We like to think we’ve improved on our collective knowledge of all things parenting over the past few centuries. In the past 150 years some parenting advice has improved vastly. Other vintage parenting advice is still thoroughly sound.
Take a trip back through time – this is the kind of unhelpful parenting advice your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother would have faced.
Weird vintage parenting advice of the 1860s
Some of these are a little odd. Others are downright unsafe.
Immoral women produce bad breastmilk
Mothers who were unable to breastfeed their infants routinely paid another woman to breastfeed her baby instead – these were called wet nurses.
Parents were advised that women who were immoral, bad-tempered and ate or drank too much would produce bad breastmilk and affect the healthy growth of the child.
I’m pretty sure my boys must have been severely disadvantaged by bad breastmilk on my bad-tempered days…
First foods should include dissolved lumps of sugar
Forget introducing boring old Farax and mashed pumpkin to baby at 6 months. Mothers in the 1860s were encouraged to give their 3-month-old babies milk straight from the cow (Louis Pasteur didn’t invent pasteurisation – an important process of killing dangerous bacteria – until 1864).
The fresh, unboiled milk should be mixed with:
- 1-2 lumps of dissolved sugar
- a pinch of salt.
Night lights are bad for the nervous system of young children
Apparently it was better for children to sleep in the pitch black (not a whole lot of street lights back then to brighten up the night). Lights were no good for fledgling nervous systems and they’re bad for the eyes.
Is it a coincidence this period was also within the heyday for gothic horror? I think not.
Girls belong in the kitchen. Boys belong in the shed.
Girls may be naturally inclined to climb trees and run around all day. However, their energies should instead be directed towards useful domestic chores such as scrubbing and ironing. Girls should be able to prepare a meal by the age of 13, even if they will eventually have servants.
Boys, on the other hand, should be rounded up, lavished with tools and sent to the workshop to make stuff.
Never get angry in front of your child
Snort. And valium wasn’t even widely available until a century after this was written. The only thing I can think of is that the person who wrote this had their children raised by someone else.
Apparently mothers were supposed to have ‘perfect temper, composure and self-possession’. Clearly this must have applied only to the new robot mothers that they invented…
Wonderful vintage parenting advice from the 1860s
On the other hand, some things haven’t changed.
Teach children the value of money
They’re going to be in the workforce one day, they’re going to have to get used to the idea. Start them working on small jobs to get a sense of satisfaction. Pay them for doing jobs around the house. Make them appreciate their earnings.
‘As a parent, you cannot be too warm and loving’
This one, I love. Especially as it follows on from advice about how to raise a resilient child – basically don’t wrap them in cotton wool or fly into hysterics every time they get hurt. Explain why they got hurt, show them how to avoid getting hurt in future and give them a nice big hug.
Bonus! Weird things women did in the 1860s
I couldn’t resist noting these while I was reading Domestic Wisdom: Things a Lady Knew in 1862. They are just too far from our 21st century reality!
Washed their hair every 3 months
Well okay, so they washed it every month and shampooed it every 3 months. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider standing under a jet of plain water ‘washing my hair’.
Removed freckles using borax
The prescribed mixture included ox gall, camphor, borax, rock salt and rock candy. Apply directly to the skin each day.
In 2016 borax is used to kill cockroaches… not for skin care.
Avoided sharp pickles for the sake of good skin
Along with cakes and other sugary foods, which is probably sound advice. But the sharp pickles… hmm.
Blamed men for screwing up on the dance floor
It was never, ever a lady’s fault if there was a disaster on the ballroom floor. It was the man’s fault. Which sounds great, until you realise that’s because the man was supposed to be in total control of the woman. Sort of like a dancing puppet…
What do you think – has parenting advice improved or become worse over the years?