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 Children's care through the ages

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Caro
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PostSubject: Children's care through the ages    Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:21 am

I have my six-month-old grandson staying with his parents. (Just for two nights, one day, but plenty of time for our son to gather several hundred roadside apples, pulp them all, go for a walk on the beach, organise our lives for the next year or so, and give his opinions on everything possible. Not time to clear up after the apple saga, of course.)

Comparing care for a baby showed up considerable changes in procedures over the not all that many years between my children and their children. Everything seems to have changed, from transport to food to clothing to entertainment. When I left hospital with my oldest son a nurse congratulated us for putting the baby in a bassinette in the back seat; most people carried them home on their laps. It is my understanding that now parents aren’t allowed to carry them out of the hospital themselves, and trips by car require a degree in engineering to work the carseat arrangements.

In New Zealand, because of Truby King, whom I have written about before, the Plunket Society is and has been very strong with over 95% of babies seen by their nurses. But they are a little dictatorial (their dictates change, but if anything the guilt they inspire in young mums has grown rather than decreased) – my dil said their nurse acted as if they were child abusers when they chose a certain (recommended) car seat. And just today on our on-line news I see an article about young mums lying to their Plunket nurses about formula feeding, lying babes on their side and other wicked practices because they don’t want to be scolded. Some things never change though – I recall being in tears after visits from my Plunket nurse.

My son and dil were shocked when I read from his Plunket book (a booklet where the nurses write how the baby is getting on and what action parents should be taking at this stage) that my son was to be given watered-down Ribena at three weeks old. They acted as if this alone was the cause of any dietary deficiencies of him now. "It’s pure sugar!" And giving him a little bit of egg at six months, or milk pudding (seameal custard or semolina) was frowned on.

Peter was dressed in wee jeans or cargo pants, and while he did look cute, I mentioned gowns. "You can’t put gowns on a little boy. And anyway he’s not a baby any more." My friend has a gown dating back to the early 20th C and it was for a boy and was about two metres long. And lacy. Quite gorgeous but not at all what a baby would wear today.

I know Truby King brought in his reforms because mothers weren’t caring for their babies in ways that his scientific research showed was the best. He advocated breastfeeding at regular times and using formula that was close to breast milk, not full of protein, and regular sleeping and bowel movements. And not too many cuddles. My kids were talking nowadays of ‘attachment parenting’ which seems to require an inordinate amount of attention from parents, holding them constantly, attending to their every need etc.

My son won’t allow his son "screen time" because of research showing brains don’t develop much between the ages of three and twenty-five (I am a bit doubtful about such research or at least its applications) and something about the speed of the cartoon pictures being detrimental to brains. I feel the kids’ social standing might suffer if they can’t discuss the things other children watch regularly. But then my kids didn’t watch much television (but they do complain of themselves not being very socialised). But generally television has been available to young kids for the past 70 years or so, and radio before that had shows directed at kids. Books for little children seem to be at a Golden Age at the moment with wonderful picture books, but how far back in the past do books aimed at little children go? There were all those albums, Girls’ Own, etc, and comics, and improving books with morals, but just how many books were specifically for children in say the 17th century?

In earlier times, some cultures have held babies in cocoons while others have ensured children grow up fast and take part in the family economics. British babies were often wet-nursed as we have discussed before. But what would have been the normal parenting style of the 19th C or earlier in Britain or Europe generally? I presume babies would have travelled much the same as their parents, or would they have been left behind? Reading Austen or Heyer shows that visits in those days were not for a weekend but often for months – how did the kids travel? Was breast-feeding automatic or were there other forms of formula available in earlier times? We see pictures of little grown-up 4-year-olds in Victorian photos but were they the norm for clothes and behaviour, or did children ran around barefoot and in minimal clothing regardless of wealth? Were little ones entertained specifically in the past, or expected to make their own entertainment or find it with peers? (Which is how people of my generation tend to remember nostalgically, though I never much enjoyed playing in the snow or up trees, preferring to listening to adult conversation and read my books.) Girls like Florence Nightingale seem to me to have had very little to do and other books also talk of young girls doing little but embroidery and piano lessons. But perhaps this was a very specific period in time.

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Sun Apr 07, 2013 10:13 am

How child-care was viewed or practiced within a white British colonial culture, which the premise of your post appears to embrace to the exclusion of any other culture, has never been uniform in any case. Social class and poverty for example, even within narrow "English" parameters, have always played a huge role in dictating the reality of how very young children are nurtured, protected and fed, and while expectations as expressed by carers may have superficially appeared as standard across the social divides imposed by these constraints they have never in any case been translatable into uniform and universally applied regimes of care, even when this has been seriously attempted by ideologically motivated authorities.

One aspect to your observations does however ring very true, and would ring true to any new mother in any culture anywhere and at any time in the past, I imagine. That is the supererogatory elevation of aesculapian theory to the status of "fast rules" often dictatorially applied by others in the community who actually do not have a direct investment - emotional or practical - in the welfare of the individual child. It may be a "Plunkett Nurse" in one community, or the village elders imposing "boofeydo" status on a woman in another, the mechanism and effect is remarkably similar. Arbitrarily selected theory (and often very dubious theory) becomes the basis to attempt to enforce a strict regime from which the mother departs often at her or her child's peril, or at least she risks having impressed upon her a sense of her own unconventionality when she does so which cannot in fact survive scrutiny when compared to other culture's own regimes.

Historically, and broadening the study base beyond one culture's narrow restraints, about the only true "convention" that has ever applied is that mothers feed and protect their children as best they can and hope by doing so that they survive babyhood and later childhood. Beyond that definition just about any other aspect to the process, no matter how "standard" one culture may attempt to portray or even enforce it, is no more a true convention than theories such as those concerning "screen time" or how to ward off baby-swapping elves can be or have ever been in the past.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Sun Apr 07, 2013 9:00 pm

I found the only time you take any real notice of the supposed child care experts is with the first child, when new mothers need the advice, support and tend to over react to every little thing. Once some experience and confidence is gained a woman tends to make up her own mind as to what is the best way or best for the child. No two children are the same after all.

Can't see how women in the past would have been all that much different in that, especially when the majority had less time on their hands for unnecessary fuss than we do today.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:19 am

I mentioned to an older group of women my dil changing the baby every time he brought up some food and they smiled and talked of 'first baby syndrome'. But to be fair both my dils (and my sons) have a lovely relaxed style with their babies, if not with some of the surrounding paraphernalia.

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How child-care was viewed or practiced within a white British colonial culture, which the premise of your post appears to embrace to the exclusion of any other culture,
Feel free to talk of other cultures, though it is harder to make direct comparisons through different time periods. Do people here know about practices in China or India or Tonga or Brazil, though? I would be reluctant to talk much even about Maori practices as I only really know them through reading, and what people have written about them has been so contradictory - some talking of children being the centre of Maoridom with the type of enfolding that ID talks of in Greek society, and treated very gently; others say Maori discipline was very physical. The only think I can be certain about is that the first child was (and still sometimes is) often given to its grandparents to bring up and make decisions about, including its name.

It's tricky to talk about other cultures without first-hand knowledge or you run the risk of stereotyping - the "mothers in Africa just drop their babies in the field as they work" type of thing.

I presume you know about Norwegian practices - are they as wrapped up in safety issues as modern British and British-derived countries are at the moment? And have they changed much over the centuries?
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Mon Apr 08, 2013 12:21 pm

Well that's my point, isn't it? Even within one small culture and in one time period it is a mistake to think that there are "standard practices". The middle class habits, expectations and beliefs as held within that society may not match those of the poorest, and the prevalence of either depends very much on the quantity of either.

Your "dils", as you call them, would appear to have a middle class set of ideas concerning child rearing. Your son most definitely does if the "screen time" notion is anything to go by - such theories are ones that abound within that class. But that does not mean that they necessarily have much in common with another person in your society who does not share their middle class values, or cannot share them for that matter.

And if one projects this truth backwards through time - and to other societies - one can readily see that it is very misleading to think that a uniform standard ever pertains or pertained.

In Norway, where the middle class dominates to a huge extent at the moment, there is some uniformity of habit but really no great uniformity of belief. Affluence and immigration have tended to encourage diversity of options so if anything I would guess that there might have been more uniformity beforehand, but even this is not supported much by reading about the sociological history of the state, which includes a concerted socialistically ideological attempt to impose standards and standardised methodology on child rearers but with varied success and quite a bit of failure along the way.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:35 pm

Quote :
My son won’t allow his son "screen time" because of research showing brains don’t develop much between the ages of three and twenty-five (I am a bit doubtful about such research or at least its applications) and something about the speed of the cartoon pictures being detrimental to brains. I feel the kids’ social standing might suffer if they can’t discuss the things other children watch regularly. But then my kids didn’t watch much television (but they do complain of themselves not being very socialised). But generally television has been available to young kids for the past 70 years or so, and radio before that had shows directed at kids. Books for little children seem to be at a Golden Age at the moment with wonderful picture books, but how far back in the past do books aimed at little children go? There were all those albums, Girls’ Own, etc, and comics, and improving books with morals, but just how many books were specifically for children in say the 17th century?

Some interesting info here, Caro, re children's literature in the 17th century.

http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelpsubject/literature/chillit/childhist/childhistorical.html

The reference to 17th century books for children having the educational aim of "driving out original sin" made me wonder whether some "church time" in previous centuries was actually more damaging than "screen time" is today. Remember the dreadful accounts of church attendance in the early chapters of Jane Eyre? And apparently the book given by the Rev. Brocklehurst to Jane in Chapter 4 of that novel ( "Little girl, here is a book entitled the Child's Guide; read it with prayer, especially that part containing 'an account of the awfully sudden death of Martha G- , a naughty child addicted to falsehood and deceit'...") was based on the tract written by Rev. Carus-Wilson, the founder of the dreadful Clergy Daughters' School where Charlottle Bronte and her sisters were educated. Carus-Wilson was her model for Brocklehurst: Wilson's little tract was called The Children's Friend and it contained pretty awful descriptions of hell, that appalling place that was the destination of all sinful children.

Anne Bronte, perhaps the most sensitive and vulnerable of the girls, was badly damaged by this type of nonsense: she suffered a major religious crisis during her adolescence when she became convinced that she was dying and that she was destined to burn in hell. How many more children/adolescents were similarly affected by "improving" literature, I wonder?
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Mon Apr 08, 2013 1:57 pm

But then how many children in Britain during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries actually were included in the classes to whom these books were directed, Temp? It seems to me that those who documented their own activities and for whom a written legacy survives might well be so under-representative of the actual majority during these periods that it would be akin to gauging how we behave now based on whatever the Hari Krishna leaves behind by way of records.

It is always tempting to pay more attention to the eloquent record and on that basis misconstrue it as the norm, in this field of historical research as in any other.

I recommend Frank Muir's "An Irreverent Companion to Social History". While it also (exceedingly well) utilises this record in the main, Frank is always at pains to point out that at the same time the poor could well have been getting up to anything - no one from the higher classes much cared, and when they did they invariably recorded it badly. His chapter on childhood is excellent too.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Mon Apr 08, 2013 4:51 pm

Quote :
no one from the higher classes much cared, and when they did they invariably recorded it badly.

And that's where archaeology does its stuff. If you're interested in the Medieval childhood, then Roberta Gilchrist's book 'Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course' will tell you a lot about that and much else besides. One point she makes is that in Europe, from the 11th and 12th c. onwards, possibly related to an increasing cult of and devotion to, the Christ Child, a distinctive tradition of material culture pertaining to children and childhood intensified, indicating a growing preoccupation with it. Another is about children being taught to read at home and that in London, by the 15th c., of secular men perhaps 40% could read Latin and 50% English or French. That certainly surprised me.

Caro, you asked about alternatives to breast feeding; she mentions an Anglo Saxon mamiform 'bottle' and other pottery examples as well as a misericord in Winchester Cathedral showing a baby being fed through a cow's horn.

Baby walkers, children's furniture, it's all there. It's a great book, packed with information on all aspects of life and a great many of them are entirely counter to what we imagine.

I will now add Frank Muir to my reading wish list.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Mon Apr 08, 2013 6:12 pm

Could I just add to my post above that The Children's Friend was not - as I had thought until this afternoon - a single tract. Founded by Carus Wilson in 1824, Friend was actually a monthly magazine (originally cost a penny). The magazine was last published - unbelievably - in 1930!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Carus_Wilson


Carus Wilson edited the Friendly Visitor and most notably The Children's Friend "the first penny periodicals that ever appeared in England of the kind". The latter, which he founded in 1824, was to survive him by some seventy years.


For anyone interested, more info here:


http://www.victorianweb.org/genre/childlit/evangelical2.html


"These themes of death and acceptance, the promise of heaven and the macabre desire that children be prepared to "follow little John [and the host of other pious, dead children] to heaven" appear in almost identical format in thousands of evangelical publications that were published, distributed and, one can only hope, enjoyed by young English-readers throughout the period."

Shocked
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Tue Apr 09, 2013 11:46 pm

I like the sound of that Roberta Gilchrist book a lot, thank you, ferval. Books on how people actually lived in the past are very interesting to me - I enjoyed very much one (by Robert Lacey?) about life in the first millenium I read a while ago. Will keep an eye out for Medieval Life - there's a chance it might be in the University Bookshop, I suppose, but I might have to bite the bullet and buy it from Amazon or similar. (I've only bought two books off Amazon and it's not my favourite form of shopping.) Ages ago Nordmann recommended a book on Richard Cromwell to me, and I decided it was too expensive at $100, but I have changed my mind and think I will look for it again.

My son's (middle-class, but also because he is an opinionated science-aware pain) objections to the television and computer for his son aren't due to their content but the way the pictures are conveyed to the brain. So watching soccer wouldn't be so bad, or a usual adult drama, but the programmes directed at children are played at too fast a level and it affects the brain at least of very young children. But for most people it's content they don't approve of that they don't appreciate, and along with your example of religious tracts, Temp, I would put the kids I saw one day at a football match in Britain. I noticed some of them shouting out the same sort of obscenities and one-eyed comments as the adults, which I have to say saddened me a lot, not specifically because of the language but because of what I saw as the effects of brain-washing. But that is an almost universal element of parenting, I think. Parents, middle-class, upper-class, working-class, or criminal class want their kids to follow their own interests and values and concerns and usually manage to achieve this well. A friend was telling me about her three-year-old great-grandson who was in a supermarket and called out for all around to hear: "Behold the Lord is risen". She was very amused and it was funny (if embarrassing for the mother) but it also showed how effective parents' education/indoctrination is on children.

With regard to poorer people or people who don't necessarily take on middle-class values, I think, at least in a small country like mine, those accepted values do permeate pretty thoroughly. Certainly some 97% of NZ mothers have Plunket input, and receive their messages. Many will be ignored as much as possible, but that is the same for middle-class parents too. More are not able to be taken up because of the cost involved. Our government has just this week brought in some draconian changes to welfare, including not giving benefits to parents who don't take their children to health services or educational institutes (this is talking of pre-school, not school which is compulsory for all), as if poorer parents deliberately try to give their children a worse life than middle-class ones, rather than just not being able to afford them or the travel to get to them. Or just not having the nous and energy to access things that may be quite foreign.

I do think it is slightly patronising to assume poorer parents can't or won't take on behaviours that are expected to help their children, so I am not sure there is such a difference between middle-classes and lower classes in these respects. Everyone (more or less) wants the best for their kids. They sometime disagree about what these are, but generally people will accept that experts have knowledge. (One thing that presumably frustrates both parties here is the advise not to sleep with your baby especially when you have been drinking or smoking. Maori people especially value sleeping with their babies - though I noticed my daughter-in-law often stayed on the sofa sleeping with her baby too. She hadn't been smoking or drinking and I presume most Maori mothers haven't been either. But still too many babies die, though nothing like the numbers earlier.)
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Wed Apr 10, 2013 9:24 am

Quote :
I do think it is slightly patronising to assume poorer parents can't or won't take on behaviours that are expected to help their children

Indeed it would be if anyone in fact had suggested it. Thankfully no one here said that.

However it is still worth reiterating that theories concerning child care (or just about anything for that matter) are contingent on opportunity for their relevance, the practical application of such theories even more so. The degree of opportunity available to people is significantly affected by the class into which they have been categorised socially. A poor person will of course adopt "behaviours that are expected to help their children" (as you phrase it) but that does not mean they will emulate their wealthier fellows. Restricted opportunities would tend to demote child-care theories concerning "programmes directed at children being played at too fast a level" and promote in importance and relevance those theories concerning putting food on the table. In that sense your son betrays his middle class orientation. He enjoys the luxury of being able to promote crackpot theory based on a misunderstanding of optical sensory stimulation to a level that someone faced with more pressing issues regarding their child's welfare could not afford to emulate.

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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Wed Apr 10, 2013 8:32 pm

The remarkable thing about children is how ever diverse their raising for the most part they are end up pretty well grounded; no those wilfully neglected or mistreated of course who ar damaged - but not always. I have often reflected on tha interesting documentry called 'The boys from Buchanwold.' First filmed in the recivinghomes for such orphans a more harrowing kickstart into life cannot be imained. Yet in interviews over the years it was heart warmin to see how well they 'turned out.'
Although self absorbed survivors without discipline when liberated they were fiercly proective of tiny children who had survived with them - to the point of making 'family'structures among themselves.
In my experience each family seems to have a code of upbringing some heavily directed by theory and others through haphazard liberality or simply casually fitting children into the daily routine. I assume social class and circumstances came to bear in the past from the street urchin put to work early to the highest ranks enforcing social graces.And despite it all many who have the highest ladder to climb whatever their raisng make it whilst others brought up by the book tumble low. I had a Dr Spock handbook and it being a thick tome I thought it a useful weapon should all that theory grt me down. Not that i ever used it thus but it was a comfort on occasion to have to hand.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Sun Apr 14, 2013 9:43 am

This was on our news site today. http://www.essentialmums.co.nz/baby/caring-for-baby/8538160/Parenting-culture

Although, as you can immediately see from the picture, it is rather US focussed, the examples it gives on how people not only have their own cultural expectations about child-rearing but don't even realise they are cultural as opposed to natural or obvious are worthwhile. It talks about how people make the same observations of some behaviours but attribute them to different causes.
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PostSubject: Re: Children's care through the ages    Thu Jun 05, 2014 1:04 pm

Sad and shocking story on the BBC site;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27710206
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