning is quite enough. Suppose a child tackled a difficult task and did an outstanding job. In that case, the parent might consider giving the child a pat on the head. When it comes to bedtime, mothers could give their kids a kiss on the forehead — only one kiss, and only if they must.
1930s — Mothers were advised to air their children
Based on the 1884 book by Dr. Luther Emmett, The Care and Feeding of Children, mothers learned that growing babies needed fresh air. However, by the 1930s, many parents lived in high-rise apartment buildings without gardens. No problem, they could build metal cages to hold the babies and hang them out the window. To make it easier for parents, by 1937, parents could purchase ready-made contraptions. To go one step further, one manufacturer patented a cage with fitted curtains. That would allow parents to leave their babies hanging out the windows through the night.
1940s — American mothers raised namby-pamby princes
According to Phillip Wylie, mothers were raising a generation of vipers, which was also the title of the book he wrote on the subject. He was not one to mince his words and blamed “overweight, middle-aged mothers” for raising “the most prissy people on earth.” Furthermore, he said mothers in the 1940’s no longer kept busy by keeping house. Up until then, raising large families and fabricating almost everything in their homes kept mothers occupied. Then they died of hard work by the time they were middle-aged. Instead, Wylie wrote, modern mothers fussed over their children, failing to prepare them for the rigors of life.
1950s — Mothers should bathe babies three times per day
Parenting advice of the late 1800s told mothers to roll or bathe their babies in lard each day. In contrast, Best Wishes magazine published, “Do’s and Dont’s of Childcare” in 1959, advising mothers to bathe their babies in hot water every day. However, in sweltering weather, two or three baths a day were the way to go. Along with the focus on cleanliness, they warned mothers not to allow anyone to kiss their babies. If there was no avoiding it, mothers had to present their kids in a way that would land the kiss on the back of the child’s neck.
1960s — Babies should start eating solid foods two days after birth
In 1962, Walter Sackett, M.D published his book, Bringing Up Babies, a family doctor’s practical approach to child care. He tackled the age-old question of mothers on when to start feeding their babies solid food. Sackett had a firm opinion about the subject. According to him, on the second day after a child’s birth, the baby should eat cereal of a putty-like consistency before getting any “of that terrible breast milk.”
That will prepare them for the vegetables that mothers should start feeding them at two weeks and the bacon and eggs they could eat by the time they are three months old. The doctor also told mothers to start giving their babies coffee once a day from six months. Furthermore, no food for babies in the middle of the night, and mothers must fight the temptation to cuddle babies who cry for food.
1970s — Daughters attended charm school
The Sears Discovery Charm School graduated over 100,000 girls between 9 and 19 years old from 1963 to 1972. The establishment promised that awkward daughters would become elegant young women. The subjects they studied included diet, exercise, modeling, voice and speech, make-up, grooming, skincare, fashion, etiquette and manners.
1980s — Babies should sleep on their stomachs
In her 1984 Pregnancy Book, Nancy Kohner wrote that babies should sleep on their stomachs to avoid choking if they became sick. Doctors agreed and said this position calmed babies and helped with colic. Furthermore, they professed it could prevent scoliosis and mental illness. Sadly, this brought about a significant increase in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome cases.
Subsequently, the American Pediatric Association issued official recommendations in 1992 that babies should always sleep on their backs. This led to a 50% drop in SIDS cases.
1990s — To spank or not
In his 1994 book, titled To Spank or Not to Spank, John Rosemond wrote parents should pop the rear end when disciplining a 6-year-old. If that doesn’t help, the child should be sent for a time-out of 30 minutes in the bathroom. However, if the parent doesn’t want to send the child to the bathroom, sending them to sit in their room for the rest of the day is suitable punishment — if the child is older than 42 months.
2000s — The art of child abuse
Michael Pearl, a Tennessee preacher of No Greater Joy Ministries and his wife co-authored a book under the title, To Train Up a Child. Controversy followed, accusing the couple of advocating child abuse. Furthermore, their teachings were linked to abuse and neglect that led to the deaths of three children.
They advised parents to treat their kids as stubborn mules and use flexible tubing and wooden spoons to beat “selfish compulsions” out of them. Most shocking is the fact that they advised this type of punishment for 6-month-old babies!